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Landscapes from Virtual Worlds

Landscapes from Virtual Worlds

Image courtesy of James Barnett

Jamin Brophy-Warren | GOOD

April 08, 2010

“I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.” –Henri Matisse

In 1905, a group of young painters brought an unexpected display to the third Salon d’Automne in Paris, which was becoming a premier venue for new developments in 20th century painting and sculpture. Led by the 35-year-old Henri Matisse (one of the Salon’s founders), the collection of canvases were so simple in their designs and so offensively bright in color that one critic labeled the artists as “fauvres” or “wild beasts.” Inspired by cave drawings and children’s paintings, the movement was short-lived, barely lasting the decade, but was immortalized for its examination of color and its naked, passionate approach. Fortunately, the field has one more entrant—James Barnett.

Bored after the collapse of the internet economy several years ago, the Arizona resident was looking for something to pass the time since work as an information architect had dried up. So he and his friends decided to throw an art show in a friend’s basement. They bought black turtlenecks and wine and painted whatever they thought would make sense. “Every single painting sold,” Barnett says. The modest success of the “opening” turned Barnett on to painting and, more recently, photography. But while flipping through a book of the aforementioned Fauvists, Barnett had a realization. The pastoral compositions of painters like Matisse and Braque found a correspondent in something he already knew: videogames.


Image courtesy of James Barnett

Barnett has been playing games for years, but now, he had a new direction. He had just bought a new video card to play the newest rounds of games and was amazed at the compositions he saw inside those virtual worlds. “The afternoon stuff in Call of Duty was just beautiful,” he says. “You just sort of wander around.” And wander around he did as he searched high and low for the proper landscapes to turn into paintings.

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