By Terri Ciccone

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When I first met Brad Henderson, he was poking at a piece from Don’t Try to Play me like an Indoor Sport at Bushwick gallery Factory Fresh. My heart started pounding. What is this guy doing? He poked and poked away, his eyes an inch from the work, jabbing and sliding and jabbing and sliding with his index ginger. Finally and awkwardly I approached him and kind of just blurted out “What are you doing?!” It turned out, as he later put it, he was “playing a painting.”

Paint vs. Digital

Ryan Ford’s show at Factory Fresh is a mix of vibrant and muted paintings on the walls, sprinkled with brightly colored sculptures of Tetris games or pieces with “limbs” sticking out of them. But one main noticeable theme strewn about in the works is that the word “vs” adorns them. Many of Ryan’s paintings use a “vs.” format, where he pits his inventive characters against each other, like in an old school combat style video game. After living on Ryan’s couch for a while, former college roommate and friend Brad decided he wanted to “play the painting.” Brad’s experience is in digital art, and was inspired by the frozen action and movement in Ryan’s flat paintings and inventive characters.

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The pair began on their journey to turn the works into interactive games. The first game the two developed was Rabbit vs. Tarantula, based off Ford’s painting of the same name. In this game a giant tarantula shoots deadly lasers out of his eyes at a large chainsaw wielding rabbit tries to chop it up.

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Cloud Eater vs. Box of Hell, as it turns out, was the game I watched Brad playing at Factory Fresh, thinking he was poking at a painting. This game features the cloud eater eating clouds that are being shot out by the box. The two are working on another much more NSFW game based off of the painting titled (ahem) When I Finger My Pussy it feels like a Thousand Horses Running Down the Highway.  In this game, naked women on horses pleasure themselves to move ahead. The goal is to reach a climax without getting bumped by the police cars chasing them.

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Art vs. Commercialism

As we reminisced about the days of Atari and Nintendo, Ryan mused that the companies probably had no idea of the impact they would one day have in the art world, citing digital artist Cory Arcangel (responsible for the famous piece Super Mario Clouds) and metal bands that have turned things like the Super Mario Brother’s theme song into metal ballads.

Ryan and Brad’s collaboration couldn’t make more sense. Ryan paints a fantasy world of characters frozen in action and time, and Brad brings them to life.

“It was full circle,” Ryan said. “I had thought about them being video games, but I was the painter being inspired by video games and taking layouts from specific style fighting games, and then Brad comes in actually wanting to turn them into games.”

“I think our process is different because we start with a painting first. Ryan makes a still image of the game in action, and from there we riff off of it and move forward, I think that makes it different,” Brad added.

Next up for the two is to develop a series of apps to help fund their latest projects and get some exposure for their paintings. This graced the question of commercial products as art.

The apps will also help them from turning into “walking zombies,” Ryan said, naming the problem many can relate to having a boring day job to fund their latest projects. And is it worth someone struggling working 2 or 3 jobs as a waiter or a freelancer or even a stock broker when all they want to do is act, paint, write or sing? Brad answered my question and finished the interview on an optimistic note:

“Sometimes it’s very painful, trying to get things out in the world, but what makes it worth it is – what I do is like writing a novel in a way, and there will be a moment where it will just come to life, and you’ll just laugh because it’s kind of amazing. It’s those moments that make it worth it, when there’s this magic that happens on the screen.”

Be on the lookout out for these two. I think the crossover between digital and painterly art is one that has yet to be really explored, and the pairs’ Warholian concepts of high and low art, and commercial products and art is being shown in an updated and relevant way to our generation. I would not be surprised to hear of their success.

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