Digital Sculptures Inspired by Atari’s Pitfall

By Bonnie Tsui | 05.29.12 8:07 PM

China Aerospace

As a kid, Shawn Smith spent hours playing the Atari game Pitfall, in which players tromp though a forested gauntlet of rolling logs, quicksand, rattlesnakes, and fire. “I’d never been camping, so I thought that’s what it was: wrestling crocodiles living in pixelated lakes, jumping over scorpions,” Smith says. “The whole idea was to avoid nature and win some gold coins.”

That 8-bit-centric worldview still holds true for the Austin artist, who is working on a series called Re-things: three-dimensional pixelated sculptures of animals and other outdoorsy objects, which he builds from wooden cubes and square dowels.

“The ’80s were a transition time—videogames were just coming into the home,” Smith says. “They became an escape for me.” To construct his pieces, Smith zooms in on a photograph and then creates a drawing of it on graph paper. He uses that as a map to build digital-looking mountain goats, campfires, even a marlin called Tevatron (above). The big-game fish was put through what the sculptor calls “my own particle accelerator” to create a disintegrating effect; it’s an exercise in removing data without compromising our ability to recognize an image.

Smith will be part of the Smithsonian’s upcoming show 40 Under 40: Craft Futures, which opens in July. For the exhibition, he’s creating a new campfire piece. Maybe one of these days he’ll finally get around to going camping.