Arcade culture inspires Chandler exhibit - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Arcade culture inspires Chandler exhibit

February 14th, 2020 development
Arcade culture inspires Chandler exhibit

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Visitors of the Vision Gallery’s latest exhibit can take a step back in time and experience the retro gaming culture of the 1980s.

In addition to displaying large portraits of icons like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros, the gallery’s “Two People, Two Quarters” exhibit encourages visitors to play the games inspiring the artwork.

The exhibit’s creators plan to have arcade machines stationed throughout the gallery – allowing older adults to experience some nostalgia from their youth.

“Bring your quarters,” advised Noe “Such Styles” Baez, who constructed the exhibit’s artwork alongside his son, Champ.

The father and son recently painted a mural for Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant in Chandler and have spent the last couple months devising 20 new pieces emblematic of classic video games.

The heroes, villains and sidekicks of a bygone arcade culture are re-imagined through a street-art, graffiti lens – a style Baez and his son have become known for throughout the Valley.

Their projects often feature nods to popular culture – painting large-scale murals with renderings of Batman, Mickey Mouse, and the Iron Giant.

This is the first time the duo has explored the worlds of Nintendo and Atari for an entire exhibit, Baez said, despite both being lifelong fans of video games.

The Arizona native recalled walking the streets of Tempe in the 1980s, looking for arcades featuring the latest games.   

Today’s gaming culture has completely changed, Baez said, with most games getting played on cell phones. That physical action of slinking a coin into a machine and watching the screen light up has gotten lost, he added.

“I wanted to celebrate where it came from,” the artist said.

Games remained an important staple of Baez’s life while raising his children. His sons eventually learned to play so well they would often beat their father in matches of Super Smash Bros.

“I’m kind of terrible at it – I’m embarrassed to say,” Baez joked.

One of the gallery’s pieces is a tribute to Pac-Man, the popular game that had players steer a pie-shaped character through a maze of ghosts and dead-ends.

Rather than paint Pac-Man on a canvas, Baez chose to paint the game’s characters on individual spray-paint cans.

It can appear a bit meta or self-referential – considering Baez has built his artistic career through spray-paint – but the artist thinks an interesting mish-mash of styles and cultures.

Though video arcades are not as common as they once were in the 1980s, several bars have begun installing pinball machines and gaming consoles – creating a hybrid establishment known as a “barcade.”

And with Atari planning to build its first game-themed hotel in Phoenix soon, there appears to be a market in the Valley for the retro nostalgia embedded in Baez’s exhibit.

“It’s kind of good timing,” Baez noted.

The artists are celebrating their exhibit’s opening with a 1980s-themed reception and includes actors dressed as characters and music inspired by the sounds of video games.

Some of the galley’s pieces will be transferred to the Tempe History Museum later this year for a new exhibit detailing the history of video games.

Vision Galley will have “Two People, Two Quarters” on display until March 27.