Giant Fine-Art Game Boy | #MagPiMonday

The iconic handheld console can now be treated as fine art, especially when you deconstruct it and rebuild it six times larger, like Connor Gottfried. This #MagPiMonday, Rob Zwetsloot plays it loud.

a classic looking grey game boy blown apart on one side to show colourful shards of metal protruding
Each art piece plays games to really tie it all together, powered by RetroPie and Raspberry Pi

There have been a discussions for decades now on whether or not video games can be considered art. The short answer in our minds is; yes, they can be. Unfortunately the longer answer isn’t really relevant to The MagPi, but what is relevant is three-foot-tall Game Boy (and other handheld) replicas powered by Raspberry Pi that are displayed as fine art themselves.

“I had been working building large format fine art using canvases, paint, and paper and had just started exploring using Coroplast [corrugated plastic – Ed] to add a three-dimensional element to my work,” creator Connor Gottfried tells us. “I was working on a project that had a character whose head was shaped like a TV set and I thought ‘I should put a screen in there’! That was the beginning seed and I’ve just kept pushing the idea further and further. Once I realised that I could take the Game Boy’s form and twist it almost beyond recognition, the idea really started to take off. The Game Boy’s design is iconic and early handheld electronic devices haven’t been explored to a large extent in the fine art world.”

the black innards of a giant game boy with warioland playing on the screen
This bare-bones version showing off the PCB is based on an Analogue Pocket

Some fine art can be interactive, but how many let you play Tetris as part of the interactivity? Thanks to a Raspberry Pi inside running RetroPie, these giant Game Boys are fully playable. And they look fantastic even when you’re not.

Reimagined retro

Everything starts with an idea and as each build is unique. Connor does his research on each idea before figuring out how to construct it.

a side view of the giant game boy in classic grey
A more typical build, this version is for Tetris, the classic Game Boy game

“This usually involves locating high-resolution photos of the exterior and circuit boards for the device online,” he explains. “I then upscale these using AI with Gigapixel (I actually like the AI artifacts that get introduced). Next, I bring everything into Photoshop and create a full-size layered mock-up. This can take a lot of time to get right as this is where all of the design work is done. I like to explore incorporating ‘op-art’ patterns from artists like Bridget Riley, or paint scrapes with bright colours to add a psychedelic element. I think the juxtaposition between the basic plastic enclosures/electronic boards of these devices and the psychedelic colours and design twists of the final product can be really interesting.”

Once he’s finished designing, he’ll print the designs onto acrylic, Alupanel (an aluminium composite with a plastic core), Coroplast, and even sometimes wood, depending on if the piece is a prototype or if it has to be shipped to specific locations. The more polished, ‘production’ units use acrylic and Alupanel.

a pink rainbow care bear wearing a screen as goggles which shows the care bears game playing on it
One part Care Bear, one part weird Tellytubby hybrid

“I then mount the monitor and electronics on the back layer and use spacer stacks to position the additional layers,” Connor reveals. “Everything is held together with various forms of adhesive, screws or bolts, depending on the design.”

Art in demand

The final versions are either locked to a single video game if they’re part of an installation, or open for any game if you buy them. Either way, people seem to like them.

a giant screen attached to a fake bart simpson head on a wall
Connor doesn’t just make Game Boys – he also does art pieces based on specific characters, such as this Bart Simpson creation.

“People have really gone crazy for these,” Connor tells us. “I think I’ve tapped into a real soft spot, both for myself and for millions of others, that combines nostalgia and reinvention in a fun and unique way. I’ve sold these pieces internationally and get a ton of really nice feedback on my Instagram account. It’s really cool to hear from people who connect with the work!”

Currently, Connor is selling his pieces through art galleries and is working on his first solo show, which opens on Saturday 16 December in the S16 Gallery in Montreal! If you can’t make it, then you can always follow along with his creations on his Instagram page.

the maker connor in a cream hoodie and grey baseball cap
Connor Gottfried is a visual artist, musician, and engineer whose art explores obsolescence, nostalgia and rebirth by deconstructing, enlarging and twisting the forms of early handheld gaming systems

“It’s really cool to see how, as the generations change, what is acceptable in the fine art space that’s evolving,” Connor says. “Now that people in their 40s and 50s who grew up with video games are buying art, it’s really opening the door for some cool new stuff in the art world.”

The MagPi #137 out NOW!

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, WHSmith, and other newsagents, including the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge. It’s also available at our online store which ships around the world. You can also get it via our app on Android or iOS.

the magpi front cover issue 137

You can also subscribe to the print version of The MagPi. Not only do we deliver it globally, but people who sign up to the six- or twelve-month print subscription get a FREE Raspberry Pi Pico W!

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