Each month, we invite élite art critic Braithwaite Merriweather to appraise the box art of the latest game releases. In between his time spent wandering the corridors of culture, Merriweather writes on a freelance basis for various publications, including Snitters and Nuneaton à la Carte. If you are unaware of his prowess, rest assured; he’s on a crusade to educate the unwashed. Put simply, he’s a man that needs no introduction.
One by one they come and go, leaving a small measure of their bumbling thuggery behind. Friends, in these desperate times, I have poured forth from a deep well of charity and offered my fellow-citizens spiritual nourishment. Outside my flat, in the humble shared forecourt, I have set up an exhibition. A small collection of my own work and a submission box, enabling anyone to submit their own critique of the work that I am offering. Not only will this stimulate their senses, but it may coax out a few budding young critics! And what has my boundless generosity been rewarded with? “You’re shit.” I feel sorry for these people, I really do. “Thanks! We needed some extra toilet paper!” Utterly contemptible savages. Another one: “Thank goodness I was already wearing a face mask.” Well, one need only consider Van Gogh to see that great talent can go unacknowledged in its time. To the work!
Predator: Hunting Grounds
This work, entitled “Predator: Hunting Grounds,” seems to have been named with a wry smile—the sort of smile that may play across the face of a merry-deviling prankster. What, we might ask, is being hunted? Could it be these four boorish dullards in the foreground—these military footsloggers who seem so utterly dwarfed by the terrain around them? No no, the intentions of this trickster artist are cloaked a little more ingeniously. Consider the looming face in the background—rich in threat (rather like my ex-wife) but sneaky and concealed (rather like my ex-wife’s solicitor). What’s being hunted here is Holbein! In particular, Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” (1533), into which the artist snuck a slanted skull, only truly visible when viewed from particular angles, as a way of reminding us of the lurking presence of death (not unlike my ex-wife’s solicitor).
I do wonder, though, beyond the initial amusement of the homage, what trace of Holbein’s grace, and lavish style, remains in this work. I can’t seem to find any. What colours press at the eyes? A morass of muggy browns and green, as though the artist had gained his inspiration after falling face-first into a marsh. And, as is sometimes the case with homage, it risks crumpling under the weight of its regard for history, lacking all that much to say for itself, or the means to say it with any elan (rather like my neighbours here). When it comes to video game box art, just as when it comes to art of any kind, I should suppose, the entire scene is a hunting ground. Having wonders in one’s crosshairs is no guarantee of coming back with fresh meat.
Resident Evil 3
There are no such efforts to hide in this work, however, which puts its skull in plain sight—indeed, which favours them as a dominant installation on the entire metropolitan landscape (much like the brutality of Damien Hirst, in the ’90s). What can be said of “Resident Evil 3,” a work that seems to suggest that mainstream society is presided over by a shadowy menace: in this case, a teeth-bearing brute in dire need of a nose job. Fair enough, but are the means not just as important as the message? While I appreciate the medium of video game box art being a political one—and if there are debts here, they are owed to Francisco Goya, whose ghouls were loaded with government critique—I must insist on a measure of beauty, if we are to swallow the beast.
I don’t know what it is with these indeterminate figures that video game box artists are determined to plant in the foreground of so many works at the moment. Consider this tiresome twosome: the gentleman on the right seems to be sporting a party wig and a prop machine gun, as though he were being dragged to a military dress-up party, while the lady on the left looks as though she has left said dress-up party after getting into a fist fight. Quite what’s going on here I don’t care to venture, but I will—in a show of generosity to rival my earlier efforts with my neighbours—say that I admire the smouldering band of yellow that breaks through the gloaming of the background. “Chin up,” it seems to say, “there’s plenty of resident goodness in the air as well.” Quite right. For this work: no face mask required
Final Fantasy VII Remake
This work, entitled “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” is, ironically, unprecedented. It may well be a remake of a previous work—presumably one with the name “Final Fantasy VII”—but I put to you that it’s moronic title is, in fact, in reference to Bruegel’s “The (Great) Tower of Babel” (c. 1563). I have never seen Bruegel’s influence in the video game box art scene; how dispiriting, then, that I should see it displayed here with such glib irony. But again, the artist behind this work seems to have tremulous knees under the weight of their homage. If you plan to “Remake” a great work, and update it with a cheap-looking sci-fi veneer, as though purpose could be patched in, then I must ask, What is your point? Are you trying to get across the towering babble of technology? Perhaps, with the listless gentleman in the foreground, you are suggesting that our problems might be solved with swords (perhaps this gentleman was destined for the same party as the pair from “Resident Evil 3”). Either way, might I suggest a further element of homage to the title: “The (rubbish) Final Fantasy VII Remake.”