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.
Greetings my good friends! I am composing this month’s box art critique from Bow Street, in Covent Garden. I have been thrown out of a performance of Don Giovanni, for deigning to improve upon Daniel Behle’s plodding rendition of the Dalla sua pace with my own. The ushers – who, as far as the Royal Opera House goes, are essentially bouncers with big ideas – removed me posthaste, and now I lean against the wall, composing my noble chronicle on the back of a theatre program. Fortunately, I carried this month's crop of samples in my jacket pocket – always a useful security measure, in these beastly and brutish times, to ensure one’s peace of mind in the event of being set upon by the slights of an unjust audience.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
The division of dark and light is familiar to any fan of Rothko – who has been proudly featured on this very column since its inception – and the first of this month’s works, ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’, pilfers and pillages a mixture of Rothko’s works, from ‘Untitled, Black on Gray’ (1969) to ‘The Black and the White’ (1956). Sure enough, a glance at the background of this work and you will note the bisecting of black with white, sliced diagonally by swords of garish laser. Unfortunately, what this work does is splatter a simple composition with junk, pocking the pared-down landscape with comic-book clutter, and doing so without a trace of Lichenstein’s reverence nor Warhol’s irony.
It is my theory that the artist behind this work is a hack. The edict has been handed down from on high, by the mighty marketing hands that be, that a work must be created solely for the soulless purpose of selling toys. Witness the black-helmeted figures clutching their weaponry close, the ghastly little goblin fellow with the head like a squashed pumpkin (I thought, for a nasty moment, that my ex-wife had dreamt up a new way to haunt me by turning to modelling!), the clanking robots, and the vacant pillock at the centre. All were dreamt up with the hollow-hearted destiny to become plastic. The artist foolishly thinks me so stupid that the wool can be tugged over my eyes with the vaguest suggestion of abstract expressionism. Now there is a fallen order if ever there was one.
My brief stint in the Pelham Hall Sculpture Studio, back in the late ‘80s, was more or less useless. Within minutes of the first class, I had proved that I was years (possibly decades) ahead of even the teacher, in terms of sheer vision. I’ll never forget what that cask-bellied lunk of a teacher dared to tell me: ‘I wasn’t giving my vision room to breathe.’ I suppose I can understand him now; the neanderthal, if faced with a furnace, might think we are not giving the fire sufficient room to breathe. Imagine my apprehension, decades on, as I find myself affixing the same critique to this work – this ‘Death Stranding’. Am I being bamboozled by a work that has leaped the low walls of our box art culture? That is, as it were, completely outside the box?
Give me a break. This work looks as if it has been done by an insecure hand. First, that metal claw in the corner: is it looming up from the murk with the air of pre-lunge menace? It could be. Does it have the faint touch of Henrique Alvim Corrêa’s illustrations for The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells? Possibly. And what of this pale longshoreman, swathed in rainproof rubber? Could he be a refugee from ‘The Bride in the Rain’ (1887), by Van Gogh? Who knows. We will never know, because the artist has zoomed too far in, cramming the camera into the shadows and shoving any notes of subtlety to the side. It seems to me to be the work of a hobbyist, not an artist – the work of someone who is nervous that they might not be understood, but who lacks the proper artistic vocabulary to fly higher.
It isn’t often in life that one is presented with the vision of a dog gripping a sword in its mouth, and that might well be for the best. Whether or not this beast qualifies as a dog is questionable. Its coat is is an odd collection of hues, like a loyal, panting rainbow, and its head seems to be encased in a crown of sorts. (It brings to mind my parents’ pathetic devotion to the family Yorkshire Terrier, Attlee, who practically supplanted my place in the family and whose portrait currently stands in the foyer, where mine should be. It wouldn’t surprise me if that mutt gets my share of the family estate as well, palming me off with a kennel.) This work, while mystifying and discomfiting, is not without its grounding in art history.
Two works spring to mind, and the result is a blend of them both. First, we have Springer ‘Spaniel with Pheasant’, painted by Alexander Pope, in 1900. (Pope was also considered a ‘poet’ – despite his handling of the English language resembling that of a thug with a crowbar – whose greatest contribution was giving us the phrase ‘damning with faint praise’.) Second, there is ‘Oath of the Horatii’ (1784), by Jacques-Louis David, which depicts a father bearing a batch of swords for his sons. If you have ever considered what the mashing together of these two paintings would look like, here is your answer: a vaguely depressing morass of marshmallowy colours moulded to the shape of a dangerous dog. I would tell you that it’s the best box art that this venerable website has sent me this month, but that would be damning it with faint praise.