Jude Buffum and Adam Robezzoli, photo by Meat Bun

The visual art of Jude Buffum renders popular culture in the sprite aesthetic of 8-bit videogames. He has projected through an NES-tinted lens subjects as varied as The Big Lebowski, Keyboard Cat and the 2008 presidential elections. With several new pieces on display at the Pixel Pushers exhibition in Culver City, curated by Giant Robot and Attract Mode, we caught up with the artist to hear his thoughts on the independent game scene.

What did you decide to create for this show on the subject of game-inspired design?

Jude Buffum: I did a series of pieces based on old butcher diagrams, something I've had a morbid fascination with for a long time. But instead of doing an exploded diagram of the various cuts from a cow or pig, they show how to slice up various videogame characters. The idea is that after Mario defeats Koopa he slices him up and fries a steak... served with a side of mushrooms, of course. My girlfriend is a vegetarian, so I've been adding more vegan meals to my recipe book lately, and I have been doing some research into the industry at her prodding, and I guess this kind of came out of that.

Do you prefer for there to be a comical or satirical element to your art? Does it add another dimension to the interpretation?

I do, because I think that art can either be incredibly emotional, or it can be very humorous. I tend to be more interested in the latter. I heard Wayne White once say that the art world needs to be less uptight, to lighten up and have a good laugh. So that's sort of what I like to do with my work. I like to think that my style evokes a sense of nostalgia for people of a certain age, those that grew up around the same time as me.

You've done a number of politically motivated art pieces. How did it come about that you started merging game icons with a political message?

That's actually how I got started doing the 8-bit style. Around the time of the 2000 elections I was very frustrated and needed a creative outlet to vent. At the same time, I had been painting 8-bit videogame characters, just to decorate my house with, and then I started thinking there might be a way to combine the two. One of the first pixel-based pieces I did was the Mega Man vs Dick Cheney piece. I had come to this realization that the people in charge of the country were more evil than the videogame villains that I fought when I was a little kid.

I think that's what's at the core of my work: contrasting the serious real life problems that we face with the fantasy-based problems (rescue the princess, save the world, etc) we faced as children growing up on videogames. For the "I Am 8-Bit" shows I expanded this approach to other themes such as exploring how sexual desire fuels capitalism (the "Happy Ending" series) and even our motivations for creating religion ("And On the Seventh Day R.O.B. Rested").

What was the layout of the piece that was created for Obama's inauguration?

It was called "The Games They Played." It was basically all these fake game titles referring to the debacles of the Bush administration, and then on top of that was the words "Game Over", with the Obama logo taking the place of the "O".

Have you enjoyed collaborating with your brother, Doctor Octoroc, on various projects?

Oh totally. I think his holiday album 8-Bit Jesus was the first thing we collaborated on. It's interesting that he distributed that as a free download but offered to send a hard copy to anyone who donated. He thought just a few people would do that, but he just started getting hundreds of donations. At that point I said, look, you have to have this produced. I did a whole package for him and had it professionally mastered. The response was great and the cover was even featured in some design magazines.

Whenever we're catching up with independent artists and musicians it always seems worth asking, if the situation were right would you be up for participating in an indie game project?

I would love to collaborate with people who are more proficient with the programming side of things. All the interactive work at the Pixel Pushers exhibition just blew me away. Return of the Quack, which was a collaboration between Matt Furie (art), Chevy Ray Johnson (programming) and Nullsleep (music) is a perfect example. Zach Gage's game "Halcyon" for the iPad was really cool, too. I'll definitely be downloading that.

These days I do play some console games, but I probably spend more time playing games on my iPhone or my girlfriend's iPad. I think that's a great platform because of the price point and that you don't have to be this big, huge company to produce a good game. It seems like a much more democratic process because the gamers ultimately drive the innovation by deciding which games are worth buying.

To learn more about the art and illustrations of Jude Buffum, visit his official website.