When Jonathan Kinkley was growing up in the 80s, his parents refused to buy him a Nintendo. So it was via dad’s IBM PS/2 that the fledgling gamer got his fix of virtual environments, spending countless hours exploring the medieval fantasy land of King’s Quest IV. Kinkley’s love for video games hasn’t waned. He studied art history as an undergrad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and as a master’s student at UIC, where he wrote his thesis on virtual art and architecture. Today he talks about video games from an art-historical standpoint. “We’re seeing a new era of game design,” he says, one aided by the democratization of development tools and by companies who have made it a priority to hire illustrators “plugged into the fine-art scene.”
And now the 34-year-old is gearing up for the most ambitious union yet of his passions for gaming and art: the launch of VGA Gallery, an online organization whose mission is exhibiting, studying, and selling game art. This doesn’t include work made about video games or inspired by video games. Kinkley and codirector Chaz Evans, an artist and SAIC and Depauw University instructor, are focusing strictly on high-resolution prints of concept and environment art from the games. No Mario Bros. or Ms. Pac-Man fan art here.
In fact, the kickoff at Galerie F ignores the 80s gaming boom altogether (though you can indulge in classic cocktail-table video games during the afterparty at Emporium Arcade Bar in Logan Square). The show goes only as far back as 1990, with a piece by lauded Sierra Entertainment illustrator Andy Hoyos of a cartoonishly ominous-looking wizard’s island from King’s Quest V. Meanwhile, there are three prints from Thatgamecompany’s Journey, a 2012 PlayStation title whose “very rich aesthetic concerns,” Kinkley says, “settle the question, Are video games art?”