The Metroid Frieze (a la Klimt)
My piece celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Super Metroid.
I began this piece nearly two years ago. I wrapped up my booth at the Arcade RX feeling like I needed more game-related art, but with less emphasis on the ‘game’ and more on the ‘art’ part of the formulation.
The pantheon of Nintendo heroes have always been special to me and Samus is no exception. However, when I looked around at other artist’s depictions of her, I felt a certain amount of her femininity was treated in extremes, either being hyper-sexualized–thanks in no small part to Nintendo’s fan-bait ‘Zero Suit Samus’–or being so obscured by depictions of her (admittedly awesome) suit so as to completely lose the uniqueness of her being a female lead character. In essence, either Bimbo or Rambo.
This isn’t to criticize other artists who have done amazing work depicting her. I just knew that I wanted to go another direction.
Yet there have been standouts that left an impression on me. One in particular was the image (I’ve tried finding a straight link to it, to no avail) created for the 2011 iam8bit gallery. In that piece, Samus was depicted in a Japanese watercolor style, and in lieu of a power suit she wore a billowing red kimono, held a long pike, and was surrounded by a beautifully depicted green jellyfish-like metroid. All other indications that the art referred to any kind of game were absent. It was art first, game homage second…and I wanted to do that.
Over the course of the next few years I began to formulate my idea. When I thought about who in art history depicted women who are simultaneously ethereal, strong and sensually beautiful without being obscene, my mind went to the works of Gustav Klimt.
The Art Nouveau movement, with its strong focus on organic forms and shapes for even inorganic material was a perfect fit for depicting the strange alien landscapes and creatures. Even more helpful was the knowledge that the work for which Klimt is nowadays most famous was heavily influenced by Japanese silk screen art which seemed an even more appropriate nod back to the nation where the game was born.
Using Klimt’s body of work as a reference point I began sketching different poses for Samus while brainstorming the different ways I could incorporate visual hints that hearken back to the beloved games while mimicking different patterns, shapes and textures from Klimt’s work.
The power suit became both a suit and a dress, whose patterns were drawn from different power-ups, and even the snes controller. The drape around her ankles is meant to both ground her to the floor and pay homage to the title screen from the NES game that grounded her in video gaming. The upper area around her arms and head are surrounded by parts representing her suit, but are open to add to her sense of femininity and litheness (though not as eerily skinny, bordering on anorexic as Klimt’s figures often were) as well as the impression of a gown. The helmet became more a halo to again highlight her uniqueness as the lone female lead character in gaming of both her era, and to a sad extent most of today’s rosters who haven’t gotten past the Taki/Isabella Valentine school of female character design.
I tried making the depictions of the famous creatures as oblique as possibly while still maintaining some recognizable characteristics. Most important for me was the titular Metroid itself hovering menacingly in the top-left, hopefully just as panic-inducing as their appearance in the game when missiles are low and health tanks are depleted.
Next most important was the queen of video game bosses, the Mother Brain. In my mind she has always been the most repulsive boss, and ironically one of the hardest despite the fact that she literally doesn’t move one pixel from her tank (until the climactic confrontation in Super Metroid).
Finally, I made a late decision to frame the picture in what I imagined a Klimt-styled wooden NES cartridge would look like, with a bronze embossed title.
In conclusion, I present for your adjudication my work from the last two years finally completed, and just in time for the anniversary.
See you next mission!