Gaming was a major part of Jesse Morsberger's life growing up: where he found refuge in a digital alternate and escape into a fantasy world. In this latest series of paintings, Morsberger takes the 16-bit visual language of his youth, which is the technical term for how video games store coloured graphics, and he applies this language to canvas in thick expressive oil paint. Limit Break can be understood to reference the borderland between the physical and digital realms, the interplay between paint and pixel. Morsberger takes this idea further and explores what happens when one side performs or simulates the other. The work addresses the dissociative effects that games are expected to take responsibility for and the derealization that is also triggered in everyday life.Morsberger employs comic irony - bringing a warmth in his depictions of video characters on the canvas.
The character poses are often inspired by stills from anime or images from old game strategy guides. Some feel neo-classical or borrowed straight from the renaissance. In one example, Mario is reclining and sunlight is filtering through leaves that are shading his bare torso. Morsberger paints his subjects with thick confident impasto, filling space with impressionistic blocks, or circles of oil to make vast blue skies or rolling Nintendo hill scapes. These paintings skirt the line between triviality and genuine pathos. Shadow the hedgehog, (Sega’s resident bad boy) is thrust into a serious discourse on art history, while other moments are abundant with residual teenage feelings.Whether low-brow or high-brow, both contexts are examined with the same importance and attention.
The surfaces of Jesse’s paintings are further complicated by the inclusion of the H.U.D, which is the text or symbols that overlay a digital environment and allows one to experience habitat and visual instruction simultaneously. Take for example the series of hearts at the top of the screens that represent the protagonist’s health within the game world. To the trained eye, these symbols recontextualise the fantasy-esk presented world, with the ticking clock of the character’s existence– the very channel through which the viewer experiences the paintings. He also touches upon the gamification of erotics, the internet porn age, and the meta verse. These are the spaces within our expanding techno-complex where the physical body and its contingent digital (non)self are most critically juxtaposed. A framework where intense touch is substituted for an unfelt, contactless facsimile. These are some of the discourses that Morsberger’s paintings open up. There is joy in working through these cerebral cultural critiques only to arrive back at the painting’s subject, such as naked Mario playing an electric guitar – a hearty example of the sensitive and exquisite bathos at play.
Jesse Morsberger b.1994 in Brooklyn, NY, now lives and works in LA, California. He studied atSUNY Purchase College, receiving his BFA in 2016. His first solo show will be with Taymour Grahne Projects (online) having previously exhibited in group exhibitions at Nicodim Gallery(NY), Kravets Wehby Gallery (NY) and Milk Gallery (NY). Morsberger was awarded the fellowship and residency at Vermont Studio Center in 2020.