The renaissance masters, the neoclassicists and the Cubo-expressionists have had enough attention in the world of art criticism. The fact is, some of the greatest works of contemporary visual expression have come from a far less recognized period of creative fertility: the Post-Road Warrior Post-Apocalyptic VHS Box Art Revolution. Rarely has there been such a union of lockstep conformity with abstract digression. Much like the work of the Byzantine mosaicists (spellcheck is telling me that’s actually a word!), the works of the PRWPAVHSBAR were all radically the same, and yet radically different nonetheless. Today we will take a look at just a few of the thousands, possibly millions (or even billions) of 1980’s Max Mad cheapo cash-in crap-fest box covers.
A true classic of the oft-forgotten “FU ACT” genre, this box art lays bare the basic fundamentals of its milieu: somewhat futuristic weapons, old-fashioned weapons, people pointing the weapons, and boobs. There certainly were more complex juxtapositions of these integral themes in other works, but rarely were they applied with such achingly sparse dignity. The multiple beams of stuff blasting out of John McCain’s blast-gun are a deliciously excessive touch.
Clearly meant to evoke the relatively more sophisticated flesh-muscle-weapons-standing on or in front of round things-formula employed by the Deathstalker series, Ultra Warrior succeeded by looking to its forbearers for guidance. Imagining a hellish world where there is literally only one truly great warrior left, the viewer is left to wonder whether said great warrior is the exceedingly buff man, or one of the two practically naked buff-ish women. This draws the eye as well as the imagination. The position of the man’s right arm also creates the top of a stirring pyramid formation. This gives the viewer the distinct impression of a pyramid, like those found in Egypt, which are lovely and impressive.
The modern viewer of this photo-collage might scoff at what could now be perceived as rudimentary technique. One must bear in mind, however, that tools like Photoshop did not exist in the 1980’s. In fact, computers would not be invented until well into the 1990’s. How the artist in this case managed to portentously combine a screaming mullet face with a nuclear mushroom cloud in an era that was essentially the Dark Ages is now a mystery forgotten by time. The raw power of the image, however, speaks for itself. Truly, nuclear war was a considerable problem.
Not all artists have the benefit of multiple hours in which to complete their task. Artists, like any other members of a capitalist society, are often working with finite resources and finite amounts of time. In this case, said resources and time most likely amounted to $15 and thirty minutes. The imagery is still stunning and entirely in keeping with the canon: old weapon, new weapon, pointing and boobs. The wonderfully expressive mushroom cloud in the background frankly makes this piece a budget embarrassment of riches.
Old weapon: knife. New weapon: walkie-talkie (communication is a weapon). Pointing: sort of. Boobs: tasteful but dutifully represented. Those qualities as well as an implausible robot–perhaps designed by a six year-old child–and a harsh but alluring Mars-like hell-scape make this a modest bounty. The font, in particular, gets quite a bit of mileage out of simple excess: “This may not look particularly impressive,” the font seems to be saying, “But just look at my knife-like W’s R’s and K’s!” The artist clearly put his full faith in those somewhat-armed warriors, that doofy robot and that incredible font, because there is no other information offered, whatsoever. The gamble clearly paid off.
We’ve seen a few minimalist representations of the form so far, so I’d say we’re due for a maximalist. This is the work of an artist who could simply not contain a single one of his or her ideas; they all spill onto the canvas in an overwhelming torrent of ideas. There is so much to process! In no particular order: man with strange-looking butt kicking another man in the chest (or possibly a woman in her boobs), car with sword-man sprouting from the roof, a group of party guys with a shy sledge-hammer lady standing gingerly to their left, a smug prick attempting to mow them all down with a machine gun while jumping over a car with seven headlights. The mind whirls and spins trying to drink in all of this rich imagery. It is almost beyond my capacity as an emotional being to come to terms with the raw visual power on display in this piece.
Cannon’s Urban Warriors offers the kind of cornucopia of visual delights that one would expect from a Michael Dudikoff presentation. In the foreground, a buff, leather, glancing man with a decidedly modern weapon goes about his business with little apparent knowledge of the maelstrom of activity swirling in the background. Old-timey weapons (crossbow) collude with modern helicopters and fancifully adorned mopeds as a foreboding image of a burning metropolis lurks menacingly in the distance. A single codpiece resides nearly–but not quite–within the hero’s gaze, creating a potent symbolic image of a world driven mad by a lack of human connection. It is the kind of painting that pleases upon first glance, and rewards repeat viewings.
This has been just a small example of the world of PRWPAVHSBAR. I would advise that you look at these images as often as you can to gain a full appreciation. Please check back for online lectures about other sci-fi/fantasy schlock VHS art that I have planned for the future, including such redoubtable genres as “Nature Gone Amok” and “Lingerie Ladies Getting Killed.”
Full comprehension of my courses, if confirmed by a notary pubic, can count for credit at certain Universities that do not yet exist.
Travis Vogt is the Editor of The Scarecrow Wire. He also writes for City Arts and Encore Arts Online. Follow him @travisvogt.