Ancillary Art
February 19, 2008 9:26 AM   Subscribe

ANSI art gets the respect it is due. On January 12th, 2008, ACiD Productions produced an art show of legendary MS-DOS artists Somms and Lord Jazz. Their digital art was turned into hangable pieces using home-brew scrollable LCD light boxes hung on the gallery walls.

More photo galleries: 1 2 3 4 5
posted by afx114 (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I can't wait for the touring exhibition to reach Boston.
posted by Shepherd at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on February 19, 2008

That's fantastic. Thanks for this. I've been a member of iCE for awhile now -- site/group has been on hiatus -- but I missed the ANSI boat, as that was before my time. Still, it's a neat art form and I love seeing this kind of thing happening, even in 2008.
posted by empyrean at 9:45 AM on February 19, 2008

I remember downloading files like these from BBSes back in the day. It always blew my mind how they did that.

And it's funny how a particular medium can become almost entirely the domain of one theme. Probably very few ANSI art parasols-at-the-quiet-river's-edge images, is all I'm sayin'.
posted by DU at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2008

I remember there were 1 or 2 people who were doing crazy abstract stuff, I wish I could remember their names now.. This takes me back though..
posted by mike_bling at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2008

Ah, sweet memories of trading my craptastic scribblings in TheDraw for w4r3z BBS time.

Then RIPscrip arrived and it was the beginning of the end *snif*

Some seriously sweet art here. The thing I loved the best about ANSI was that it was a continuous mural that you experienced one screen at a time as it cranked over your 9600 baud modem. People did lovely and inventive things with this, using effects that exploited persistence of vision to create animations.
posted by xthlc at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2008

Hmm. You could probably make some money from well monied hipster tech-nerds doing ANSI baby pictures...
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only thing this great FPP is missing is a link to download the art itself.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:55 AM on February 19, 2008

The only thing this great FPP is missing is a link to download the art itself.

You can download some of the archives at and you can even purchase a DVD that features "4.2 gigabytes of files; every artpack, cracktro loader, and scene magazine imagineable -- all bundled with the necessary software programs to browse them."
posted by afx114 at 9:58 AM on February 19, 2008

There are more than a few parallels between the rise of ANSI art and the rise of Italian Renaissance artists. ANSI art arose in the era of BBS's because every BBS needed a snazy login screen to attract and keep users. Sort of like the Church needed art to do the same, artists were contracted out to create art for a purpose. But then it became common for artists to rip off other artists style, technique or even whole works of art, and so they started signing their works - just as Michelangelo famously signed one of his sculptures right across the front "Michelangelo made this" after he heard someone in the crowd attributing it to someone else. Prior to the Renaissance most artists did not sign their work. Once ANSI Art was being signed, it started creating a marketplace for artists and art unto its own right, even forming "groups" - in the Renaissance there were artist schools that often came to physical blows among one another. It was the competition between artists and groups that was thought to drive the innovation of Renaissance artists, not unlike that of ANSI art.
posted by stbalbach at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2008 [12 favorites]

Wow, that looks really great, and I'm kind of mad at Chris (RaD Man) for not letting me know he was doing this. Chris was always first and foremost a phenomenal promoter/people person and without him the ANSI Scene would not be a third of what it was. He has also remained vigilant in promoting the recognition of the scene as well as promoting demo competitions -- a mainly Euro affair -- inside the US.

I don't have time to dig up too many links, but if this ANSI stuff has gotten you nostalgic for the days of yore, let me recommend a great project named sixteen colors -- link, those folks have done an AMAZING job of not only cataloguing whatever they could of the ANSI Scene -- they've also made an intuitive interface and a sort of metadata search engine that does a great job of combing those files. Hell, I've found more greets sent my way then I knew existed at the time.. but aheh, this is more about the artists, and not about the hustlers behind the scenes.

What I loved about the ANSI scene was it was a bunch of computer folks getting together and, you know, trying to "create art." Especially at a time where a good chunk of the folks being "elite" were committing piracy or phone phraud or both. Ok, ok, so a majority of the work often was impressions of Image or Marvel comics -- the 75-125+ line scroller wars of '93 were great fodder for that -- but at the end of the day you had kids using a pretty archaic editing tool and 16 colors to bring to life some very intricate drawings. Competing with other artists to see who could tag the best intro, etc. Good times.

I'm bummed I missed this show -- what a great job -- but I appreciate very much the link!
posted by cavalier at 10:44 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mea culpa -- it was ANSI promotion and it was in California, I wrongly assumed it was all RaD Man's idea. Big apologies and props to this 'acidjazz' fellow and the work he put in to make this show a reality!
posted by cavalier at 10:52 AM on February 19, 2008

ha, i saw this and thought 'i hope it comes to or is in san francisco.' gotta love this town. is it still happening at 20 goto 10 though? couldn't tell from their website
posted by jcruelty at 11:06 AM on February 19, 2008

In '94 or '95, the l33t of Memphis took phreaking to another level when they moved past carding into stealing whole Bell trucks. If memory serves, it took all of 48 hours for the cops to obliterate the local scene.
posted by bunnytricks at 11:10 AM on February 19, 2008

Wow, this is fantastic. I'm no kind of artist, but of course I banged away at ACiDDraw back in the day. All those skulls, and drippy blood, and busty chicks in revealing armor. Those were the 16-color days. I'd definitely hang some of this in my living room.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:14 AM on February 19, 2008

Here is a 'landscape' drawing, for those of you looking for something less cliche.
posted by afx114 at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sixteen Colors has a pretty good viewable archive.
posted by mike_bling at 11:33 AM on February 19, 2008

For people who want to look at some examples of the art the way it was originally viewed, hosts ACiD's archival effort of pretty much every art pack ever released. The best stuff came out in '94 and '95 and was released by the two top groups, ACiD and iCE. You'll find probably everything that's being exhibited in the '94 and '95 ACiD packs, of which Lord Jazz and Somms were members. You'll need to install DOSEMU or run DOS under VMWARE or something like that to view them properly (ANSI viewers exist for modern operating systems, but it's not the same), and each pack includes a special viewer you can run (ACiD's even simulated the scroll speed of dialup with selectable baud rates).

This is so awesome that their art is being rediscovered like this. Somms and Lord Jazz in particular were special in that most ANSI artists copied from comic books, which isn't to say that didn't take talent due to the limitations of the medium, but they created original works directly from their minds to the blocky 16-color screen. If you've never seen ANSI art before today, it was created by drawing each individual little colored block in a drawing program (TheDraw was the most popular until it was eclipsed by ACiD's own ACiDDraw) that was little more than a specialized text editor. So not only did you have to know how to draw freehand, but you had to know how to perfectly utilize the IBM upper-ASCII character to create lines and curves, shading, etc.

I hope this leads to more people discovering what ANSI art was all about. If nothing else, it's a cool historical footnote. There were probably a few thousand people around the world at its height spending hours and days on these little blocky drawings, and a whole subculture sprang up around it, which is documented in the Artscene segment of Jason Scott's BBS Documentary.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

Also of note, ACiD has a musical equivalent sibling group named pHluid. They released original compositions from the various tracker formats (MOD, S3M, IT, etc). In many respects, the tracker scene was even larger than the ANSI scene, as it was a subset of the much larger demo scene and influenced much of the mid-90s 'electronica' and 'rave' culture. There is a reason why the hacker and raver aesthetic often overlapped when portrayed in popular culture.
posted by afx114 at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2008

Got tipped off to that show and didn't go (some crapfaced nerdboys I know are there, in those pics, though). Glad I can see it all online. Good post!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2008

I used to hang out on the Disembodied Voices BBS back in the mid-90s. I only did a little bit of ANSI/ASCII art. It wasn't bad but it was nothing spectacular. When did Disembodied Voices shut down? I don't even remember the last time I dialed into it.
posted by I-baLL at 2:25 PM on February 19, 2008

Heh. I was a member of iCE waaaaaay back in the day. Around 1991, if memory serves right. Used to do ANSI art like this for BBS sites and cracked games. Fun times, but graduating high school sorta ended it.

Good to see some folks are still keeping that alive, and these look great! Brings back a lot of memories.
posted by kaseijin at 3:46 PM on February 19, 2008

Here's an SF Chronicle article on the show. Sadly, it seems to have closed as of January 31st.
posted by whir at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2008

I've been a member of iCE...
I was a member of iCE waaaaaay back in the day. Around 1991, if memory serves right.

Woah, fellow iCE alum here, too! '92-'93. Same handle, too.

That's why it pays to think hard about your goddamned handle, people.

One of my oldest friends did a couple of things for iCE in the 92 season as well when we were beta testing HSTs for USR (aaah... the days!). He's a manager at Google now.

Youngin's be lookin' at me like "what the fuck's a handle? what the fuck's an HST or a USR?" Gotta' school these shorties. They're too fucking spoiled with this interweb shit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:04 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

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