This is the first piece of art that I digitally colored using a program called GIMP. I titled it “The Space Between Us” and have often told people that it’s about relationships.
And one important relationship for me as an artist was my relationship with the website Newgrounds.
In the mid-90s Newgrounds.com was at the forefront of websites that pushed edgy and controversial content seemingly for the sole purpose of provoking a response. Although other sites like Stile Project and Rotten also trafficked in the offensive, what set Newgrounds apart was The Portal.
The Portal was an ever growing archive of user-submitted content, consisting primarily of video games and animation produced in Flash. Users could vote on submissions. Content the community deemed worthy was promoted to the top of the portal, while lesser content drifted to the bottom and eventually was “blammed,” its existence erased from The Portal forever. Or at least until it was submitted again under a sock puppet account.
This was before YouTube and DeviantArt, and unlike later sites, Newgrounds was willing to embrace the ugly, gore-filled, sex-starved, meme-obsessed side of the world wide web. And for certain angst-fueled teens like me who felt perpetually misunderstood, finally it seemed like there was a place for us.
Although I had a user account on the site for almost as long as I’d had access to the Internet, it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally mustered up the courage to post my work in the Art Forum. Some positive feedback convinced me to participate in artist collabs as well as the first Print Calendar contest.
I always lost, by the way. I never won a single art contest or even the more informal competitions that were held on the Art Forum from time to time.
Some people speculated that these contests were judged more on status within the community than artistic merit. I never believed that, but, more popular artists did tend to win more often than not, and this served as a reminder that even on a site that was ostensibly for the misfits of the world, I still didn’t fit in.
Despite that, I managed to gain some minor accolades, including having “The Space Between Us” featured on the front page of Newgrounds during the infancy of its Art Portal, a feature intended to compete with sites like DeviantArt and the now defunct Camp North. How that happened I will never know, since it never happened again, despite my best efforts.
Although a lot of my memories of it are bittersweet, Newgrounds was the first art community that I was a part of, for better or worse. And although I always felt like an outsider trying to fit in with the cool kids while I was there, I still remember the excitement of being part of something that was pushing the boundaries of art and technology simultaneously.
I miss that sense of youthful optimism, that feeling that we were winning, that everything was going to get better if we just kept trying.