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The Artistry of Mr. Benja, the 8-Bit Cubist

Benjamin Johnson is Mr. Benja, the 8-Bit Cubist, a game developer, a public speaker and media creator. What hasn't this guy done? Let's interview him.

Who is Benjamin Johnson, aka Mr. Benja, and what has this guy done?

Easily explained. This artist, designer, and developer wears many hats and goes by many names.

  • Green Hat, yeah!
  • Pointedly Humorous
  • Better off Red
  • Not So Ordinary
  • A Caped Crusader?

As stated, Benjamin Johnson is also known as Mr. Benja and he’s the artist behind the 8-Bit Cubist.

Say It With Squares

Johnson has also been a video game developer. He worked on 2010’s Game of the Year, Red Dead Redemption. as an ambient designer/scripter. Before that, he was lead designer on Rockstar Games Table Tennis, designed augmented reality for WowWee, and was a gameplay programmer on WarJetz.

The 8-Bit Cubist has also spoken at events hosted by PopCon LA, PAX Prime, LINKS Academy, Dartmouth University, Florida A&M University, and the San Dieguito Academy.

Now mix in some art and social media content creation. You get a much more complete picture.

Now that we’ve gotten a closer look at Benjamin Johnson, a better question might be, “What hasn’t this guy done?”

THE BASICS

C.T.C.: How did you originally get into making art?

Mr. Benja: Originally? Well, both my parents were artsy types. My mother was a doctorate professor of music, and my dad was a certified artist for the State of Florida. It was kind of hard not to get into making art at some point.

I tried to rebel by getting into computers, but I ended up doing art anyway.

C.T.C.: What was your first inspiration for 8-Bit Cubist? Who was a mentor or resource that guided you as you developed this idea?

Mr. Benja: The 90’s streetwear and street art movements were actually my inspiration. I had been into technology, classical art, and video games for quite a while, but putting the 8-Bit Cubist into a project was a move that required a sense of doing what I felt was right and taking it directly to the people. 

  • Mr. Benja: The Rain Will Pas Tee
  • Mr. Benja: Community Pest Tee
  • Mr. Benja: Yin Yang Back Tee
  • Mr. Benja: Taco Tee
  • Mr. Benja: Cubist Rainbow Tee
  • Mr. Benja: "Toxic Bully" Tee

Artists like KAWS, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and Takashi Murakami were very culturally relevant, and I learned a lot from studying them. I wanted to connect to that social energy in my own way. Locally, I would work my ideas through my dad, local artists (shoutout to Thumbprint Gallery in San Diego), and game industry creatives I respected.

But if you’re looking for a “spark” moment, that never happened for me. My art has always been an iterative process that has been building up over my lifetime. You know, just taking the next logical step at every point.

GAMES, PT I

C.T.C.: You were in videogame development. What was it that you enjoyed about that field?

Mr. Benja: The video game industry was great! It’s a constantly moving and challenging field that really allows your creativity and skills to be put to the test. In that environment, I was working hard and having A LOT of fun. It was very exciting, and I was always able to learn things that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to. 

Also, I can get pretty technical at times, so having a job that rewards that is quite appealing.

C.T.C.: What were the hardest part of transitioning to making art and social media content creation?

Mr. Benja: Well, tapping into money streams is a bit harder when you’re getting started with social media content creation and the arts. But it has definitely been rewarding.

Interestingly enough, I find it harder to do the more mundane and routine work that requires you to put out smaller bits of work every day. I’m an introvert by nature and prefer to do a deep dive into a comprehensive project over the span of months. But the media machine isn’t interested in you disappearing for months at a time. lol. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

GAMES VS. MEDIA

C.T.C.: Which seems better for you? Games or media creation?

Mr. Benja: Even before I got into game development, I had always enjoyed creating new experiences for people on a personal level. So being able to create in a more personal space works better for me right now. 

At the time I was creating games, I wanted to be involved in large-scale game production, and that’s what I did. Both are important times of my life though.

I’m continually working to get the balance and flow just right. 

One thing that I really do miss from the video game industry is the constant interactions with very intelligent, creative, and hardworking people. When there is a AAA game in production, everyone comes together and really makes it happen. Those are intimate experiences that are really important and memorable to the people involved. We all get to see our best – and worst.

I still am in close contact with many of the people that I worked with though. Raphael Phillips in 3D development and concept design, Jeff Junio in mobile app development, Darion Lowenstein in-game production/game media, John Diaz in game design, and many others.

GAMES, PT II

C.T.C.: Do you play games in your off time?

Mr. Benja: I don’t play games so much anymore. While I highly respect and enjoy what games do, the field has been moving in directions more akin to sports and mass-market television. That’s all good, but not something that I’m currently investing my time in.

I do try to keep my ear to what’s going on though. I’m interested to see what happens in the mobile, and VR/AR spaces. There’s a lot of interesting things that can happen there.

What I am really interested in seeing is how interactivity and technology make their way into more mainstream spaces. Games ARE mainstream, but their interactive innovations aren’t as omnipresent as I think they could be. Does a family get together on a Sunday and think about an interactive experience? When a holiday weekend is coming, does everyone think about how they’ll connect with some technology? No, we’re not there yet, and it’s going to take some creators to take us there or make those spaces.

There are things happening in amusement parks, escape rooms, shopping centers, streaming services, and mundane apps like music players that are starting to integrate gaming elements more and more. It’s pretty fascinating.

THE SHOW

  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show
  • Revenge of the Bit Gallery Show

C.T.C.: You had a gallery show in 2019 – Revenge of the Bit. How did that go?

Mr. Benja: Yeah. I had rebranded myself fully as a creator by that time; creating artwork, events, and creative projects that didn’t have anything to do with release dates, console wars, or whatever was happening in the gamer world. As I tell people, fine art was my way to destress from the video game industry and channel a different type of creative energy. By that time I’d done art shows for several years, but the Revenge of the Bit show was a special moment for me. It was held at Studio Three Six One in San Pedro in the middle of the art district and cemented a more esoteric creative energy in me that I’d always been around, but had never really embraced at that level. That solo show did well and definitely expanded my horizons. 

But … while planning the next outing, COVID-19 happened, so I’ll see how things play out in the future.

RELATED LINK: Art Creation and Gaming Together. Check out OddFauna Bringing Art to Life

THE NO STRESS MANTRA

C.T.C.: You have a “no stress” mantra. Is that hard to maintain? 

Mr. Benja: Yes! Where did you hear this? I must have started saying it enough that it’s a thing now. Sweet. 🙂 

So anyway, my personal mantra is “Don’t be stressed.” It centers around the idea that anything that blocks your personal positive energy flow can put you in a stressed state that you *don’t* want. Usually, that’s something longer term that tears down your constitution without building you up.

What I look for is controlled stress and/or short-term stress, and new perspectives on how to work with stress like that are good. But staying in an overly “stressed” state is not something I would advise.

So is it hard to maintain? Well, I used to think it was a difficult mantra to live by, but it takes practice and a willingness to adjust things to your personal energy flow.

NO STRESS – TIPS

C.T.C.: What tips can you give readers who want to emulate you in reducing the overall stress level?

Mr. Benja: Well, to be clear, I’m not being “woo-woo” with this energy thing, although I value where that sensibility comes from. But since I am a rather technical and practical person, I would say that you should do some research into what’s *actually* bothering you on the inside and why. Question yourself and look for areas of change. 

It’s like creating software. Whatever upsets the software user is not really the user’s fault. It’s up to the developer to make changes, even if they feel superficial.

So I suppose the hard part is realizing that they/them are really not relevant to your positive energy flow, and thus, you have to deal with yourself.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS?

C.T.C.: Do you have a subject matter that you want to turn into 8-bit art, but haven’t done (yet)?

Mr. Benja: I have sketchbooks full of practical ideas, but is there something I *really* want to do? 

Yes. A series of oversized individual pixels that are poo-pooed for being ostentatious, pretentious, boisterous, and stupid. (And whatever other big words Internet art critics are using nowadays.) That’d be for my personal enjoyment and to sell to people that probably wouldn’t like me.

THE FUTURE?

C.T.C.: What do you see as the future of social media content creation? 

Mr. Benja: Yeesh. I’m so bad at seeing the future. Nothing that makes sense to me ever pans out in the future, so I just develop things that seem to make sense in the near term. People don’t usually get those ideas, so I keep my future thoughts quiet.

Art right now needs another movement though. (Street art was the last *big* one in my eyes.) While we’re seeing NFTs making waves, the connectivity to the trendy people isn’t even there yet. Most of the noise is coming from opportunists and hype monsters. 

So I’d say the next great set of art ideas will most likely come out of gaming, VR, or some sort of social interconnectivity. Actually, because I’m so sure of it, it’s probably wrong.

C.T.C.: What would you / could you do with 3D (Oculus goggles), or whatever ends up moving into this space?

Mr. Benja: I don’t understand VR. I mean, I get it … but to me, it always felt a bit like a sideshow attraction instead of the main event. Thirty years ago when I tried a VR set up at a mall it felt like that. Years later, we got VR mech battle pods at Dave & Busters, and it still felt like that. Now we’ve got Beat Saber in the home, and it still feels like that. You might need lots of time, money, open space, equipment, receptivity, and commitment to make it happen. Meanwhile…Tik Tok and Pokemon Go are actually making our realities virtual.

But I would like to work on technology. Well … not to make a “game” as we currently understand them, but to create some weird, esoteric experience that makes sense for the platform.

It’d be really cool. 🙂 

THE CLOSE

C.T.C.: Is there is anything else you’d like to share with a waiting TGON audience?

Mr. Benja: All in all, I just want everyone to find their art, whatever that is. Hopefully what I’m doing with The 8-Bit Cubist is going to be beneficial to people. It’s my personal outlet, and I’m still learning how to share it.

If you want to catch up with me, I go Live online on Instagram regularly (sometimes FB and sometimes YouTube) and I podcast. This is where I connect with people most regularly. I also have an email list that I send out messages to a couple of times every month.

I like talking with cool people about cool things, so be in touch!

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