by Manu SharmaSep 02, 2021
The resurrection of childhood memory informs the hazy, glitched-out imagery of toadofsky, a South Philadelphia-based visual and audio artist who has managed to develop a passionate cult following on Instagram over the last five years. Named after a character from Super Mario RPG, a videogame published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996, toadofsky can be found putting together mixtapes under the Virtua94 label, of which he is a co-owner. However, the bulk of his visual artistry lives on Instagram, and the image-driven platform is precisely where most of his fan base first encounters his work.
Aesthetically, toadofsky’s work is inspired by the visual art style associated with ‘Vaporwave’. This is an artistic movement, music genre and internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s, subsequently seeing a huge rise in popularity midway through the decade. Vaporwave utilises a visual language built upon retro inspired fonts coupled with bright neon colours and iconic elements lifted from early computer operating systems. Of late, there has been a marked decline in interest and engagement with the Vaporwave movement, owing to a massive level of oversaturation in popular media, with fans often attributing its ‘death’ to aesthetic appropriation by mainstream creatives, tech giants and even political candidates.
However, it is important to bear in mind that while toadofsky’s artistry certainly contains motifs one would associate with Vaporwave, it is by no means couched purely within that visual idiom. Instead, it builds upon this foundation through its principle aesthetic heritage, being video game franchises popular in the early 2000s. Among these, older Pokémon titles such as Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Silver seem to be privileged within the artist’s visual vocabulary, with franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario making appearances as well.
This separation from the larger body of art collectivised as Vaporwave does provide a hint as to why the project continues to garner popularity despite its parent movement’s apparent demise. However, this is merely a fraction of what makes toadofsky’s work so captivating. Instead, what is far more relevant in this regard, is the appeal to nostalgia that is contained at the heart of the artist’s practice. When referencing the communicative modes utilised by the gaming systems that popularised the aforementioned franchises, toadofsky’s art wears its influences on its sleeve: it is often heavily pixelated, with saturated colours particularly reminiscent of the 15-bit, 56 colour palettes of the Game Boy Color. Furthermore, the presence of Kanji and Katakana text found within the artist’s work are meant to expand upon this sense of nostalgia by evoking images of Japanese videogame and trading card packaging. As the artist mentions in an interview with STIR, “The Katakana and Kanji imagery is essential when resurrecting my memories. I have always been amazed as a child looking at Japanese trading cards or box art. It was so foreign to me and I thought it was cooler”.
Returning to the Game Boy Color and its significance here, it was a handheld device that ran from 1998-2003, and the sense of age associated with it plays into much more than the artist’s colour selections. The arrangement of visual and textual elements within toadofsky’s pieces also pay homage to the famous handheld device, with much of his artistry resembling screenshots from a Pokémon game, dragged through time and distorted during their journey, to the point where the meanings contained therein are transformed. Instead of merely referencing a particular section of a particular game, they come to signify a time in the lives of many. Through this, the aforementioned appeal to nostalgia becomes an appeal to collective nostalgia by the evocation of shared experiences playing these games.
The glitch aesthetics that run rampant through toadofsky’s work are meant to signify the sort of errors one would occasionally encounter while playing on a Game Boy, and therefore add to this sense of shared past experience. In his own words, he inculcates these into his work “in order to bring back memories of distorted cartridge-based video games.” He goes on to add that “everyone has had their experiences in glitches, whether intentional or not. This aspect gives the audience a feeling of error or displeasure.”
This impression of displeasure is certainly palpable in many of the artist’s images, but I would argue that it stems from more than the moody results of his experiments with instigated glitching. To me, at least, there is a distinct yearning contained at its core; a longing to return to a smaller, simpler and wholly imperfect world, wherein the adventure and wonderment held in my hands could transport me away from the tribulations of growing up.
When engaging with the individual imagery within toadofsky’s Instagram oeuvre, it is perhaps this bittersweet ephemerality that I myself and so many other twenty-somethings have encountered, not unlike a portal to the past. The portal remains ever so slightly out of reach, and keeps us gazing at his work, which may sometimes appear deceptively simple. However, if we are to tap out of the image and instead view his entire body of visual artistry as a whole, the result takes on the form of a collage that is impossibly complex, affording mere glimpses at hints that reference personal histories, both, of the artist, and of ourselves. This dynamic between the individual piece and the larger body is perfectly encapsulated in a quote by the artist, taken from our interview with him: “I want the viewer to be engaged in my art work as they would be sorting through a drawer of video games or looking at comic panels”.
toadofsky’s visual art is freely available for all to see on his Instagram page, however, there is currently no way to purchase prints of his work. He is very responsive and has engendered a friendly and communicative audience base.