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Minimalist Pixel Art (sometimes known as “Abstract Pixel Art”) refers to a subgenre of Pixel Art characterized by geometric minimalism, elaborate color schemes and pop culture references. Similar to Minimal Movie Posters, the series consists of iconic characters or objects from various video games, TV shows and movies that are simplified into elements of multi-colored pixel blocks.
The style was developed by the artists of InfiniteContinues, a videogame blog that concentrates on video game related art. The first collection of the series titled “Street Fighter – Abstract Edition” was posted onto InfiniteContinues’ website and Flickr account on August 6th, 2010.
This time, the idea was to go really, really basic. Initially, it felt like a Bauhaus/De Stijl inspired piece, but once it was finished, it also looked like the primitive graphics from Atari 2600 or Intellivision consoles.
Contrary to what its name suggests, abstract pixel art draws references to pop culture icons and therefore it may be considered a misnomer by technical definition of non-representational (abstract) art.
Precursor: 15 Pixels
The earliest known iteration of minimal pixel art characters can be traced to a short-lived YouTube series titled “15 Pixels” by GaemCityTV. The series consisted of four short videos depicting well-known scenes from arcade video games like Noby Noby Boy and Street Fighter in 5×3 pixel grid, but it only ran for the month of October 2009.
Months later, InfiniteContinues posted a follow-up set featuring additional characters from the Street Fighter II Turbo Edition on October 11th. The image was reposted to Something Awful forums where it snowballed into a Comedy Goldmine thread titled “Abstract Pixel Art!” on October 19th. The thread went onto host over 35 sets of pixel art characters contributed by other Something Awful users. In the following years, the Something Awful thread was picked up by numerous internet humor sites including Urlesque, BoingBoing Submitterator and FunnyJunk, as well as personal blogs run by graphic designers.
Minimalist pixel art later influenced an image puzzle series known as “Otaku Test”, in which the reader is challenged to identify a well-known videogame or anime character by looking at its pixelized representation.
More recently in March 2012, German ad agency Jung Von Matt launched an ad campaign for LEGO, which consisted of basic LEGO sculptures bearing resemblance to the minimalist pixel art. Days later, graphic designer Andy Watts published a blog post explaining its online history.