In an online video, Lee Walton tapes a sheet of paper to a board and connects an iPad to a projector. To a soundtrack of squawks and oinks, he uses charcoal to trace the stacked, blocky structures from Angry Birds, the wildly popular video game. Once he has outlined an edifice, Walton pulls back the game’s digital slingshot, loaded with a thick-eyebrowed bird, and shoots, knocking down some of the blocks and pylons inhabited by evil green pigs. After each bird volley, he erases what he’d initially drawn on the paper and traces the new arrangement, leaving a picture that maps the collapse of each level.
Walton, a North Carolina–based artist whose work often uses performance, games, and new media, got interested in Angry Birds when his seven-year-old daughter began playing it obsessively. His decision to draw the video game was inspired by his 2009 project in which members of the Minnesota Chess Club played a tournament using only paper and charcoal. “I set up the boards ahead of time with these pencil grids. To make moves, each player had to erase their piece and then redraw it in the square that they’re moving it to,” Walton recalls. “The way they made their queens, some of them look like Basquiat drawings, or Cy Twombly, with these strange marks.”
The creation of the Angry Birds drawings, recently at Kraushaar Galleries in New York, “was a weird combination of leisure and work,” Walton says. His series depicts only the game’s first chapter, “Poached Eggs,” in part because of the “labor of having to erase and redraw. If I didn’t pass the level, I would have to start over. In virtual land, that’s no big deal—you just hit the arrow and start over. But when I’m in the studio, I start to feel a little more pressure when I get to that last bird.”