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Temme Barkin-Leeds Takes Aim at Shooter Games in New Paintings

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Temme Barkin-Leeds, Battlefield 4 with Mickey D's, 2014; gouache, ink, acrylic, and oil on linen, 34 by 48 inches.
Temme Barkin-Leeds, Battlefield 4 with Mickey D’s, 2014; gouache, ink, acrylic, and oil on linen, 34 by 48 inches.

For avid gamers, Battlefield 3 is one of the most popular and visceral interactive combat experiences in the First-Person Shooter (FPS) game category, but for artist Temme Barkin-Leeds, it serves as the disturbing inspiration for her current show, “Interference,” which critiques the amoral escapism offered by violent action games that mimic real war scenarios.

SCB with Hamburger
Temme Barkin-Leeds, Splinter Cel Blacklist with Hamburger, 2013; acrylic and oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches.

Barkin-Leeds’s approach to the subject is both contemplative and irreverent in equal measure as represented by her painting Battlefield 4 with Mickey D’s. Combining gouache, ink, acrylic, and oil on linen, the artist avoids any simulation of reality in her depiction of a drone attack, which could be a graphic comic panel in a sci-fi fantasy. By using a fast-food icon as the object of the attack and a bright, enticing color palette, Barkin-Leeds transforms the battlefield into a nonsensical landscape and subverts the gamemakers’ original intent, creating a scene that is absurdly benign.

Some of the works, like Nuketown/Newtown (C.O.D. Black Ops 2) and S.C.B. with Frying Pan, displays an almost childlike sense of delight in the bombardment and chaotic mingling of images and colors that at first seems playful and then turns ominous. One doesn’t have to read the artist’s statement to perceive the anti-shooter-game message, but any risk of thematic overstatement is offset by paintings that are more abstract in their presentation, such as Helidronesect (Call of Duty: Black Ops 2), or almost clinical, like the pair of colored pencil drawings—Battlefield 4: Chest Pack, No Help and S.C.B. Shoulder Pack (On your Shoulders)—which suggest a revisionist take on the sepia-toned illustrations of WWII artists like Robert Greenhalgh who created their art in combat zones alongside fellow soldiers.

Temme Barkin-Leeds, Battlefield 4 with Kitty, 2014; acrylic, walnut alkyd, and oil on linen, 30 by 40 inches.
Temme Barkin-Leeds, Battlefield 4 with Kitty, 2014; acrylic, walnut alkyd, and oil on linen, 30 by 40 inches.

I doubt Barkin-Leeds has exhausted the possibilities of this subject matter yet but “Interference” provides an engaging meditation on a major pop culture disconnect: shooter games’ exploitation of death and carnage in a virtual world and a complete denial of what the artist recognizes as “real world war consequences where a real soldier cannot just start over as does the avatar in a shooter video game.”

“Interference: Reactions to Shooter Video Games” by Temme Barkin-Leeds will run through May 9 at Callanwolde Fine Arts Gallery.

Jeff Stafford is an Atlanta-based arts and lifestyle writer.