WHITTIER — They didn’t really see it coming at Light Grey Art Lab.
A few months ago, the four young artists of the Whittier design studio, gallery and workshop came up with an idea for their second-ever gallery show and put a call for submissions online. Unwittingly, they tapped a rich vein of Gen-Y nerd culture nostalgia.
“Pokémon Battle Royale” invited artists to draw their own versions of 151 characters from the video game series and ’90s cultural phenomenon. Pokémon spun off a television show and collectible card game and also introduced the world to the little bundle of cute known as Pikachu, a yellow cartoon creature who looks like a cross between a flying squirrel and a rabbit, and who is arguably as recognizable to the 30-and-under crowd as Bugs Bunny.
“It was one person who tweeted one thing on the Internet, and it was like wildfire,” recalled Alyssa Nassner, a recent transplant from Baltimore who is co-curator of the show with Bryan Ische.
A short story about the show was posted in January on Kotaku, Gawker Media’s videogame blog, and the next day there were 500 messages in the studio’s email inbox, Nassner said.
“We had to turn away so many good artists,” she added. “I was heartbroken.”
Nassner moved to Minneapolis to work for Paper Bicycle, the design studio run by Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) instructor Lindsay Nohl. The four-person shop also includes Nohl’s husband, Chris Hajny, and Francesca Buchko.
Paper Bicycle used to operate out of the six-story Calhoun Building near the Lyn-Lake intersection in an upper-level office with panoramic views of Uptown. They lost the view when they relocated to Whittier, but they also became much more than a design studio.
Open since March, Light Grey Art Lab hosts community art and design classes for both professionals looking to learn new skills and non-professionals looking for a fun and creative way to while away a weekend afternoon — “the art version of Kitchen Window,” as Nohl put it.
Their first sell-out class was a terrarium-building workshop. Courses scheduled for this summer cover everything from painting monsters to Adobe Photoshop to hand-drawn type and letterforms. They’re also developing courses for kids.
Nohl anticipated the lab’s location, just a block or so west of the MCAD campus, would lead to a lot of positive interaction with students.
Those teens and 20-something students are, naturally, members of the Pokémon generation. The school even has a large and active club dedicated to the video game, and there was talk in April of compiling some of their fan-art into a zine to, as Nohl put it, “add that extra touch of community into our show.”
“Pokémon Battle Royale” runs through May 11 at Light Grey Art Lab, 118 E. 26th St., Suite 101. 239-2047. lightgreyartlab.com