Allow me to present some background of the history of ANSI art and why it may be interesting. Back before we had Facebook, MySpace, Google; before the dot com boom and bust, before DSL and cable modems, even before Yahoo, before Internet access was readily available, there were still many diehard nerds communicating online with dial-up modems. Instead of calling NetZero, Netcom or Earthlink, we were connecting and communicating through hobbyist-run Bulletin Board Services (BBS). BBS’s existed as early as the 1970s, but gained popularity in the 1980s and peaked in the early 1990s.
A BBS is a text-based piece of software often run on a PC with one or more modems that allows users to dial-in and participate in message forums, play games and transfer software. Wow, it sure sounds like the Internet, but with text only. Most BBS’s operating solely with ASCII and ANSI character sets on DOS-based VGA (16 colors!) terminals, which meant scrolling, blocky text. This was not pixelated, this is what we had to work with. The words drab, boring, void of anything aesthetically pleasing may come to mind.. Not so fast. Aspiring and inspiring artists were able to transform this seemingly eternally bleak text-based environment into something magical. Using the 16 available colors, some amazing art was integrated into the BBS environments.
This art, known as ANSI art is something that grew solely out of necessity, something that could only have existed within the medium created by the personal computer boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This art was viewed during the BBS experience in the homes. Many ANSI artists part of the BBS communities were of the same demographic and settings – teenagers addicted to computers at a very young age; myself included. The ANSI art scene grew rapidly and soon “groups” had formed, and released ANSI art packs under pseudonyms on a regular basis.
The ANSI art scene nearly faded into oblivion as the BBS era was almost in it’s grave due to the Internet explosion in the mid 1990s and beyond. To this day, ANSI art packs are still released, and great archives of these artifacts exist.
A friend of mine, Kevin Olson is holding an ANSI art show at 20 goto 10 gallery in San Francisco. Kevin will be featuring ANSI art by some of the most famous artists, Lordjazz and Somms. Kevin really went all-out with this show. He will be using terminals which scroll ANSI art to ensure the art is displayed as originally intended. This is going to be a great event, and I already know many folks who are traveling from all over the country to attend.
For now, to get your ANSI art fix in, take a look at some of the packs found on sixteencolors.net.
For further reading on BBS’s and the culture, their history and a great archive of works produced take a look at Jason Scott’s Textfiles.com. Jason has also produced a wonderful BBS Documentary DVD set which documents the many niches and subcultures (hacking, phreaking, anarchy, virii, ANSI art) found in the BBS scene of the past.