Randy Gallegos: The Game Master

An interview with the artist about his ongoing Hearts for Hardware series and his work for Magic: The Gathering.

To view Randy Gallegos’ Magic: The Gathering portfolio is to watch the evolution of an artist in real time. Beginning with Ice Age in 1995, Randy has provided artwork for nearly 150 unique cards. Experimenting and growing along the way, he’s tackled everything from mythical creatures to fantastical landscapes, all the while creating a body of work that refuses to be pigeonholed.

Thus, it came as no surprise when Randy announced in 2015 that he was deep into the first phase of a personal project that centered around still life paintings. These weren’t just any still lifes, though — they were painting of video game hardware both familiar and exceptional.

Since then, the series titled Hearts for Hardware has been featured on Kotaku and Game Informer, and was part of Randy’s 2015 exhibit at Krab Jab Studio in Seattle. As Randy continues to release new paintings in the series, Vintage Magic spoke to the artist about the project and his past work for Wizards of the Coast.


Can you explain how the Hearts for Hardware project came about?

[My 2015 exhibit at Krab Jab Studio] was the first time I’d really show it publicly. I had been working on it for about a year and a half. It started out because I had been doing some still life paintings in general — fruits and vegetables, your typical still life things — for relaxation between projects.

At one point I wanted to do one, and it was the middle of winter, and there wasn’t anything interesting to paint in the house. There’s not a lot of fruit and vegetables in winter. So I grabbed some controllers I had in the house and I thought, ‘I’m just going to paint one of these things.’ And so I did, and it was a lot of fun, and it was interesting to see the hardware from a painter’s eye, which I had never done before because you just grab them and play with them.

So I said, ‘OK, I’ll do some more.’ And so just using the stuff I had in my house at first — my own hardware — I started doing a few more still lifes with them, and I was enjoying it still, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is something that other people might like too.’ I’m a super huge video game geek, and then it became, ‘Maybe I’ll just make a series of this.’

I started ordering things off of eBay, and the next thing you know I’m collecting video game hardware, which is fine. Any excuse to have more video game stuff around the house is good.

Krab Jab

Krab Jab: Randy Gallegos stands with some of his Hearts for Hardware painting on display at Krab Jab Studio in Seattle in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Randy Gallegos)



Do you think we’re going to see video games have a bigger influence on the creative output of Gen X and Millennial artists going forward?

I think we already are. I think that the generation that’s a little younger than me — they grew up and their formative years were Final Fantasy VII and stuff like that. That was the beginning of the polygonal era of video game graphics. There was a significant jump in the quality of the visuals. So I can see that having been very, very influential on folks, along with the influence of anime in the 1990s.

So I think we’re already seeing it. We’re also seeing artists explicitly returning and doing fan art for video games. Comics have always had fan art. Movies like Star Wars and Aliens have always had fan art. And now we’re starting to see video game fan art as well.

The Next Level (In Progress)

The Next Level (In Progress): An in-progress shot of Randy Gallegos’ painting “The Next Level.” The title of the painting is derived from Sega of America’s advertising campaign in the early- to mid-1990s: “Welcome to the Next Level.” (Photo courtesy of Randy Gallegos)



What video game(s) had the biggest influence on you?

It’s hard to think of any video game in particular that had an artistic influence on me growing up. They were simply always in the environment and always around and visually interesting. The cool thing about a video game is that every time you put one in, your visual experience is unique and unexpected. I think that kept the imagination level high.


Is Hearts for Hardware the main personal project you’re tackling now?

That’s the main one for now. It’ll be an ongoing thing that I do along with my other work. I think there’s a small perception that maybe that’s all I’m doing now, but it’s just because I had a backlog of paintings that I hadn’t been showing. So it’s something that I’ll be doing on and off hopefully for the next couple of years. The plan with the series is to be really expansive throughout the history of video games, so it could end up being a couple of hundred paintings if I end up going the whole way through like I want to.

Apart from that, I’ll continue to do the kind of figurative gallery work that I’ve been doing, as well as illustration for select clients, which is something I still want to keep doing.


X-Factor P1 (In Progress)

X-Factor: P1 (In Progress): An in-progress shot of Randy Gallegos’ painting “X-Factor: P1.” In his commentary for the painting, Randy says of the oversized controller, “The new kid on the block, one can forgive Microsoft not getting everything quite right immediately.” (Photo courtesy of Randy Gallegos)


Turning to Magic: The Gathering for a moment, how do you think the work you did for Wizards of the Coast helped you develop as an artist and get to where you are now?

In every way. [Laughs] It gave me an audience that continues, and even though I haven’t been doing Magic for the past two years or so, that audience is going to continue for years. People who got to know my work there will continue to know it through that game. That’s incredible. There are very few artists who get the opportunity to have their work put forward on an international stage like that.

These days, Magic is hugely competitive. In the early days it was, but it wasn’t so much. And that meant you could experiment a lot more in the early days, and so as a result I did. That produced interesting successes, interesting changes to what I did, and also a lot of failures. People didn’t spend as much time on the early Magic work as they do now. Even for my own work, the later work I did required a lot more investment in time and energy and effort, and the stakes were higher. So being able to have been a part of that from an early stage was wonderful.


Do you think you’ll return to doing work for Magic in the future?

Of course! We didn’t ‘break up’ or anything. I’m working on projects, and when they call or email I pick up the work and do it. If they don’t, then sometimes I’ll reach back and say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And sometimes I’ll just keep busy with my other things. And so what happened with the most recent time was they didn’t email, and I just kept doing my other things. If they want to call me, I’ll do it.


How do you think Magic art has helped advance speculative realism?

It made it more mainstream. Prior to Magic, Dungeons and Dragons was kind of the equivalent in fantasy gaming, but D&D was always more niche. It never had quite the player base that Magic does and did for the past 20 years. [Magic] picked up the torch in a sense from what D&D was doing and managed to bring it to a much, much bigger audience, and as a result it brought imaginative realism out of the shadows a bit. And video games over time have also done that because they’ve become so mainstream as well.


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