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August 21, 2020 - Present

In the mid 1960’s, as American culture was rapidly changing under the influence of the Baby Boom’s surge in youth population, a new style of artwork hit the pinball industry. Characterized by angular, abstracted figures, this artwork stood in stark contrast to the old fashioned graphic style that had dominated pinball art since the 1940’s. Reflecting a more contemporary look, these newer works drew from a restrained, minimalist approach more often found in fine art and architecture.

This radical new aesthetic, often referred to as "Pointy People", was developed by pinball artist Jerry Kelley and later emulated by artist Christian Marche. Effectively speaking to the interests of 1960’s and 70’s youth culture, it also spelled success for manufacturers like Bally and Williams as the pinball industry rushed to reach this new market of consumers. Though commercially successful, this radical style left some pinball enthusiasts scratching their heads, a division that remains even today.

How Was it Different?

Jerry Kelley used the term Contemporary Style when discussing his work for Bally and Williams, and many credit him with moving pinball styling forward from the Pop Art look. Since Christian Marche was encouraged to emulate Kelly’s visual style, we can consider them both working within the same framework for their pointy people art.

Stylized vs Realistic

In a departure from the comic book and pin-up style illustrations popular in pinball art of the 1940’s and 50’s, Kelley (and later Marche), would develop a style full of flattened, exaggerated forms. Decidedly modern, this cut-paper style expanded the vocabulary available to pinball artists, marking a new chapter in how they reached players.

 

Geometric Abstraction

Angular, geometric abstraction factored heavily in the Contemporary Style, bringing avant garde influence to popular culture. With roots in Cubism, Futurism, and even International Style architecture, Kelley and Marche discarded ornament and detail, distilling their subjects down to straight lines, simple curves, and geometric blocks of color.

 

Energy and Motion

The Contemporary Style captured energy and motion like no pinball art before it. Broken down to the simplest elements, the work suggested movement through distorted perspective fully outside the boundaries of realism. Here, artists could create scenes that defied gravity, physics, and anatomy to attract the attention of potential players.  

 

These 2 backglasses illustrate just how striking the Contemporary Style was in comparison to the prevailing pinball art of the time. Though both released in 1970, Marche’s artwork is stylish, modern, and energetic, making Stenholm’s work seem subdued and old fashioned by comparison.

PP-diff_1.jpg

STENHOLM - TARGET POOL

PP-diff_2.jpg

MARCHE - MISS O

GALLERY IMAGES

Pot 'O' Gold

Pot 'O' Gold

1965 Williams 

Jerry Kelley

In 1965, the art on the pinball machines began taking a new direction. Heralded by Kelley as the Contemporary Style, a bold new artistic approach ushered in one of the most distinctive styles to grace pinball, commonly known as the Pointy People. Some pinball players were intrigued by this new aesthetic; others were firmly against it.

Jerry Kelley introduced the style with Pot ‘O’ Gold. Besides a move towards abstraction and Cubism, Kelley shifted the color palette from bright, primary colors to muted tones, effectively standing out by holding back. This was the first of many machines in a style that would challenge the norm for pinball art.

A-Go-Go

A-Go-Go

1966 WIlliams

Jerry Kelley

If Jerry Kelley’s first game featuring Contemporary Style artwork was a gamble for Williams, his second game, A-Go-Go, cinched the bet.

With A-Go-Go, Williams had a smash hit, outselling their closest competitor Gottlieb by a hefty margin. Engineer Norm Clark’s introduction of the captive ball spinner likely boosted this game’s popularity, but Kelley’s artwork capturing the ecstatic abandon of a Go Go club scene in full swing had the power to pull in the pocket change. There simply hadn’t been anything like it in the world of pinball art; this was a fresh, fun, and sophisticated take on contemporary life in the 1960’s.

Beat Time

Beat Time

1967 Williams

Jerry Kelley

Responding to the enormously influential British Invasion, Kelley worked up an obvious nod to the Beatles in Beat Time. Williams, however, did not possess a license to use their names or likenesses, so instead Kelley made this parody/homage instead, portraying the Beatlemania sweeping the nation.

The art style is very much in line with the ongoing trend of European artistic influence in America, and the tie-in to popular youth culture made perfect sense from a marketing perspective. While very common in today’s pinball art, it wasn’t until 1975 that a pinball manufacturer would officially license an existing property with Bally’s Wizard.

Surfers

Surfers

1967 Bally

Jerry Kelley

By 1967, Kelley seemed to be getting comfortable creating pinball art and began mixing humor into his palette. A playful tone develops in Kelley’s style encouraging the viewer to sort out his graphic puzzles. For example, the plastics are depicted as islands with abstract sandy beaches and palms, while the playfield is an ocean where surfers (represented by the ball in play) surf down the wave.

Again, Kelley’s use of muted colors somehow worked well on a pinball machine. Kelley borrows heavily from Abstract and Cubist art, using just enough definition to suggest what’s going on while leaving room for the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Mini Zag

Mini Zag

1968 Bally

Jerry Kelley

Perhaps the best example of Pointy People from Jerry Kelley, MiniZag is a TV dance party and we’re invited! Shows like Hullabaloo, Shindig!, and American Bandstand that highlighted top musical acts of the day were extremely popular at this time. These shows were youth-oriented, broadcasting new fashion, music, and dance to young audiences.

The influence of the British Invasion is clear with shaggy haircuts and mod fashion on full display, all in solid colors, simple lines, and geometric shapes. Even the playfield is somewhat restrained as Kelley opted for a simpler and less intricate composition than some of his earlier works.

Dogies

Dogies

1968 Bally

Jerry Kelley

With the stylized treatment of an American Western subject, we might draw comparisons to the so-called Spaghetti Western films of the 1960’s. Filtering the mythology of cowboys through the lens of European directors, films like Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy took a revisionist look at American folklore. The same might be said about Kelley and Marche, who treated established pinball themes with their modern spin, their art exploring familiar and unknown territories all at once.

Beyond the art, Dogies includes several enjoyable play features, including zipper flippers, free ball gates, and separate bonus counters for each player.

Paddock

Paddock

1969 Williams

Christian Marche

Horse racing themes have long been popular with pinball manufacturers. The close association with high-brow gambling may relate to the aristocratic origins of pinball’s predecessor, bagatelle.

In Paddock we again see familiar parts of American culture refracted through Marche’s kaleidoscope. It’s beautifully executed with just enough accuracy to render the subjects easily perceptible using a minimum of line and color. The humor in a racehorse eating a spectator's hat or a falling jockey’s horseshoe-shaped legs helps deflate some of the stiffness, making the sport of kings available to the masses (mirroring the history of pinball itself).

Miss O

Miss O

1969 Williams

Christian Marche

Though billiard themes were common throughout pinball’s history, Marche’s work here stands alone. Comparing Marche’s Miss-O artwork to that of contemporaries like Gottlieb’s Art Stenholm, the striking difference in style is clear and illustrates just how much of a departure the Contemporary Style was for pinball art at the time.

While Stenholm followed in the footsteps of Roy Parker by setting out scenes with traditional perspective and proportion, Marche flattens the picture plane and twists his figures into impossible positions. The energy and motion in Marche’s scene attracts and demands attention like nothing before it.

Double Up

Double Up

1970 Bally

Christian Marche

Perhaps his finest example in the style, Marche’s artwork for Double-Up successfully draws in players with Cubist abstraction and energy. Despite the powerful graphics, only 55 units were produced.

Reflecting another European influence in 1960’s American culture, Double-Up nods to the cafe racer. A term for both the rider and the motorcycle, cafe racers began as a youth subculture oriented around stripped-down racing bikes and rock ‘n’ roll music in 1960’s England. Marche’s art evokes their minimalist styling and racing posture, which found enormous popularity with young people embracing the rebellion and exhilaration of the time.

Zip-A-Doo

Zip-A-Doo

1970 Bally

Christian Marche

1970 and the hippie phenomenon was in full swing. Marche’s style was a perfect fit for a Flower Power theme, as he effortlessly captured the cheery outlook and exuberant energy of the flower children. The pinball industry knew that youth made up a huge segment of their clientele and embraced the far-out sensibilities of the generation with Zip-A-Doo.

Originating in Berkeley, California, Flower Power was a rallying cry for the growing anti-Vietnam war movement. The aesthetic of bright colors and stylized flowers quickly flowed into mainstream America via The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and the set of Laugh-In, among others.

Stardust

Stardust

1971 Williams

Christian Marche

1971 was a big year for Williams. For the first time since 1966 they would produce more than 5000 units of any single title, and they did so with three that year: Honey, Jackpot, and Stardust.

Marche’s artwork for Stardust is perhaps more abstract than some of his other work. The theme is fairly ambigious, opting for feeling over storytelling. Energetic, colorful, and bold, Stardust is spectacularly pointy, but shows how differently Marche and Kelley handled color in their work. Here we see a closer kinship with the vivid psychedelic colors and cosmic imagination of popular counterculture artists like Peter Max.

OXO

OXO

1973 Williams

Christian Marche

Williams enjoyed great success with OXO, one of their best selling games of 1973. Still popular with players today, OXO combined playability with striking artwork to create an enduring classic from the electromechanical era.

Whether evoking real life scenes or simply supporting gameplay, Marche’s artwork in this era is understood at a glance but still shines when closely inspected. While visually situated in the Contemporary style, OXO is based on the primitive strategy game tic-tac-toe. The gameplay stays engaging by pairing easily understood rules with just enough difficulty to keep the player challenged.

Researched and written by Chris Rummell and Michael Schiess

Pacific Pinball Museum

1510 Webster Street

Alameda, Ca 94501

(510) 769-1349

info@pacificpinball.org

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