One of my more eccentric hobbies is as an armchair, amateur historian preserving the transient digital culture we all live in. A specific area of interest of mine is material from the Bulletin Board System (BBS) era. Specifically, 1993-1996. This is the time I started getting online with computers and connecting with other people before the Internet was a common thing you could be connected to in every home.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of digital art/ ANSI Art, I first suggest you check out, BBS The Documentary Part 5 to hear from the people themselves who created this art. I recently stumbled across a cache of old BBS related files on the OspreyNet IRC FTP site (ftp://irc.ospreynet.info – which appears unstable / available at random). Amongst this collection of BBS Files was huge chunks of ANSI art which appear to have been downloaded from P-80 BBS – which one can tell by the automated tagline/advertisement added to nearly every file telling you so.
Most folks when they think of ANSI Art identify the style with the “art scene” / graffiti style made famous by groups such as ACiD and iCE. I started noticing a trend in the ANSI files as I paged through the files from the site – early pre-art group examples, often crude in style, by individual artists. While I have an immense respect for the “scene style” ANSI art, I’d never quite stopped to look at some of this earlier style of work.
I’d consider these kind of pieces of art the “folk art” of the ANSI world. While the artscene groups drew very much in a street art / graffiti / anime style, the early art by individuals was crude in some places, amateur, and I find it much more endearing. While we have great sites like sixteencolors.net to preserve the artscene packs, I have found little to no focus / curated effort to collect together these ANSI pieces drawn out of love by individuals.
Being the early 90s, I started noticing some trends developing while going through the Opsreynet collection. Specifically there was a very interesting large amount of ANSI art with Gulf War themes to it from around 1991. At first this struck me as a bit odd, but it quickly made sense when I thought about it. Imagine it is 1991, and the Internet was we know it doesn’t exist.
The Internet exists, but you lack large-scale social media platform or photo hosting websites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Geocities, or a blog on to which place your opinions, views, or artistic output. So what do you do? In the case of numerous artists I found, they expressed their views of the Gulf War conflict in the way they knew how – ANSI art. Creatable by anyone with a computer and a copy of TheDraw, easily distributed by modem, this artform makes perfect sense for the time and place in which it exists.
Throughout this collection you’ll find many reoccurring themes. The pieces range from the heavily patriotic, sporting Eagle imagery, to the light and humorous such as the Iraqi Air Force Group Photo. “Support our Troops” appears as a common motif in many pieces. The SCUD missile features prominently in one piece, while we get comedic potshots taken at Saddam Hussein in a few others. “Free Kuwait” as a theme appears twice.
I hope you enjoy this snapshot of amateur online art in wartime context. I’ll gather the original .ANS files available at some point and update this post when I make them available. If you have any further files to contribute to this collection, please contact me on Twitter.