Jason Maloney’s Art Channels the Classic 1980s Fixture: The Video Arcade

In his element. Photo courtesy of Jason Maloney.

Like that of any genuine artist, Jason Maloney’s work is very much a product of his own personal history. In his case, Maloney’s distinctive 1980’s-Southern California style stems from his childhood passion for one of the biggest fixtures of the 80’s: the video arcade.

“The side art on all the arcade games were, for me, what drew me into playing the game,” remembers Maloney. When he would get home, he’d spend his time drawing his favorite pieces of arcade machine art himself. “Even though a game might have sucked, it was the side art that captured my imagination. I would be bummed that the Space Invaders art never looked like the actual game or that the Pac Man on the side of the machine would have legs, but the one in the game didn’t. But the coloring and everything just drew me right in and made my imagination go wild.” 

As he got older, Maloney also started to draw inspiration from punk culture and skateboard deck art. “I grew up in Upland next to the Baldy pipeline and I would skate it every day after school,” he says. Companies like Schmitt Stix and Santa Cruz influenced him the most with their eye-catching designs. “I think it’s similar to the artwork on the side of an arcade game because you have to be simple and bold,” says Maloney. “There are so many arcade games to choose from and, in a skate shop, so many boards on the wall to choose from. Something has to stand out. I noticed that the ones were simple and bright caught my attention.” At this point, it’s clear that Maloney’s aesthetics can be traced directly to his childhood. With an affinity for bright colors, lucid designs, and the 1980’s as a whole, it’s no wonder that Maloney names Patrick Nagel and Keith Haring as two of his favorite artists.

Maloney went on to study Illustration and Painting at Cal State Fullerton, where he was able to hone his craft. Ironically enough, one of the most defining moments during his time there happened outside the classroom. “Juxtapoz  had just dropped in 1994 and I remember seeing the first magazine on a newsstand in between classes,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘Fuck! People paint like this?’ That was the second big catalyst for me. It kinda brought all my influences from the 80’s together. Guys were painting stuff that I was thinking about and I didn’t know that you could do that!” This validation is what pushed Maloney to delve into pop surrealism and to ultimately develop his own style.

Maloney hard at work, surrounded by some of his characters. Photo courtesy of Jason Maloney.

Maloney’s artwork started to get darker, as he was forced to deal with some personal demons while at the same time drawing influence from more ominous artists such as Mark Ryden.  The result was a series of very refined and gloomy, if not at times, brooding paintings: something that fans of Maloney’s current work might have a difficult time imagining. “But I grew out of that fast,” he says, “And thank God that I did, because I was kind of just parroting [Ryden]. I was paying homage to him, you know kind of like the early masters trying to emulate their influences. Through that, I developed my own voice.”

Fortunately, when Maloney started making some positive changes, they were reflected in his artwork as well. The most drastic shift happened while he was working as a bartender in the late 90’s. He started drawing cartoon animals, most notably a clumsy elephant named Tippsy, on napkins to impress girls that came into the bar. Soon, these characters started making their way into Maloney’s other works of art. “I had just gotten sober and it was pretty dark, ya know? I was pretty pissed off,” he remembers, “But I didn’t want to be that dark guy. I did that series of paintings and I sold a bunch of them and I was doing really well. Then these characters kinda popped in there and it was just more fun for me.”

Eventually, Maloney landed a job with Disney as a scenic artist, where he worked on everything from movie sets to rides at Disneyland. After that, he was hired on by Nike, who in turn sent him to work at Hurley as their Director of Art. This gave him the opportunity to travel the world and collaborate with other artists on various projects ranging from designing products to painting murals. “I’ve worked for two of the biggest companies on the planet,” says Maloney, “Ya know, for over 25 years. That’s a lot of time to be in the corporate world and to be making money as an artist.”

Perhaps that’s why when Maloney parted ways with Hurley a few years ago, he decided to go his own route instead of seeking another corporate position. “It was opportunity,” he says. “It was like, here comes life. So I guess was time to take my art to another level.” The first steps of his new entrepreneurial pursuit came naturally as he took the characters that he had been perfecting since his time as a bartender and turned them into a kid’s clothing line. Tippsy the elephant now has a whole gang of sketchy, polka dotted friends, including  Chum the shark, Patch the cat, and Frank the octopus, who appear on hats, t-shirts, hoodies, and custom-painted skateboards.

Over the past two years Maloney has been able to sell his merchandise in select stores (such as Orange County staple Jack’s Surfboards), collaborate with a variety of other companies, and get some of his paintings in galleries around the country. As someone who’s always thought pretty far outside the box however, Maloney has no lack of ideas about how to keep pushing his art to the next level. In fact, for the next three months, he’ll have 13 of his original works displayed in Newport Beach’s own Ho Sum Bistro. “I’m gonna get more eyes on my work there than in some stuffy gallery who’s gonna hike up my prices three times higher than they should be,” he explains. “I’m not totally closed to a gallery, but it has to be the right one.”

Maloney’s signal box, on the corner of Bristol and Baker in Costa Mesa. Photo courtesy of Jason Maloney.

Another hometown hotspot to view some of Maloney’s work is on the corner of Bristol St. and Baker St. in Costa Mesa, where a confused Tippsy and tenacious Chum adorn one of the city’s electrical boxes. Maloney is also working as a set designer and producer for an upcoming movie based on the true story of two brothers who were wrongly accused of selling thousands of dollars worth of pharmaceutical drugs. “I don’t know where that’s gonna take me,” he admits, “But I’m sure it’ll lead to something.” This kind of ambition and optimism have already gotten Maloney much farther in his art career than most artists could ever dream of, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down any time soon. Keep your eyes peeled for Tippsy the elephant around town, because soon enough, you’ll be seeing him all over the world. See more of Jason Maloney’s art on instagram @jasonmaloneyart and at jasonmaloneyart.com!


6 Replies to “Jason Maloney’s Art Channels the Classic 1980s Fixture: The Video Arcade”

  1. Love Jason’s work Lucky to have one of his skate board and painting
    My husband has several of his Tshirts and shorts!!
    Great artist and lucky to know him

  2. Lucky to be Jason’s Aunt who gave him early drawing materials at Christmas. Privileged to own early art of his and honored to watch him grow and share his journey with all its twists and turns. Accomplished artist and beautiful man. Great article.

  3. Love the great article honey. It took me down memory lane, way back to when you started preschool at 4 and they called me to come in to see a picture you had drawn. I remember saying OMG you had drawn an aerial view ia train in perfect perspective chugging down the tracts! The teacher said to me “You HAVE to encourage his art, he will be famous someday.” I saved that picture for and gave it to you many years later!!
    I love you son and I’m so proud of you not just the artist but the man you’ve become. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Mom

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