Still from Patrick Smith’s “Windosill” (via

Artist Patrick Smith’s Windosill, a Flash-based video game that’s playable in your internet browser, is a fascinating work both for its slow, subtle game play and its visual inspirations, namely Greek-Italian proto-Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico’s empty landscapes and American Philip Guston’s still-life paintings, inspirations that the artist acknowledged in an interview with Kill Screen.

Just as Guston and de Chirico endowed still objects with their own inner life, so painter and video game designer Patrick Smith takes everyday surroundings and tweaks them into interactive sculptures.

In the first scene of Windosill, what at first appears to be an abstract array of objects turns out to be a child’s bedroom shelf with the click of an interactive light. A wooden toy train is the player’s only avatar, its only goal to move through the right-side door of each level.

Giorgio de Chirico, “The Disquieting Muses” (1918) (image via

What Smith does that echoes de Chirico’s work is to fill these empty spaces, often reminiscent of empty shelves or the insides of already-opened boxes, with a strange pathos, a heavy emotional atmosphere. Drenched in a cool array of blues, greens and grays, Smith’s game feels like a quiet dream, subdued if not sad, much the same feeling that de Chirico’s empty staircases and colonnades summon in me.

Guston’s brushy still lifes — made up of anthropomorphized objects from the artist’s studio, paintbrushes, pallets, easels, a cot — come in with Smith’s careful Flash animation of each tiny jewel of a stage in Windosill. Where Guston shows his objects’ inner lives with energetic brushwork and a vibrating anxiety, Smith lets his creations move with unnerving smoothness, often following the player’s path through the game with inanimate eyes.

I love that Smith can create this bristling sense of unease even in a game that’s small in scale and cartoony in delivery. No matter how far you progress in Windosill‘s levels, the same emotions create a rich background to the game’s simple puzzles — the feeling of laying in bed as a child, wondering what’s hidden in the closet, out the window or under the covers.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...