Paintings as NFTs

Jeremiah Palecek
5 min readApr 25, 2021


‘Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented' Willem De Kooning remarked. His large abstract expressionist paintings of women track the artist’s movements and gestures on the canvas. He used his whole body when painting. This is in sharp contrast to how one draws with a tablet. And I don’t want to be misconstrued, as if I’m saying that there’s something wrong with working on a tablet. There isn’t. However, the physical substance which is paint and the way one uses their body while painting is simply different. Paintings are immediate, and can be as large as a building, or as small as a penny. They’re physical things, in space. Part of how we read how an artist tackled a project, can be read in relation to the size of it. We can relate to the movements, and the slowness or the quickness the body had to implement in order to make it.

Willem De Kooning — Woman Standing Pink — 48" x 36"— 1954

Another part of the painterly myth, is the studio, a place which was overflowing with an artist’s inspiration and work. Oftentimes artists , especially painters, are quite protective of their studio spaces. Just letting anyone in can make them feel uneasy, as if they’re sharing too much of themselves too quickly. The paintings themselves act as wallpaper for the incubation of ideas, and push the production of more paintings. In James Elkins book “What Painting Is” we are presented with the argument that the studio is akin to an alchemist’s workshop. Where ideas are pursued, and experimented with, often with great abandon and disregard to science or reason.

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio — Mid 50s

When I started with creative technologist Dennison Bertram, we began cutting all of my archive (things I had the best photos of at least) into thousands of pieces and rearranging them into these generative collages. We noticed something almost immediately. The physicality of the paint felt different from all of the other projects that were dominating the front pages of the major platforms, where 3d sculptures and art made on computers clearly was the medium of choice.

Oil paint kind of showed up, like it always has throughout the years, and just said “Hi, here I am” . And that’s not to say we were the “first” oil paintings in the space, far from it. But oftentimes when we see paintings online, we see a picture of a painting, and that’s as far as the artist or gallerist has gone in presenting it. The standard approach thus far has been “Here’s a painting, it’s on the wall. Here’s a jpeg of the same painting, now it’s an NFT.” Now I’m working with other artists, and their archives, the ideas we’re talking about has changed dramatically. Instead of dorking out about whether the shadow on the side of an end table is working out, we’re talking about how to bring their work into a digital space. And this space is quite different from the one they’re accustomed to. Generally a painting’s digital life ends when it gets posted to Instagram. But now there’s potential to tell different stories, and have a completely different approach to building a painting. We can build it in pieces, and assemble it later. We can remove certain layers, and add others throughout a month, and tell a story as the pieces sell. We can determine the rarity of certain works, which gives a different focus on what an artist wants to make special and what is more common. This is where the real magic happens in the intersection of physical paint and the digital world. It’s not just about a flat painting on the wall, that becomes a flat image on a screen. It’s about telling a story, interacting with a community, and seeing time compress into itself (older paintings mixed with newer paintings) .

On top of all that, there’s the fact that we’re also creating something similar to a print, which is completely unique. Dennison brings this up in his piece “Prints of an Artist” , but imagine going to an art show, and there you could buy a completely unique print of that artist’s work. You could print tens of thousands of them, and each would be unique, and anyone who went into the gallery could buy one. So if you went to Willem De Kooning’s show in 1954, the print you got was kind of “your” print. It wouldn’t exist without you. It’s really quite a remarkable shift in a viewers interaction with a painting, and how they view the work, and how they live with the work. It’s “their” print. They helped make it by buying it. It’s the artist’s vision, and I’m quite adamant that the artist must retain their copyright to the work, but the viewer (collector) kind of breathed the life into it.

John De Feo — Preliminary Test for upcoming drop - Oil Paint and Generative Collage

I think NFTs are here to stay, and traditional painters, sculptors, ceramicists, printmakers, film makers, and all the other “analog” brats who won’t give up working with their favorite toys have an opportunity to not only come into a completely new space overflowing with creativity, and adapt their work to it, but they also have a chance to revision all their past work as well. There’s no need to approach the digital world the same way you do with an Instagram post of your latest painting, use it as a place to approach your paintings in a completely different manner. Trust me, it’s a lot of fun, and you still get to have a studio which smells of linseed oil.

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