I’ve been making paintings for decades. I grew up in a house overflowing with paintings, married a painter, and my livelihood has centered around painting for basically, well, forever. Needless to say painting holds a very special place in my heart, and in my home. But almost a year ago now, my paintings lives took on a new, and unexpected turn. I embarked on the SOLOS NFT Project with one of my best friends, Dennison Bertram. We took all of my digital images of my paintings, and dissected them into thousands of pieces. The goal was to use these pieces to make new paintings. And that’s what we did. Creating over 2700 unique works of art collaged from my archive.
My entire archive, which is still most definitely taking up space, were transformed into digital files, which were then cut up, and reassembled. The project was very successful, and thousands of the NFTs were sold. The SOLOS community was built around these digital paintings, and within a few days, people began to write me. They were interested in buying the physical pieces.
I was still getting acclimated to the idea of having my work seen digitally, rather than in real life (even though my paintings existed digitally on Instagram for years). For those unfamiliar with painters, we can get super dorky about seeing paintings in real life. Paintings can be pilgrimages, and vacations can be centered around seeing them. Hell, the entire reason you go to Rome is for the paintings, not for the pizza. So it was with great trepidation that I began to accept the fact that around 2800 new digital works had been birthed into existence in the span of a few weeks. But then, as I said before, the community started wanting the original pieces. Someone wrote me asking “Hey, do you have any of the physicals available?” And this was a game I knew, so I said “Of course, I’ve got a PDF I can send you of everything I have”
Physicals…. It was a word I hadn’t ever heard of before. Over drinks I asked a friend familiar with the NFT space if this was a common term, and apparently, it is. Looking a bit deeper I discovered the company Infinite Objects which specializes in created unique digital prints of NFTs and other digital collectibles.
These physical objects are all about making the digital world tangible. The use is pretty obvious, you put it in your house to display, or keep it like an unboxed action figure. It’s simply the physical representation of the digital image. So, this is one direction we can go with “Physical” NFTs. The other would be how most painters came into the space. Which was to take a photo of their painting, and sell it as an NFT. Sometimes there would only be one NFT, other times there would be a hundred, or a thousand. So this is another direction we can go, where the objects start out as physical, and then become digital. The physical works can also be sold, and the NFT can act as an accurate way to trace the provenance of the painting, which is why galleries quickly gained interest in the usability of them.
Then there was me. Paintings, which became images, which were then cut up, and then rearranged by some software, and sold as NFTs, and then they came back into the real world, at various exhibitions, on screen. The physical became digital, and then the digital became tangible again.
So, why do people want to visit a gallery, to see a bunch of screens with images displayed on them? Why not just look at them on their phone? Through the SOLOS discord I made some friends in Prague who had started an NFT gallery called Crpyto Portal . It was located in a 13th century cellar in the heart of Prague.
The environment couldn’t get more old Europe than this. The walls of the cellar couldn’t be messed with, since it’s a historical building, so a scaffolding was built for around 40 flat screens which were installed. Each showing one work. The viewer comes into the space and is completely familiar with the format. Walk around, maybe eat some cheese if its an opening, and look at the art while you meet people you know. The environment itself is everything we expect from an art exhibit. The paintings are hung at eye level, and we can wander through. There’s a clear beginning and end. This is in contrast to looking at art on Twitter or OpenSea where the amount of pieces we could consume in a day would make the Louvre blush.
I think there’s something else going on with this model for an exhibition which goes beyond just a mere nostalgia and acceptance of how we expect an exhibition to be. There’s people. We do actually still have bodies, and they take up space. We “go out” because we want to take our physical body somewhere else. We want to smell the bakery when we walk into it and the exhaust fumes when we exit. It’s how we navigate the world. I think the physical rewards of NFTs are going to be huge, and they’re often overlooked. The media is transfixed on the imagery, and what they see to be as lowbrow folk art made by uncultivated people with no interest in “real” art. This sort of gatekeeping is nothing new. There was a time where people would never see artwork outside of a church, and artwork about their lives was still unthinkable. How could they ever be the subject of a painting? Why would anyone want a painting of a family eating potatoes when they could see a painting of St Anthony being tempted by Satan?
Regardless, what’s going to bring everyone in, is the way that NFTs will begin to connect with people. They could be tickets to get into an event, they could be an exhibition in a 13th century cellar in Prague, they could be a physical painting that was made into an NFT, or a digital painting made into a physical item. The physical, and real world benefits to NFTs are going to be the game changing aspect that comes into our lives just as social media did. Those who initially stated “Why would I want “”digital friends”” I’ve got real friends in real life!” all got on Facebook eventually because it offered other real world benefits. It showed us what events were happening where we lived, and allowed us to keep a public diary of photos, and thoughts. NFTs will be the same.
For artists, this means that not much has really changed in some ways. We still make images that will live with people in their homes. And the collectors who buy them will vary. Some will be speculating, and looking to flip the art, just as they’ve done at freeports for decades, and others will develop their eye, and their own aesthetic proclivities. Some people will collect Hulk comics, and others will have Frida Khalo prints. The same goes for the burgeoning NFT collectors out there, who will all be decorating their homes with their collections. And when they have people over, they’ll talk about the artist, and the story behind the work. Other people will look at it, and some will hate it, and others will resonate with it. This is nothing new. And that’s why NFTs and digital art will only become more commonplace in homes and businesses in the years to come.