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Travis LeRoy Southworth is a visual artist based in New Jersey whose work focuses on image manipulation, computerized labor, and self-perception. He helped beta-test the SuperRare platform in early 2018 and created his first work on the platform that April. He has exhibited at Super Dutchess, Undercurrent, Mixed Greens Gallery, Dock Gallery, Ortega y Gasset, Martha Otero Gallery, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Museum of Contemporary Digital Art and The Drawing Center. His work has been written about in Artsy, The New York Times, and Art Slant. He was awarded a NYFA Fellowship in Photography and a residency in Switzerland that involved a project with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Southworth holds a MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Where I End and You Begin #3
Tell us about your work.
We live in a strange world where we touch screens more than the ones we love. Much of my artistic practice revolves around digital representations of the body. I mainly work in series tied to specific conceptual ideas, but they often overlap and blend into one another. By day, I work as an image correction specialist in the beauty industry, spending several hours a day in a dark room while carefully removing facial imperfections. This work profoundly informs my art practice as I stockpile hundreds of blemishes, color adjustments and digital masks to construct new portraits.
My practice engages the use of computer software as it removes all traces of my hand— the process iterates the disappearance of the physical body on and off the screen. With this work, I aim to express the complexity of the 21st-century identity, and the disconnect between the body and those around us.
Have you always worked digitally?
I started out in painting and drawing but always had an affinity for photography and computers. I began integrating digital technology into my art practice in the late 1990s. I think it was Photoshop 4.0; the use of Layers came out in the previous version and now there were Adjustment Layers, which was huge at the time. While I did learn all the traditional darkroom techniques in photography I spent a lot of time scanning photographs, transparencies and working digitally. In the end, my work melded these media together as I create paintings through computer software that are based on photographic remnants.
How did you get started in blockchain and cryptoart?
I started to get into blockchain around 2017. The idea that there could be a digital currency and ownership could be proven through connected computer networks really made sense to me. I wondered if the same could be applied to digital artworks. In early 2018 I read about Jason Bailey’s article on Artnome “What is CryptoArt?” which became the intro article for people wanting to learn more about art and blockchain. I ended up contacting Jason and talking to him on the phone for quite a while, he is such a generous and amazing person. An artist friend of mine Jessica Angel, whom I previously exhibited with, started an ‘Art on the Blockchain’ Telegram channel. That is how I met most of the people in the space. Sadly, I missed the first Rare AF in January of 2018 but ended up exhibiting work at the Ethereal Summit 2018 at the Knockdown Center. I met and later became friends with Kevin Abosch, the Irish conceptual artist who often uses blockchain in his work, most recently his 1111 Project. I became reacquainted with the new media artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. Kevin built Monegraph in 2014 as part of the Rhizome Seven On Seven conference with Anil Dash. This was the first platform for artists to use cryptography to bring scarcity to digital art online. Other super early fascinating projects include Sarah Meyohas “BitchCoin”, Cryptograffi’s work and Marguerite Chritine AKA “Coin Artist” Bitcoin Puzzle Paintings. From there it spiraled, learning about all the amazing artists experimenting in the space. There are too many to list and we still need some sort of open source “CryptoArt WikiHistory” but Martin Lukas Ostachowksi has compiled a rather extensive list on “The History of CryptoArt.”
I feel like the yellow is creeping up in my light ends
A number of your works on SuperRare have a soft ethereal quality to them, could you talk more about those.
In my series “Color, Balance,” bodily artifacts removed from fashion photography become the base for paintings I create in Photoshop. I add subtle layers of digital paint and push pixels to blend the figure’s remnants into the background. I use color as a spatial feature, shifting away the boundary of the body to blur lines between abstraction and figuration. For physical works, I create unique pigmented prints on satin, canvas, and paper blends. Each piece has a fine texture I liken to skin. I drape my silk works over precarious wire structures, allowing them to float and shift upon the presence of a physical body or gentle breeze.
In response to the growing demands of the screen, I strive to balance the off-kilter relationship between digital and physical space. One aspect of this practice involves drawing attention to dysmorphia in the beauty industry. Titles for pieces such as “No cookie-cutter” and “You’ve lost all of my shape” often come from workplace comments about photographs I have edited. They point to the pernicious absurdity of the mutable digital body.
Blurry Mistake #1
The Future Starts Slow
You’ve exhibited your work at a number of galleries, why sell digital art as NFTs?
While I’ve had amazing opportunities to present my work, the traditional gallery system doesn’t work for all artists as a method to sustain an art practice. The biggest reason for myself was that artist royalties are built into sales when using the same NFT platform. Artists have been fighting for years to get a small percentage of secondary sales when their work is sold again after it leaves their studio. In early 2018, Amy Whitaker and Roman Kräussl wrote a terrific paper titled “Blockchain, Fractional Ownership, and the Future of Creative Work.” While there is a lot to unpack, it outlines how if certain artists had retained 10% equity in their work and had been given the returns or royalty each time the artwork was sold on the secondary market it would have outperformed the stock market many times over. This would have provided a sustainable income for artists to continue producing their work. Blockchain and NFTs are a viable platform for artists, allowing for 10% of each purchase to go directly to their digital wallet immediately upon sale. This would free many artists to focus more fully on their artistic practice.
How did you hear about SuperRare?
I can’t remember if I heard about SuperRare (back then Pixura) through the Telegram channel or some other channel. I jumped on the opportunity to beta-test their platform and knew its potential. I met Jonathan Perkins and John Crain in early 2018 and talked about what this could potentially do for artists. They have been an amazing force for artists, the whole team at SR has done such a great job over the years engaging the community, getting artists interested in NFTs and connecting with collectors.
How have you been holding out the past year?
The past year has definitely been a struggle for many of us. Especially artists who have had to redefine their practice in an era of a pandemic. It’s been especially difficult separating my art and life space, as both my wife and I work from home, often with our five-year old running amuck. I spent the better part of a year working in my basement studio on a new project “Familiar Faces” which is a series of soft gestural black and white portraits that deals with my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Avoiding physical contact with people and maintaining distance feels unnatural, especially in densely populated areas like New York and New Jersey. Even in my neighborhood, familiar faces began to appear strange, and unrecognizable due to masks, more limited interactions and an absence of response. I started this work because the current moment resembles an urban fog from a dystopian novel, where faces appear distorted, and figures disappear into a colorless haze.
I am excited to say I just finished an artist residency with Super Dutchess Gallery, NYC wrapping up some of the pieces from “Familiar Faces.” We presented a solo virtual exhibition titled “Human Nature Perfectly” which opened on March 22nd 2021. It explored the isolation and the felt effect of COVID-19, marking a year since the lockdown.
“Human Nature Perfectly”, virtual exhibition, Super Dutchess, NYC
What is on the horizon for you now?
I’m currently working on some new experimental digital paintings titled “Thresholds.” I start each work by using a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) to create the base for the painting and render my own brush strokes in Photoshop. I’m particularly fond of the software Playform, which allows artists to use a GAN without knowing how to code. I started creating this work shortly after I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my face. While the doctors were able to successfully remove it, the experience of the surgery was one of the more intense and strange experiences in my life. I outlined the process and the connection to my work in a recent interview “Scratching the Surface” with Eleonora Brizi of Breezy Art. As the surgeons pressed against my nose and closed eyes during the procedure, a swirling pattern of shapes and colors appeared. They are called ‘phosphenes’ and are a visual phenomenon that can happen with closed eyes upon resting or when pressure is applied to the eye. There was a nice connection to the work I just started. I chose the word ‘threshold’ to represent the series as it can be a boundary or a starting point of an experience. I like its connection to the words ‘thresh,’ meaning “to separate seed from a plant using a machine ” and ‘thrash,’ meaning “to beat soundly or go over again and again.” I’m excited to start a fresh series of work and look forward to seeing where it will take me.
Travis LeRoy Southworth
SuperRare editor Oli Scialdone considers the social experience of provenance and its relationship with community in the Web3 space.