Placer Community Theater

Dive bars, night stars, and DMT: A weekend with Coldie

In June, SuperRare went panning for gold in central California with renowned NFT artist Coldie. We discussed struggling as an artist, the birth and future of the NFT movement, mixing art with psychedelics and how to untap creativity within yourself.

Aug 6, 2021 Artist Profiles

Whyte Luke
11 months ago

Friday

Late on the night of June 11th, I flew to Sacramento, shoehorned myself into a rented Chevy Spark next to SuperRare’s Head of Content Production, Nathan Beer, and drove east toward the small city of Auburn in the Sierra Nevada foothills – ground zero for the 1848 California Gold Rush.

Pistol Petes, Auburn, CA
Photo: Nathan Beer

Our destination was a sports bar named Pistol Pete’s in a faded blue strip mall next to a liquor store and a pizza joint. Our intention was to profile one of SuperRare’s earliest successful and most supportive artists: Ryan Colditz, aka Coldie. Leading up to the trip, I’d pictured drawing parallels between Auburn’s gold rush past and the crypto boom of today. But, as the Chevy Spark squeezed into Pistol Pete’s parking lot between giant pickup trucks tattooed in American flags and eagles, I quickly became more interested in Auburn’s present. Particularly, why would one of CryptoArt’s most notable artists choose to live here?

Pistol Pete’s is packed. Dudes order IPAs against a long L-shaped bar, girls sip vodka from dishwasher-scratched rocks glasses and a significant percentage of Trucker cap-wearing men look like snowboarders that wandered down from Lake Tahoe four years ago and traded their ski passes for meth.

From the din, tall and dressed in flannel, Coldie emerges. He’s got a warm smile. We order drinks and head to the porch.

“So, why Auburn?” I ask.

He discusses growing up here, how he feels a connection to the hills and the history. Later, he’ll call Auburn the “menopausal art capital of the world” and point out the abundance of galleries downtown that cater to what I’ll call the “Live, Laugh, Love” crowd, known to disappear into sauvignon blanc and wake up unclear how their Audi got back to the B&B parking lot.

“Back in the day I would do these coffee shop art shows and art walks,” he says. “So you’ve got lots of old ladies coming through who fucking hated my shit. They’re like, ‘I don’t like what you are making, I’m leaving.’ They would come up to me and tell me that. And I would say, ‘thank you so much for saying that.’ Seriously, that’s the best thing, because when I make art, I want people to feel something.

Zhüsh Modern, Auburn, CA
Photo: Nathan Beer

A young stranger in a baseball cap wanders over. Just home from service with the Marines, he sways and grins from inside a Polo shirt before sharing unprompted stories about recent sexual experiences.

“A girl ever put a finger in your butt?” He asks.

Saturday

In the morning, we drove just outside of Auburn to the ghost town Coloma where, in 1848, James W. Marshall sifted nuggets from the sand and kicked off the Gold Rush. We cross the deep blues of the American River. The vibrant greens of the Ponderosa Pines contrast against the scorched yellow grasses of the rain-deprived hills. It boggles the mind to imagine prospectors crossing the snowy-peaked backdrop in wagons to sift precious metals from the river.

Coldie driving to Coloma, CA
Photo: Nathan Beer

In 1989, at the age of seven, Coldie moved to Auburn from the city of Garden Grove, 34 miles south of Los Angeles. Foreshadowing his three-dimensional, stereoscopic work, he soon discovered an interest in 3D View-Masters and Magic Eye posters.

“[Magic Eye] was, to me, one of the first ways that you could see an image have depth on a flat plane,” he said. “And that was the elusive thing: When I was in high school, I wanted to create depth on paper.”

Through graphic design and computing classes, he discovered collage.

“I’m not a drawer. I don’t physically know how to do perspective drawing or realism. My brain just doesn’t get down with diminishing lines,” he said. But with collage, “I was like, ‘Holy fuck, I can take all these pictures and make art out of that.’”

After high school, he followed a girl to Los Angeles and studied graphic design. He worked as an environmental designer for IKEA before landing an editorial design job with LA Weekly, where he worked for three years before returning to Auburn.

Despite a full time job, it was then, while paying $300/month to rent a studio with his friend Nic, that he really began experimenting with the styles that would come to define his art.

“We were living in that flow state,” he said, a subject he refers to often – that state of mind where, through experimentation, you break into a creative space and the art just pours out. It’s something to be cultivated and respected, like a baker with a sourdough starter.

His work increasingly experimented with new perspectives, with twisting depths of field and stereoscopics. He’d smoke weed, stay up late and blast music to shift his own line of sight. And it was then that he explored the world of fractals and experimented with the psychedelic DMT.

“You get this buzzing and then you go bam! You fucking snap. You’re gone,” he said. “You get transported into new worlds. You can talk to your shadow self. It’s therapeutic if you let it be – the understanding that this, right now, is impermanent.”

On weekends he’d drive two hours to San Francisco to shoot concert photos using two point-and-shoot cameras he’d hacked together to create a 3D effect.

“There’s at least a 40% fail rate if they’re not at the same millisecond,” he said. “A lot of shots are lost.”

But if they’re not lost, they can be amazing:

We wandered down to the river in Coloma and tried panning for gold. A group of high schoolers behind us blasted Lynyrd Skynyrd and sucked back White Claws.

I asked Coldie about the market for digital-first artists prior to the blockchain and digital provenance and he said it was a struggle.

“I would share my concert photos but, back then, you had to watermark them, you had to crop them differently, in order to not get ‘right-click saved,’” he said. “It became a hindrance to even share your stuff.”

Coldie panning for gold, Coloma, CA
Photo: Nathan Beer

By the latter half of the last decade, his son had been born.

“I was working full time, 9 to 5,” he said. “Put the kid to bed and try and create from 8PM to midnight before getting up again at seven in the morning. Every day. When you start creating late at night like that, it is almost like a delirium. It helps at times, but it is a strained energy.”

Then, in 2018, SuperRare was born and, slowly at first, the NFT market started to emerge.

“I realized that, once I tokenized an artwork, suddenly the Instagram picture became marketing,” he said. “I want everyone to have this JPEG. If everyone ‘right-click saved,’ you become the fucking Mona Lisa.”

He wasn’t alone. There was a tight-knit group of artists investing in the dream, taking the risk.

In the middle of 2019, Coldie came up with what would soon be known as “The Coldie Method,” solving the issue caused by time zone discrepancies between collectors during reserve auctions. Prior to this, bidders in a given auction had to pay attention around the clock but, with the new method – first run by Coldie himself on Twitter and later implemented on SuperRare  – each new bid would extend the auction for another 24 hours, letting all parties involved catch up.

In November of 2019, this method led to a frenzy of bidding on his piece Edward Snowden – Variant 02 – Decentral Eyes, resulting in a then-unprecedented $1,000 sale.

“Everyone on Telegram was like, ‘I can’t believe you sold that fucking thing for one thousand bucks,’” he said. “And I couldn’t believe it either.”

Soon though, one thousand grew into ten thousand and the market started accelerating, faster and faster.

“I would tell my mom when I started getting big sales, ‘Hey mom, I gotta tell you, my art dream is kinda coming true!’” he said, but  his family was still very skeptical.

Then the multi-thousand dollar sales started to multiply. He started investing back in other artists, nurturing the community, embracing the flow state, until, just a week before we found ourselves panning for gold, he quit his job and turned to art full time.

Sunday

In the north end of town, Coldie recently rented an art studio above a printing shop. When we visit, it’s still full of moving boxes, which he digs through to show us old photographs and a wooden stereograph photo viewer from the turn of the 20th century. 

Coldie and the NFT Gold Rush
Credit: Nathan Beer, Rowan While, Kenzie McMillan, Luke Whyte, Robert Martin, Phil Murphy

“So what comes next?” I ask.

“What I know is that when I’m in the flow state, things happen quickly,” he says. “I have to create an ecosystem for myself where I can pick and choose my times to be completely off my rocker in the creative zone, experimenting.”

Later that evening, we’re sitting on the porch out front of Coldie’s apartment. My flight is at midnight but it’s a beautiful summer night and we lose track of time.

Placer Community Theater, Auburn, CA
Photo: Nathan Beer

Suddenly aware of the hour, Nathan and I pop up and run toward the car. We’re 30 minutes out from the airport and just over an hour from the gate shutting on my flight, so I whiteknuckle the wheel and get that little Chevy Spark hammering a full thirty miles over the speed limit, shaking its way down the Sierra foothills.

Nathan plugs in his phone, turns on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and maxes out the volume. We roll down the windows. The air is hot, the sky clear. We’re singing shamelessly into the wind, trusting, flowing. I don’t care if I miss my flight: I’ll just go back to Pistol Pete’s.

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Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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