Tony Babel’s ‘Vintage Addictions’ takes NFTs back to a simpler time (or not)

Tony Babel reflects on his latest series, "Vintage Addiction." Read more about his work on SuperRare.

Feb 1, 2022 Artist Profiles

5 months ago

Like sheep led into the lair of a hungry wolf, those who encounter Tony Babel’s NFT collection are seduced by wide eyes and devious grins, only to be slaughtered by the harsh truths depicted upon backdrops of bleak dystopias.

I walk the line between that sweet childhood nostalgia and a darker twist. Life wasn’t all roses and sunshine. I’ve dealt with heavy things through my teens and even these past few years.

Tony Babel

There is a materialistic desperation conveyed in Babel’s work that underlines the cold nature of an unfortunately relatable self-centered existence.

“My ‘Vintage Addictions’ series of loops are all about the consequences of addictions of various types. It’s a bit of a social commentary brought to life with lively animation.”

“Check Please.” on SuperRare

Substance abuse’s empty nature is a present theme throughout Babel’s collection. In “Check Please” and “Lucky Stroke,” he depicts the endless routine of smoking, drinking, and a monotonous outlook where “too much is never enough.”

“Some hit home more than others, but the general theme is somewhat grim once you notice the little details.”

Babel’s art points the finger back at the viewer and forces the observer to take a personal inventory of their relationship with the message that Babel sends through his art.

 “My style brings a lot of freedom to explore both fun and dark themes mixed together.”

“Lucky Stroke” on SuperRare

Babel’s NFTs have a familiar charm. His art collection looks as if it could be taped onto a reel-to-reel and projected for the cartoon intermission between two main features at a drive-in theatre during the 1950s. His early style was inspired by classic animators.

I started drawing at a very young age. I am a huge Disney/Fleischer fan. I remember pausing the VHS tapes to draw specific characters I liked. I was both fascinated and terrified with the older Rubber hose cartoons.

— Tony Babel

Babel followed his artistic drive and devoted himself to his craft.

“I’ve been in motion/graphic design and animation for 16 years now. Around 6 years ago I got the itch to revisit the style I loved so much as a kid, and it all came full circle.”

Babel adapted his artistic process but ultimately stayed committed to his familiar approach.

I converted to digital once I got hold of a mouse and MS paint. I was about 10 years old and to this day I draw with a mouse. Folks think I’m a lunatic, but you can’t teach this old dog new tricks. It just works for me.

— Tony Babel

The creative process that works for Babel starts with his unique perspective.

“I have Aphantasia. Which means I don’t have the ability to create mental images in my mind. Instead of visualizing a picture of what I’d like to create, I “see” it in a broader sense. Like a gut feeling of what I want to portray.”

“One Last Bet” on SuperRare

The creation as well as the conceptualization of Babel’s art occurs simultaneously.

I’ll usually start off with very rough sketches on paper. It helps me build an overall scene through composition and layout. Then I’ll go straight into Adobe Illustrator and start working on the actual design. I’ll refine characters and start playing around with different elements, shapes, and colors.

— Tony Babel

Even though Babel may have an idea of the direction he wants his art to go in, he genuinely lets his art lead the way.

“Sometimes I’ll even start to animate midway through. The piece grows organically, and I avoid being too attached to the initial idea. This leads to some great ‘eureka!’ moments.”

Babel, whose parents are originally from Tbilisi, Georgia, was born in Israel, spent time in Moscow and today lives near Tel-Aviv with his wife and cats, initially discovered NFTs around mid-2020.

I saw a post by the talented Eran Mendel about a piece he minted on SuperRare. At first, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It sparked my curiosity enough to do some research and I had a gut feeling that this was something revolutionary.

— Tony Babel

“Kong 4156” on SuperRare

After working his career in the animation industry, Babel recently has been able to capitalize on selling his art in the form of NFTs. Babel’s first sale was “Kong 4156” on April 6th for 5 ETH. He has since generated sales on SuperRare totaling over 87 ETH, or $342,000 at time of publication, on a collection of only eight pieces.

Today I’m fully invested in creating my own art. I’ve had a pretty long career with some big brands and in recent years had the chance to work with Disney, which has been a childhood dream. Ultimately, doing my own thing was always the goal and NFTs enabled me to do so.

— Tony Babel

Other than his subject matter’s thought-provoking messages, the GIFs Babel creates fit seamlessly into an era that predates his birth. Babel’s NFTs are digital time machines that remind viewers of a simpler and less up-tight time in the animation industry.

“I have looping pieces that celebrate that [Looney Tunes] era of animations with wacky characters, and music.”

Our culture’s adoption of NFTs has created a world of opportunities for digital artists and developers. For Babel, websites like SuperRare gave him a new gallery to showcase art that he already had.

“Crappy Meal” on SuperRare

I had a long backlog of personal work called ‘Vintage Loops’ and established a decent following based on social media over the years. I didn’t see anything minted in my style. Back then the trend was mostly 3D art, and hardly any 2D animation.

— Tony Babel

As an artist, Babel found a new artistic resource by minting and embedding his NFTs on the blockchain.

It’s such an exciting new era for creators. [I’ve spent] years creating personal work and dreaming of a moment when I can make an actual living off of what I enjoy the most. It truly is a revolution for digital art.

— Tony Babel

As a community builder, he sees the opportunity for potential growth with the dawning of the NFT market. “The potential for artists to create and build communities in a decentralized way, instead of relying on a specific social platform, is huge.”

“All Hail the Blue Bird” on SuperRare

As for details about his future, Babel will leave art collectors clamoring just like the cartoon hands he depicts reaching out in his NFT “All Hail the Blue Bird.” Where he shows eager hands clawing hopelessly for a notification from a digital life raft that treads the treacherous waters of the Twitterverse.

“I plan on finishing the ‘Vintage Addictions’ collection in 2022. I’m already thinking about the next collection and have ideas for some standalone pieces, but I would rather keep these as a surprise for now.”

Through satire, a vintage lens and the piercing glare of forced self reflection, Babel blatantly portrays the flaws in the excess of vices that corrupt us as individuals. Somewhere between the old-fashioned innocence of “Betty Boop” and the savage vulgarity of “Rat Fink,” Babel finds his classic style and presents it on the modern blockchain.

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Tony Fantano

Tony is a freelance journalist who lives in San Diego and has been published in the East Village Times and Juxtapoz Arts & Culture Magazine

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