Watch: Speed run of artist Nicole Ruggiero’s collaborative artwork composition in Cinema4D

Watch: Speed run of artist Nicole Ruggiero’s collaborative artwork composition in Cinema4D

Escapism Room

Watch: Speed run of artist Nicole Ruggiero’s collaborative artwork composition in Cinema4D

Working in Cinema4D, Ruggiero composed “Escapism Room” during a series of Twitch streams where friends and fans contributed ideas and gave advice. She recorded the streams, stitched them together, and compressed them into the two-minute speed run video. See it here.
Whyte Luke
11 months ago

When Nicole Ruggiero began work on “Escapism Room” it felt like the end. These were the early days of the pandemic in NYC. Hospitals were filling up. Toilet paper was disappearing. People were trapped and afraid.

“Escapism was an important mechanism used to cope in the tight quarters of NYC before masks and hand sanitizer were accessible,” the New York-based 3D artist said. “Going outside felt as dangerous as driving blindfolded.” 

With her piece, the natural landscape inside of the bedroom “was inspired by the deep longing to experience a walk in the forest alongside the inability to do so dwelling inside the concrete jungle,” she said.

Working in Cinema4D, Ruggiero composed “Escapism Room” during a series of Twitch streams where friends and fans contributed ideas and gave advice. She recorded the streams, stitched them together, and compressed them into the two-minute speed run video below.

“Lighting was a key element, adding balance to the composition and color palette: contrasting blues and greens with hints of orange, yellow, and red,” she said. “Other tools used included Octane Render, Quixel Bridge and Photoshop.”

“I prefer Cinema4D + Octane Render for compositing and rendering because it’s great to work with material, shaders, and lighting,” she said. “It feels more streamlined than a program like Maya. However, I use Maya quite often when working with characters. Other programs I use often are Daz3D, Substance Painter, Zbrush, Unreal Engine 4, and After Effects.”

Escapism Room” speed run in Cinema4D
Music by Jack Duros

See more of Ruggiero’s work on SuperRare and Foundation. Find her on Twitter here.

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Hash Recipes

Negative Space

Weekly Top 10

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

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

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.
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.

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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Negative Space

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Confessions of a Crypto Scammer: How one man stole thousands from artists

Confessions of a Crypto Scammer: How one man stole thousands from artists

Nathan Beer

Confessions of a Crypto Scammer: How one man stole thousands from artists

As the NFT market has grown, hacker attacks have grown with it. Here's the story of how SuperRare found and confronted one of the community's most prolific scammers
Whyte Luke
11 months ago

On the morning of June 11th, NFT artist Natasha Smith – whose name we changed because she fears retaliation  – came across an email from a Danish company seeking to purchase her work.

At first glance, it seemed legitimate. There was a company logo, examples of their previous work, and even a blurb about donating 10% of proceeds to a charity.

“I get a bunch of these emails so I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Smith said. “It didn’t trigger any ‘Oh, this is sketchy’ feelings, so I clicked it and it brought me to a Google Slides [presentation] that was attached to the email.”

A portion of the email presentation Smith received

Inside the presentation was a link: “Click here to view the terms.” This led to a .RAR file, which unzipped to what looked like a Microsoft Word file. Except, it wasn’t a Word file. It was a screensaver file (.SCR) that had been compromised by a hacker.

“I clicked on it and nothing happened,” Smith said. “Immediately, the alarms went off in my head: ‘Oh shit, this is a Trojan.’ I Googled it and, sure enough.”

Her first thought was, ‘transfer everything out of Metamask’. What she didn’t realize, however, was that the virus had loaded a keylogger onto her computer. Now hackers could see everything she typed, including her Metamask password. A Supermarket Sweeps-style race ensued inside her wallet with hackers stealing one of her artworks and a few hundred dollars worth of ETH before she cleared the rest out.

3,000 miles away on the same day, artist Fvckrender opened a similar file following a similar request.

“For many years, I’ve been working with people sending me files and mockups for their projects,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”The hackers wiped out his Metamask completely, every token, and swiped  40,000 AXS (worth over $200,000 at the time and roughly a million today).

Three days prior in Indonesia, artist Suryanto Sur fell victim to a similar scam and, a month before him, artist Liquido Densidad was conned by a social engineering campaign attacking hundreds.

The wolves are circling

It seems that as the NFT market for artists and collectors has grown, the market for hacking their wallets has grown with it. Bolster Inc, a company that detects phishing sites, reported a nearly 300% increase in suspicious-looking domain registrations with the names of NFT stores in March alone. In June, ZDNet reported that Russian underground forums were launching competitions for NFT hacks and, though it’s impossible to measure the exact number of compromised wallets, today Twitter is alive with artists and collectors discussing attacks.

“I don’t have a great handle on how widespread the scamming is,” said Caff, an NFT art enthusiast who’s been watching the trend carefully and raising awareness on Twitter. “I think there are a number of small organized scammer groups and then a number of individuals that seem to be more opportunistic.”

“Definitely over 100” wallets have been hacked, he said, but “probably under 1,000.”

As is always the case, these scammers hide behind the internet’s anonymity and, publicly, none have been identified. Or, at least, none had been identified until, on June 3rd, one engaged with Nathan Beer, SuperRare’s Head of Content. This scammer’s technique was to impersonate a collector and use social engineering, not the .SCR virus, to steal from artists through an egregious breach of trust.

“I was on my flight to Bitcoin Miami,” Beer said. “He tried to threaten me (via Twitter) for calling him out and I was like, ‘Fuck this guy, I’m going to find out who he is.’ And so I spent a couple hours and I found him.”

Beer scrolled to the bottom of the scammer’s Twitter account where he found a link to a YouTube video featuring his real name: Mike Pinto Okebe. This led to an Instagram account and, within the hour, Beer slid into Okebe’s DMs.

The two began a dialogue that, though at first antagonistic, soon became inquisitive and, over the next 15 days, dozens of messages were exchanged. Finally, on June 18th, Beer convinced him to sit down for a video chat and over the course of an hour, the full story of Okebe and his motivations took shape.

Nathan Beer talking with Mike Pinto Okebe

Confessions of a crypto scammer

Born in Kenya in September of 1997, 23-year-old Okebe lives in the port city of Kismu on the edge of Lake Victoria near the borders with Uganda and Tanzania, and across the lake from Rwanda.

He claims to have watched both of his parents die – his father when he was a child and his mother quite recently – but we can’t prove this statement. What we can prove is that in October of 2019, he opened a Twitter account with the handle  YellowStorm and immediately took an interest in NFT art.

A year later on October 28th, 2020, his girlfriend gave birth to their first child, but the boy was jaundiced, according to medical records shown to SuperRare. Expenses quickly began adding up.

“So why don’t you get a legitimate job?” Beer asked.

“(In Kismu), either you know someone that knows someone or you have the best degree,” Okebe replied, “but even then it is a 50:50 percent chance for you to get a job.”

Okebe, who says he never graduated high school, instead asked the NFT community for donations on Twitter. Small amounts trickled in but, according to him, it was far from enough to cover basic needs and medical bills for him and his child. In March, he began minting his own work on OpenSea, but no one seemed interested, at least not fast enough.

“When I started my artist account nothing was ever selling,” Okebe said. “So I thought that impersonating a collector would be… uhhh… would be easier.”

Okebe began opening (or, in some cases, it appears, purchasing) Twitter accounts. The primary two being @MohammadBorhann, an alleged NFT collector from the United Arab Emirates, and @BullishBape, an account he’s since closed. Through these accounts, he orchestrated a manipulative social engineering scam to steal ETH from the hands of artists.

The scam

“He approaches artists through Twitter and tells them he’s a crypto trader and he has a Binance account,” Beer said. Okebe then points to a piece of their art, often something that’s been sitting unsold for some time, and then tells the artist, “I’ve got this open position on Binance. It’s where all my money is,” Beer said.

Okebe tells the artist, ‘if you can give me a little money to cover the gas (transaction) fees, I can close this open position and then buy your art.’

“So he uses social engineering to get artists to send him 0.1 to 0.3 ETH ($200-$600 at time of publication),” Beer said,” but then he never bids on their work.”

According to SuperRare’s analysis of Etherscan data and the estimates of Caff and Beer, Okebe reached out to over a hundred artists between March and early July, leading to anywhere from 15 to 40 successful scams and resulting in the theft of over $13,000 in Ethereum.

In a place like Kismu, where the average cost of rent and utilities for a family of four is $295/month, this is no small amount of money. And, despite claims that the money would be used to help his family and pay medical bills, dozens of photos and videos posted to Instagram at the time appear to show Okebe posing with cash, expensive bottles of alcohol, and new sneakers.

Shots from Okebe’s Instagram during the peak of his scamming

Video from Okebe’s Instagram during the peak of his scamming

And, when NFT artist community members started highlighting his tactics, Okebe retaliated by threatening them. He justified his actions by claiming the artists he hacked didn’t appreciate what life had given them and were undeserving of the sales they’d made.

“I am your karma,” Okebe said. That was, of course, until Beer caught him.

“I just had a couple of issues, that’s why I’m doing this shit,” he apologetically told Beer during their video call. “I’m not even proud of it. I was trying to impress a lot of friends. I just ended up blowing all the cash and there was nothing useful coming from it.”

During the call, Okebe can be seen sitting on the floor of a room he rented in a Kismu apartment using money he confessed was stolen from artists. It is not a glamorous living situation, just a mattress on the floor, clothes strewn around it’s base. His tone is desperate and Beer, wanting to remedy the situation, extends an olive branch.

Okebe showing Beer his mattress/room during their call

“I said, look, if you can get yourself a camera, I will help you sell photos you take of your life in Kenya. Let’s make a story. You can pay back the community,” Beer said he told Okebe. “But he just kept asking for ETH.”

So I told him I’d send him a camera,” Beer said, “and he said, just send ETH.”

Within two days, Okebe was pawning jewelry for cash and, within a week, he’d started a new Twitter account, @PerpetualColli, which he was using to again con artists with his social engineering scheme.

In the month since, Okebe has continued to scam artists but, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the NFT community on Twitter, he’s become well recognized as an untrustworthy actor, culminating in the release of an awareness video partially inspired by his actions:

Through all this, the conversation with Beer has continued.

“I don’t believe for one second that you want to change,” Beer wrote to Okebe at the beginning of July. “I have given you multiple opportunities to stop stealing from people and yet you continue to steal, lie, and cheat.”

“Because I have to,” Okebe replied. “I’m not proud, I swear, and everything I have been telling you is not a lie: I have to pay rent. I have to send money to my baby mama. I have to pay for a business and I don’t have a job nor do I have a high school certificate… I’m fucking desperate.”

Finally, on July 14th, at Beer’s request Okebe confessed to everything publically on Twitter.

“I’m really sorry to everyone I hurt,” he wrote, “They literally gave me their trust and I let them down. I can’t even sleep at night.”

Okebe explained that he has a plan to turn things around. He just needs a few donations to get started.

Caution: Falling rocks

Early in 2018, journalists Bob Sullivan and Alia Tavakolian released the first season of a podcast titled, ‘Breach’, which sought to investigate history’s most notorious data security breaches. At the series’ heart was a message about the perils of data management in a Web2 world – a world where a small group of tech companies control an exorbitant amount of our personal data: Companies are going to be hacked, our data is going to be stolen and, as it stands, there is nothing we can do about it.

“Okay, so you’re on the highway going 65 miles an hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and you see a sign that says ‘caution falling rocks.’  What are you supposed to do?” Sullivan asks in the podcast’s first episode. “Do you hit the brakes? Do you get off on an exit?  It’s literally the worst advice you can give and yet almost every single piece of advice we give people in (the data security) realm is essentially ‘caution falling rocks.’”

Part of the promise of Web3 and decentralized blockchain networks is a step away from this problem. No longer, advocates say, do we need centralized banks, art galleries or social networks to hold and manage our data. We can do it ourselves. We can give power back to the people and give all parties a seat at the table.

Yet such liberty is always equal parts freedom and risk. Correspondingly, in a world of sovereign individuals, everyone must assume the risk and reward of becoming their own bank, their own advocate, and their own security.

So, as the Web3 ecosystem grows, how do we manage this reality? Do we slowly give into risk aversion and recreate (or renegotiate with) the centralized systems we’ve aimed to abate? Or can sovereign individuals come together to foster a system of collaboration similar to that for which a scholar like Noam Chomsky might advocate?

And how, in this system would we manage actors like Okebe? Do they also get a seat at the table? Do we curtail their freedoms, their sovereignty? And if so, where do we draw that line?

“I believe in his life story,” said Caff when I asked about Okebe’s motivations, “but I also don’t believe for a moment that he is actually going to stop scamming.”

I mentioned Caff’s sentiment to Beer and said that I tend to agree.

“Yeah, but he blew up his own account so I don’t know,” Beer said. “I mean, if nothing changes for him of course he’s going to keep scamming. He’s not going to starve and watch his kid die.”

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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What I say when people ask if I am worried about the death of NFTs

What I say when people ask if I am worried about the death of NFTs

Thobey Campion

What I say when people ask if I am worried about the death of NFTs

When people ask me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I tell them about a short science fiction story by Terry Bison I’m fond of titled, They’re Made Out of Meat
Whyte Luke
12 months ago

When people ask me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I tell them about a short science fiction story by Terry Bison I’m fond of titled, They’re Made Out of Meat

The story centers around two intelligent beings capable of traveling faster than light discussing one’s recent discovery of a solar system containing sentient, purely carbon-based lifeforms “made up entirely of meat” (i.e., us). It’s a hard concept for the second character to grasp: 

“No brain?”
“Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”
“So… what does the thinking?”
“You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”
“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”
“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”
“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

Disgusted, the two characters agree to “erase the records and forget the whole thing”, marking our solar system “unoccupied”. Thus damning humans to live out our existence alone, capable only of traveling short distances through space in our “special meat containers”.

An interpretation of Terry Bison’s They’re Made Out of Meat by director Stephen O’Regan

Worrying about the death of NFTs is, in my opinion, typical of thinking meat in the meatspace. It’s carbon chauvinism, to quote Carl Sagan. 

Life relies on growth. Growth relies on expansion and, if we’re honest, the heyday of meatspace expansion is likely behind us. We’ve been to all our planet’s corners, we’ve put them on the derivatives market and we’ve covered them in concrete.

So where will we grow from here? Some say we turn outward. They suggest we get in our “special meat containers” for seven months and build Tupperware on Mars. Ok, sure, but others ask, what if we journey inward? What if we transcend the meat? What if we augment its reality, expand its universe and journey toward a post-carbon digital frontier of near infinite possibilities from inside our living rooms? This is the promise of the metaverse.

When people ask me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I tell them about Krista Kim’s Mars House, the first NFT digital house (no Tupperware required), which was sold as an .mp4 on SuperRare for more than twice my mortgage.

Mars House, Krista Kim

“Mars House and the project I created was really a sneak peak into the future of NFTs,” Kim told SuperRare, “the next generation, which will become 3D, digital, programmable assets in augmented reality.”

I then tell them about Thobey Campion’s The Gateway, the “first 4th-dimensional NFT”, just minted this week and featuring a lossless zoom functionality – a first step toward NFTs that represent multi-layered, explorable worlds.

A partially-exploded view of The Gateway.
Graphic: Thobey Campion.

When people ask me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I tell them about the 12M people that attended last year’s Travis Scott concert in Fortnite. And then I tell them about Big Time Studios, a new company that has raised $21M to make NFTs a mainstay of the gaming industry.

“We’ve built some cool tech to make NFTs accessible and are eating our own dog food by creating a first-party game: Big Time, an action RPG where players battle throughout history to save the universe from the company that owns time,” says Ari Meilich, co-founder of Big Time and Decentraland.

Players will collect and trade artifacts on the platform that can be exchanged for fiat or crypto and, though initially Big Time Studio’s team of industry veterans will build the game’s virtual universe, in the future, users will have the capacity to create their own spaces.

“We see NFTs as a vital new component that finally unlocks the ability for players to claim ownership over their virtual goods,” says Meilich. “We are just at the beginning of this new frontier and expect to see new formats, protocols, and standards emerge in the coming years.”

When people ask me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I tell them about Virtuix’s Omni, the omni-directional treadmill that lets players walk and run in 360 degrees inside video games and other virtual worlds.

I tell them about Haptx haptic gloves with 133 points of tactile feedback per hand or the 30,000 points on your face tracked using infrared sensors in new iPhones, then I show them the leaked commercial for Samsung’s augmented reality glasses.

I ask them what it will mean to sweat, jump and fly in virtual environments with all the senses invested. How much will a virtual asset be worth in there?

I point to the artists on SuperRare that will breathe life into these ecosystems through their creativity. I show them the world’s of Raphael Lacoste, Annibale Siconolfi and Friendly Robot and tell them how they’ll access them using sneakers and hoverboards designed by RTFKT Studios.

Red Land by Annibale Siconolfi (left), Steeples by Raphael Lacoste (center), The Pathfinder by Friendly Robot (right)

And finally, if we’ve had a couple beers or happen to be located in a select 19 out of the 50 U.S. states, when someone asks me if I’m worried about the death of NFTs, I’ll talk to them about recursion. I’ll tell them about the idea of a function that calls itself, infinitely repeating, like a set of neverending Russian dolls, dividing and diverging, according to a set of rules. 

I’ll ask them if it is not entirely possible that we are no more than a couple of defrosted cryogenic brains propped up on sticks at a distant point in spacetime and plugged into metaverses, simulations, that may or may not have recreated themselves over and over again an infinite number of times as an infinite number of fractals expanding infinitely in infinite directions, rebuilding and redefining our world based upon a set of ever-evolving rules.

I look them in the eye and then I ask them, are they so sure their shoes aren’t already an NFT?

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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SuperRare x Bonhams presents CryptOGs: A conversation with Matt Kane

SuperRare x Bonhams presents CryptOGs: A conversation with Matt Kane

TAKO

SuperRare x Bonhams presents CryptOGs: A conversation with Matt Kane

Matt Kane designs algorithms that, through custom software and human input, manifest ideas into artworks that feel rooted deeper in human emotion than in 1s and 0s. His paintings are a melding of order, chaos, geometric shapes and delicate color pallets, like a sort of boolean poetry made by a transhuman impressionist.
Whyte Luke
1 year ago

I’ll see colors in my mind’s eye and lay one down. And sometimes I inject my own intellectual ideas about color which rival what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. The process is a bit like jazz music’s call and response. As I lay a color down, the colors I see around it change and I’ll then respond to that. This process began 20 years ago with acrylics and gel pens over photos printed on paper. But it really extends itself so naturally into my software, where I can rapidly integrate my “tuning” into my creative production.

Matt Kane
LEFT: M87 Black Hole Deconstruction #9 (on auction @ Bonhams)


Matt Kane designs algorithms that, through custom software and human input, manifest ideas into artworks that feel rooted deeper in human emotion than in 1s and 0s. His paintings are a melding of order, chaos, geometric shapes and delicate color pallets, like a sort of boolean poetry made by a transhuman impressionist. 

An early adopter of NFT art, Matt, like most of the CryptOGs, felt like an outsider before finding the CryptoArt community. Today he is seen as one of its leading pioneers. Over the last week and a half, we spoke via phone and email about his process, his history in space and M87 Black Hole Deconstruction #9, the artwork to be auctioned in the SuperRare x Bonhams collaboration.


LW: Are you originally from Chicago? Do you feel where you grew up influenced you as an artist?

MK: I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs. My family pretty much lived during the weekends at the city’s science and natural history museums.  I think because Chicago has such great cultural institutions, those broad interests in art, science, & technology naturally became ingrained in me. During Summers, we’d travel all around North America, pursuing my mother’s passion for tracing the family genealogy. I’d end up tip toeing through graveyards, scanning microfiche in archives, and rummaging through old photos in attics of century old homes. These were the sorts of childhood experiences that made the biggest influence on the sort of artist I became.

LW: Did you go to school for art? Where were you at in life when you first started getting oil paintings shown in galleries around 2004?

MK: My bachelors degree is in education. At 18 I was full of passion to dedicate my life to become an artist, but I was convinced by the adults in my life that I had to choose a major that would lead to a career. People telling me “there’s no way to make money as an artist” still echos in my mind from that time. My major was heavy with education courses, light on art. The high school I came from had tremendous art teachers, so I found the classes at university to largely be unfulfilling and a step backwards from the more rigorous critiques I’d become accustomed to as a teenager. The lack of intellectual challenge caused me to move my bed into the living room and turn my bedroom into my first art studio. This is where I spent all my free time throughout those years. If the classwork wasn’t going to turn out an artist, I’d do that for myself. And if there was something I wanted to learn, this was the early 2000’s- the internet was becoming everyone’s prefered classroom.

I graduated university in 2003. I taught art & design at a high school nearby for a year. All the while, I’d taken up an art studio in my sister’s basement where I was producing lifesize colorful oil paintings of my ancestors. The Summer of 2004, I sent off a portfolio, unsolicited, to what was in my opinion the best art gallery in Chicago, Ann Nathan Gallery. My plan was to start at the top and work my way down. I put a sticker of my painting “The Funeral of Peter Pan” on the the mailer, figuring they’d either become interested to open the envelope or throw me into the reject pile. To my surprise, Ann called me the same day my portfolio arrived and expressed interest in meeting me. That’s how I found my first gallery representation. And as soon as I brought “The Funeral of Peter Pan” into the gallery, she’d already found a collector to take it off our hands. So that also became my first sale.

LW: What originally drew you to programming? Were you an artist first that picked up programming to make ends meet and, at the time, did you see it being something that would become part of your artistic process?

MK: Around 2005, I was working on a layered resin painting, dotting a pattern around a figure. Within my mind’s eye I began seeing the pattern complete in front of my hand. This made me think instantly about having a computer program that could actually do what I instructed it to do. For me, my main objective is to manifest my vision. The materials are a delivery mechanism for what’s in my head. At the time I knew nothing about programming and had no luck finding any photoshop plugin that accomplished what I wanted. I had a friend working in the design business in Seattle, so I moved out there. He helped open doors for me to get my first job at a design agency. From there I began choosing jobs based upon what programming I could teach myself that could help me develop a skillset to create my own custom digital studio software one day. This desire to build my own software also arose out of a promise I made myself when I was 19– that if I were to ever become a digital artist, I’d want to create my own software the same way some painters grind their own pigment or stretch their own canvas. That artisan meets punk, do-it-yourself ethic, were at the heart of the traditions I most wanted to build from.    

LW: Were you completely self-taught in programming? How did you go about that learning process?

MK: Yes, I’m completely self-taught in programming. In fact, I only had one math course at university and got a C minus. I’ve only ever been able to learn and get good at something when my interests align and I have real motivation. School never did that for me. At the design agency I began at in 2006, I started as the guy who cut up graphics and prepared all the content for the real programmers to make the websites from. From there, my responsibilities gradually ramped up to where I was learning coding skills on the job, trial by fire. That eventually led into having a career as a full stack web engineer for many years. I was fortunate that I was able to make choices along the way that leaned into all the skills I’d eventually need in order to begin this chapter of my life as a visual artist that works with code.

LW: You mentioned that the loss of a friend led you to focus around your creative pursuits. At that period of time, what were you hoping for with your career? What drove you to create? Are you still driven primarily by these same goals?

MK: In the Summer of  2013, I had just left Seattle after living there for 7 years. A long term relationship I’d been in had broken up, which led me to also end things with my web development clients. My plan was to go back to the Chicago area and rekindle some business with the gallery that represented me. I was going to make what I called “a final go” at being a full time artist. I’d saved money all those years to essentially fund myself to concentrate on art making. Before leaving Seattle, I had just found a really sweet spot with my acrylic and mixed media paintings. I was really happy and excited for starting my new life. After leaving Seattle, I backpacked, taking a train, across Canada and was supposed to be on my way to visit my friend the following week when I got the news she had passed, taking her own life. This is the black hole I entered.

My instinct was to use art as therapy. But there was so much darkness that would bubble up. I felt tremendous regret that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time to help her. She was one of my very best friends and close confidants. I kept wishing I’d left a week sooner or made one more phone call. The regret, self-loathing, and grief that loss survivors feel is very real and heavy. Because I had just uprooted my whole life, I was all the more lost. I could feel myself becoming physically unwell, on my way to an ulcer, whenever I painted. Within my life, I began making self-destructive choices. I finally hit a bottom and paused in March of 2014 to have an intervention with myself. I told myself: “Alright. You can’t make art and express yourself right now. But you’ve had this idea for creating this art software for nearly a decade. You have the skills now. And you clearly are going to be useless in life for a few years while you sort all of this out. So take this time and make a tool of self expression for when it’s safe to express yourself again.” And that’s what I’ve done. I like to think some of the positive choices I’ve made since that time as honoring the way she lived her life to be of service to others.    

Your question is interesting because I do want to turn myself around and introduce what I’ve become and created with some of those original goals I left Seattle with in 2013. I really emerged from that personal black hole in 2019, but then the global pandemic hit us and we all had to find new ways of addressing what our goals were for 2020 and beyond. I’m super grateful for all the good fortune that’s come my way, but I’m still waiting to really rejoin the world in the ways that I wanted to. I think we all are.  

LW: Releasing creative work into the wild can be a vulnerable process, did you worry that your work, particularly your style of generative art, would not find an audience? Did you have other concerns?

MK: My work is peculiar in that it didn’t really fit into the generative art community. And it didn’t really fit into the painting community. My work is a bit of a hybrid and so finding an audience, especially within the old social media paradigm, was challenging. But then along came CryptoArt. This is where I finally began finding an audience and finding people who shared some important values with me. My friend Sarah Zucker put it best– “This is an art movement. But it’s not a unity of style. It’s a unity of spirit.” I think that unity of spirit is what’s responsible for me and probably many of us first finding our people.  

LW: I love your use of color in your work, it is so powerful. Can I ask about how you go about choosing palettes for your works and what drives your choice of color?

MK: Thank you for saying so! I have a very strong mind’s eye. I describe what I do as “tuning” into color. It’s something I remember doing as a young child with our black & white TV and later rediscovered when I was a young man developing into an artist. I focus and tune my mind to see colors that aren’t actually there. It’s most effective while I’m in a flow state and I look at something absent of color, like a black & white photo. I’ll see colors in my mind’s eye and lay one down. And sometimes I inject my own intellectual ideas about color which rival what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. The process is a bit like jazz music’s call and response. As I lay a color down, the colors I see around it change and I’ll then respond to that. This process began 20 years ago with acrylics and gel pens over photos printed on paper. But it really extends itself so naturally into my software, where I can rapidly integrate my “tuning” into my creative production.

LW: What did the digital art landscape look like before NFTs? Were you struggling to make ends meet as an artist?

MK: In those early years of 2014 – 2017, I was contemplating how on earth I was eventually going to bring any of my work to a market. I didn’t necessarily want to feel forced into creating physical prints just in order to satisfy a market’s demand for physical goods. A paper certificate of authenticity felt weak and incorrect. The next best thing was a diamond encrusted, gold gilded USB drive held in a cedar box. None of these things appealed to me and so probably delayed me even trying to bring my digital art to a traditional brick and mortar gallery. And of course I was struggling financially. I had run through my life savings during the time that I built my digital art studio software. I was fortunate to be in position that I could take on occasional web development projects again to make ends meet.  

LW: How did you first hear about NFTs? Were you skeptical of the market? Or, to flip this on its head, why did you believe in CryptoArt in the early days?

MK: I first read about art on blockchain in the Summer of 2017, a week before the release of CryptoPunks. I looked around immediately for places like SuperRare but I couldn’t find anything yet. I knew blockchain was a better technology than flimsy paper certificates of authenticity were for provenance. And I knew smart contracts could solve lots of problems, like secondary sale royalties, that have existed in the traditional art market. My hesitancy to join was in looking out for the interests of my previous collectors. If I minted NFTs, they’d be representative of artworks that I held as high, if not higher, than my oil paintings which had sold for thousands. I took time to watch the market and be sure I was willing to take that risk. Eventually, I came to terms that I should jump in and contribute to building this market by joining it. Most of us were willing to sell work for far less than we valued the work in USD, understanding we’d eventually make up the value by HODLing.

LW: What did it feel like to realize you were becoming successful in this new space and part of a community we are now calling OGs?

MK: The wise ones in this space realized we weren’t building markets or careers for ourselves, but for future artists. That’s still the case. Digital tools are likely the present and future of popular expression. The foundations we set by our choices would have and will continue to have a loud echo. As I felt embraced by the community, it was like a warm hug. And I increasingly wanted to squeeze back. I felt like I was finally in the right place at the right time and it seemed like I was uniquely equipped with certain life experiences that would be of benefit here. That’s what I needed. I still wonder sometimes if I am locked in a coma having an elaborate dream, because it seems so unlikely to have been a part of all that I have been. 

LW: Why are you drawn to black holes and what is the inspiration for the series of black hole deconstructions?

MK: As a child, I learned about black holes by visiting planetariums and I became obsessed for a brief time at the age of 5 with the 1979 sci-fi Disney film, “The Black Hole.” I was fascinated by the black hole’s invisibility, gravity, size, and the concept of transporting to unknown location and maybe even time travel. I’d sometimes lay in bed with my eyes closed and imagine what it would be like to travel through one and come out the other end. 

For many years I internalized 2013 as being this period of time that I entered a personal black hole after the loss of my friend that year. There are these lost years with flattened memories between then and when I rejoined society in 2019. I’m not sure that those years were as much about my dedication to coding and creating my software as they were dedicated to avoiding feeling anything real. If I spent the day thinking about geometry and algorithms, then I wasn’t bothered by feeling my emotions. But at the same time, I was building something. And I knew I’d be able to create with what I was building one day. I’d come out the other end of my personal black hole and be at a destination I couldn’t have imagined. I’d be transported and transformed.

April 10th, 2019, the first image of a black hole was revealed to myself and all of humanity. I immediately set on painting it. Before seeing that image created by the Event Horizon Telescope, the metaphor I’d been using for my life was faceless. So now to finally see this thing, which had captured my imagination for so long.  Everything happened that single day. I created the black hole painting and a rudimentary way of capturing a dataset representing my grief. And then I’d expose the painting to that dataset, skewing the locations of all the components that made up that painting. It all took place that single day. The series intended to investigate the aesthetics that result from diverged paths, where all that goes wrong is sometimes made right. I wanted to transform what had been such a dark chapter in my life into a more beautiful, purposeful one. This is right before joining cryptoart and minting my first NFTs.

LW: What is unique and/or exciting to you about #9?

MK: The nature of deconstructions, in literary terms, is that a text does not have a fixed meaning. Reading a book 20 years ago compared to today  takes on a different meaning. This is the first M87 Black Hole Deconstruction I’ve minted since May, 2019. There are only 9 of these deconstruction artworks that I made. We know what the work, at it’s conception is about; the transformation of paths gone askew. So how can we read this work differently from the previous, which were my very first NFTs? Have my contributions the last 2+ years to CryptoArt culture, NFT technology, and the future of art become part of what this work now represents? I like to think so. And then it’s also exciting that viewers come to this work with their own experiences and can enter it from their own perspectives about black holes and transformation. I love that art is open to interpretation– and although I provide some clues to my own personal meaning, this is not the only reading to make!  

Do concepts like recursion, fractals and toying with space and time influence your work? Particularly the black hole deconstructions?

MK: Broadly I love fractals and recursion. My custom software was designed for the algorithms to be interoperable and work recursively. When I actually implement things from this feature, I get really unexpected visual results and oftentimes a violation of memory or a system crash! These are really interesting concepts to work with though.   

This particular work provides a clue about my work’s transformational aspects, as this is not a still image, but has been animated. These animations I make of my paintings are all seamlessly looped to create an infinity of experience. Part of my larger concepts is about using the passage of time, evolution of technology to transform and reinterpret my past work. All my digital paintings are made to be future proof where they’re able to be adapted to future technology. There are 3 deconstructions I haven’t minted. I don’t know if I ever will. But if I do, the timing and treatment will be a tell-tale sign of how to read that work and perhaps the whole series differently.

Read the next article in the CryptOGs series:

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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