NFTs have started to disrupt the contemporary art market — beginning with the headline-grabbing auction of the artist Beeple’s Everdays (2020) for $69M at Christie’s in March 2021.
But as Bored Ape Yacht Club and other similar projects — with thousands of variants often displayed on social media as profile pictures — have dominated most of the headlines, a significant body of creative artists are discovering new audiences for their work through the blockchain.
In this post, we present five NFT artists to watch. We chose these artists based on their approach to their craft and the significant traction they’ve gained in the NFT space.
The artist 0xDEAFBEEF came to prominence in early 2021 with an ambitious series of intriguing works that transcend the boundary of sound and moving images.
Drawing on a lineage that includes generative art/music experiments dating back to the artistic avant-garde of the 1960s and more familiar examples such as Art Blocks and Autoglyph. 0xDEAFBEEF is a crucial example of an artist pushing the expressive possibilities of code.
As an NFT artist, a key attribute to 0xDEAFBEEF’s style is a unique emphasis on the permanence of digital objects. This approach animates one of their best-known series, Transmission, which combines audio-visual abstractions with subliminal text messages that the artist coyly describes as embodying the “spirit of this age.”
Notably, the code which creates the patterns is entirely on-chain, allowing collectors and users the opportunity to reconstruct the work without recourse to external storage sites such as Amazon Web Services. The artist draws heavily on the C programming language, reducing technological obsolescence risk.
Alida Sun is a creator synthesizing art and blockchain technology with large-scale installations and live performances. Her work draws on several references from art history and science history, particularly those dealing with fluid dynamics and crystal structure. Her work appears in prestigious international venues, including SOMA Berlin, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, and the Vellum gallery.
Sun often produces artwork over long periods — now at over a thousand days of consecutive iterative projects. For example, her Glitch Crystal Monsters were created over 111 weeks and consist of an evolving presentation of crystalline helix shapes that blend choreographic motion with scientific structures.
These visual vocabularies may be presented on screen or as a part of immersive environments, such as her recent Birth, Death, and Other Vital Records presentation at SOMA Berlin. In this work, hundreds of art forms and settings collide with one other, visualizing data drawn from diverse sources spanning demographic records and AI-driven algorithms. These dancing black and white shapes took over an enormous factory space through projection, forming a liquid backdrop for a series of electronic music performances.
Claire Silver has been one of this generation’s pioneering female NFT artists. She became an early CryptoPunk collector in 2017 and has been an advocate for blockchain-driven creativity ever since. She developed a severe health condition and began to practice art herself as a part of her recovery. She blends painting with AI-powered collaborative tools to create works that are uniquely both analog and digital.
For example, Silver might begin with a Dall-E created image — Dall-E is an advanced AI engine that can generate images based on a simple text description. With a computer-generated starting point, the artist can layer on paint in physical or digital iterations and then produce an output that might be an NFT or a physical work like canvas or ceramic.
She has also teased interactive story world projects on her website. Silver’s work has been featured in numerous prestigious venues ranging from Times Square to the pages of Wired magazine.
Etzel Yard, better known as IX Shells, is a crucial figure to watch as the history of the NFT artist space is written in real-time. The signature piece, commissioned by the Tor Project, exemplifies Shell’s singular practice. Her work, Dreaming in Dusk, was sold to Pleaserdao for 500ETH (around $2M at the time), the single largest ever for a Black female artist.
Her work derives from the private key of the first onion service, duskgytldkxiuqc6.onion. The technique of onion routing — which obfuscates the origin of messages — is pivotal for secure communication and is also a paradigmatic example of the “shells” that allude to the artist’s name.
As she explains, “animals create ‘shells’ to protect themselves… ‘shells’ is [also] a computer program that takes the command from your keyboard to the OS and lets us start, kill, or automate processes. In short, it is a way to keep control while so many things are happening in the ocean, or, the ocean of data.”
Yard’s ability to abstract between the digital and the natural as a means to rewrite history suggest staying power for her artistic practice.
NFT artist and designer Maxim Zhestkov produces a visually luscious short film that seeks to cross-pollinate the behavior of the analog and digital worlds.
Drawing on a vocabulary spanning architecture, painting, and sound composition, the Zhestkov, permits fundamental geometries to unfold in various configurations. These works extend the more prosaic fields of computer simulation and visualization, creating poetic moments in which real-world physics is held momentarily in abeyance.
Zhestkov’s works are on display in prestigious venues, including the Shanghai Art Museum, Unit (London), and the Decentraland Pavilion (Venice, Italy).
He has also collaborated with brands including Google, Samsung, and Adidas. Though no public details have been released yet, he plans to explore the possibilities of creating interactive versions of his data-driven environments inside a virtual reality setting.
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