By Gabriel Negrín -
Crypto artist, performer and keynote speaker V E S A is best known for working with Bollywood actress Veena Malik in a world-changing collaboration, which was seen by around 300 million people through BBC World, The Independent, IBT, Times of India, VICE, etc. His innovative mixed media platform Artevo soft forked in 2017 to Art For Crypto, which is rapidly establishing new creative standards in the blockchain art space. We caught up with him in the run up to WCC 2019 to learn more about his experience in the space and what he is currently working on.
What was the first serious exchange you had with art? Was that the moment you decided to dedicate your life to it, or is there some other experience that is the foundation stone of your artistic life?
The first conscious moment, outside of music, was a photograph I took of a street dog with a Fisher-Price kids camera in Singapore as a 5-year-old. Even if it was a toy camera, it had a tower flash and the recording medium was film, so the emotional grain, and abandonment seeping through the frame - had me return to the image time and time again. It still serves as a good reminder that you don't need the highest end of tech nor massive budgets to reach hearts.
What lead you to crypto initially?
It was a gradual process, connected to experiences as far back as I can remember, but seeing some documentaries in 2008 certainly propelled it forward in leaps. First, it was about the system of money around 2006 and in 2017 more crypto awareness. In between those, the art side is that I've made 350 museum grade digital original artworks across my two sites. They are now becoming a valuable asset finally via blockchain tech. Many who love Bitcoin feel digital assets are inferior in art still. At some point soon, people will start to realize that authentication tools for digital works are beginning to make them more secure as an investment than physical works. They are more convenient to collect, trade, transport, and showcase too.
How was the process of connecting art with bitcoin and crypto? Do you have any creative process that you follow religiously when creating crypto art?
It goes beyond just crypto art to a whole mindset. Coming across the work of the philosopher Ken Wilber and his integral theory gave me an ambitious framework in my early twenties. It ultimately allows minimal comfort zone due to being so all-encompassing. Real creativity is a performance on a scale of pro athletes, and each discipline requires tremendous effort. Most of my art is storytelling with a purpose. I don't mean that in the sense of making things up, but discovering useful truth about our world and packaging it into a form that can be conveyed and utilized by others. The function, not form, is essential. This perspective has allowed me able to make art, film, photography, and writing on a professional level.
What is it like to create art about the blockchain space?
It's full of relevance, drama, and hope for the future. Much of the political polarization of today stems from nothing being fixed about the financial system since the 2008 crash. We learned that banks and big corporates have socialism, and for the rest of us, there are crony capitalism and tribal propaganda wars. It was the worst thing for any meritocratically thinking and justice-motivated person. Crypto is providing a way forward to many, who only saw corrosion ahead without it. I get to ride shotgun as a creative telling this story and discovering new solutions every day. That alone is worth coming on this half-rekt planet. This is why some of the current in-fighting is so disappointing, even if in part, absolutely necessary. Art is allowed to keep the focus on the big picture while offering support to integrity.
Art tied to Bitcoin: how did this proposal come up?
If you go to Art Basel, you will see hundreds of very average works going for about $50K. There is not much cross-referencing in crypto and the legacy art world, making value propositions tricky. It's meeting the market more than halfway. The understanding of what gives art value becomes comfortable with something familiar to the space. The popular re-paints are limited to three pieces only, so the scarcity tied to 1 BTC makes it ROI easily digestible. Personally, I think top crypto art is far more valuable than average Art Basel, so I'm assuming those who collect me now, will soon be quite happy they did.
Art is a vehicle of expression, and it is usually born as a protest expression, what is your art protesting against? Can art be both a protest expression and a philanthropic endeavor?
We can do better than just philanthropy on the positive side. We still run the global education system with the values of the industrial revolution, where creativity is still at the bottom. Sir Ken Robinson has great TED talks about that. Now that low-end white-collar jobs are already being automated by AI, the ratio of losing 9/10 startups is about to get worse. We either start to take creativity seriously or bleed trillions. That being said, I want to evolve people's perception of substantial art as protest alone. I aim to get art to remember that it can also show what possible in the future. Our brains function with problems much better once we have a goal. If we transform our educational values, perhaps 9/10 of startups will start to succeed. It really isn't a mystery to me why most fail. If we were educated into creativity, instead of out of it like now, perhaps climate change would not be so hard to solve on a collective level.
Can you tell us a bit more about “The Million Dollar Art in the Making”?
I had the privilege of being a guest of Joel and Travis on The Bad Crypto Podcast. I wanted to make something special for it, so I made this art piece called Blood On The Podcast Floor, which was just about fun. Live on stage at World Crypto Con, Charlie Lee, Maxine Ryan, Vinny Lingham, and Ronnie Moas signed it for charity - as well as Joel and Travis. It soon started gathering more support, and now Andreas Antonopoulos, Brock Pierce, Jeremy Gardner, Vitalik Buterin, Peter McCormack have also signed it.
I'll keep asking for more signatures until someone offers over a million dollars to the HAWC charity. It has been providing shelter for women and children, against domestic violence for 40 years. The crypto payment process was set up by Blake Rizzo, who is the lawyer for Tour De Crypto, as well as the Litecoin Foundation. The charity will receive the payment directly. It really should be in a museum already, and won't change ownership before we make it the most expensive crypto art piece ever sold at $1MM+. Who knows what it will be worth in 20 years with those signatures?
What art pieces are you taking with you to WCC 2019? What is the price you have set for them?
Most of them are re-paints, which means high-end 80x40in canvas prints with acrylic painting on top. They are limited to three only, and the price is tied to 1 BTC. I'll also bring with me some more affordable signed prints. I look forward to seeing how the Litecoin Foundation commissioned INVISIBILITY piece will do.
The optimal deal right now is the Fork And Flip re-paint. It is the 3/3 version. It is the only one close to the original digital form without company logos, and available for only 1 BTC. It frontlined the article on the whole movement on Forbes, went to half of London via City A.M and has a mini-movie about it. I currently feel like a person standing in the street corner handing out a bag full of money with it, and people just walk by.
The attendees of WCC 2019 will also be taking part in a giveaway for one of your pieces, “Beyond Moon”. How could you describe this unique piece of art?
It was a lot of fun to make combining the history, present, and future of Vegas to crypto, and to World Crypto Con. There is a mini-movie explaining the piece further to those interested. We will raffle a big 80x40in unique print of it to those who collect the digital NFT version - for free also. There are now multiple companies helping out to make this thing happen. Codex Protocol is there to verify and help people collect the NFT's. They are printing an instruction note in the goodie bag. Bravocoin, the Yelp for blockchain, will help people locate us physically, verify that it is downloaded only from location, and also will organize a digital treasure hunt via their app. The Fomo Hunt team will promote the works, as they have many listed on their site. CoinGenius collected an augmented print, for which we agreed they are a part sponsor of the exhibit.
Why Artevo (Art Evolving)? What has been the evolution of your art since you first started?
The same bizarre engine that drove it from the beginning is still there. What has evolved is the substance and clarity. After music, film was the first discipline that I took on professionally. I got educated as a director and managed a production company making documentary films, music videos, and various photography for seven years before entering contemporary art. The bodypainting process I innovated in 2008 naturally transformed into a collaboration with a Bollywood film star Veena Mailk, which led us to change the world and reach about 300-million people. This is now shifting to a repeatable process with a western star, that can integrate crypto companies and help mass adoption.
Now that we are talking about your art and its evolution, what’s the next step for VESA’s art? What’s the next big thing on the to-do list for you?
I'm looking for investors to back a multi-level blockchain media company that incorporates art, celebrity collaborations and high-end advertising under one roof. It will be backed by the 350 digital museum grade art pieces and direct access to the market via conferences, writing, and other media appearances. Basically, I've been building products and the next evolution of art for a decade, which can now become a full force of nature. The vision is ambitious but achievable with the right support. We are in preliminary negotiations with a couple of people about the sectors of responsibility within it.
Since we continue to focus on the evolution of art, is there any future art proposal you're working on right now?
I'm working on a platform that will keep me busy for the rest of my life. It is ambitious, for sure, but also just the next logical steps on where art is going - after having thought it through. AI, VR, and blockchain are all merged in it together. Art will soon go through its own AlphaGo phase, and I intend to ride and direct, for my part, that wave. If successful, it will eventually change what we think is possible with art.
As an artist, what is your take on the registration and authentication of works of art on blockchain?
As soon as I got to know it was possible, I started doing it. Blockchain verification solves many of the problems with living artists that we now have with the dead ones. Those problems have made many wealthy and powerful. Through new solutions, many of the current middle-meddlers become unnecessary. The artists, by enlarge, are at the bottom of the hierarchy of the legacy art world. Currently, the innovators are attempting to adapt to the conditions and ideas of those without them. With these solutions, we get to create decentralized opportunity and market places that did not exist yesterday. Much of the world of the old masters will justifiably remain, but the contemporary market gallery fiat will be harshly re-evaluated soon.
Which artists do you look up to? Are there any other crypto artists you would recommend to us?
I don't look up to people anymore, but appreciate many others. Crypto Graffiti has a very classy operation going on. Trevor Jones is prepping for a cool London show for 2020. Tom Badley has an interesting skill set to bring to this space. Nanu Berks's new work is taking a fresh shape. Shamanic Harmonics has a great combo of tech and spirituality. Hodl.Rocks is experimenting with laser cut depth pieces. Lucho Poletti is using propaganda art well. Crypto Brekkie is great at BTC education through creative solutions. There are many depending on the flavor you are into.
Tokenizing the art: is it a big yes or a big no for you?
A big yes, but it is complicated for now. The new market is starting to emerge, as creatives are jumping on board, but it certainly is a jungle out there for evaluating worth. I've been doing museum-grade, high-resolution art pieces for a decade, which can now finally be monetized via blockchain. Some of these images have taken years, crews of people, and tens of thousands of dollars to become a reality. The prices that make sense to ask, simply don't exist in terms of collectors, who aren’t willing to pay that much for NFT's at the moment. I'm collaborating with Blockchain Art Exchange with a few unique $30-60K pieces as a test, and also started making much more affordable new ones - ranging from 1.5ETH to $2000. I'm getting into it, but carefully.
Is there anything you would change in the crypto space right now?
For now, art in this space is seen mostly as a luxury item instead of an investment. Your Lambo's, watches and boats are 30% less when out of the shop. The art I'm making, I intend to be 10-100x in value sooner rather than later. In film school, I realized that the course that had been running for 20-years wasn't going to put us emerging filmmakers in touch with actors, musicians, set builders, artists - all of whom were in the same building or the one next to us. It was a good lesson. If this is true inside of the creative field, how bad is it elsewhere? What are we losing not having these conversations? My coming podcast called WE LOVE DECENTRALIZED aims to change this paradigm. It is me as a creative talking to high-performance people traditionally not seen as creatives. This includes founders, CEO's, and thought influencers of many sorts.
Other than art and crypto, are there any other activities you enjoy?
I listen to podcasts a lot, work out, take saunas, relax with movies, and sometimes drink late with friends in blockchain meet-ups and conferences. As my fiancee will testify, I'm a fairly intense and mission-focused human, but now at 41, better at balancing these days than before. You get more done with good sleep and remembering that life can be great just listening to music.
Any final words you would like to share?
I just locked down a show through Max Studennikoff for the London CC Forum. It takes place a week before the Vegas Blockchain Week and hopefully lands me the primary sponsor for World Crypto Con. A company can have it by just collecting a 1 BTC re-paint from me. We will also auction a piece called HELLO for charity, as well as try to find me a 5-minute lightning spot to talk about the merger of creativity and tech. I hear Roger Ver is in town, and the BCH logo on the Blood On The Podcast Floor piece is still unsigned. Adam Williams is already aligning some amazing new ones in Vegas, so can't wait to land to McCarran, and get this show back on the US road. London is becoming significant, but 85% of the traffic to my site comes from the states.