Recently, life has been very stressful. Being unsure of how exactly one is supposed to behave during a global pandemic, getting used to working and studying from home, not going out with friends as much as one used to are all things most of us can relate to. Digital and NFT artists Muhamad Nafay, Andrew Morgan, and Camila Nogueira’s dreamy and otherworldly landscapes instil a sense of safety in an often chaotic world that’s recently been turned on its head. Their work is a brief respite from reality for the viewer. It says, takes in this tiny world that’s full of wonders and breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.
Muhammad Nafay is a digital artist based in Pakistan. He has garnered recent national and international attention with his cinematic and dreamy landscapes that draw inspiration from both outer space and the natural world. He is inspired by concept artist Lincoln Hughes, who has experience in the video game industry, his favourite digital artist Beeple, and digital artist Alena Aenami, who also illustrates dreamy landscapes. There’s a feeling of wonder at Nafay’s ability to conciliate surrealist details with realistic-looking landscapes. For instance, in his piece “Beneath the Horizon”, the fantastical lives and breathes alongside natural elements and is combined with the purple and blue hues that are common in Nafay’s work. There’s flying whales in the sky, which normally wouldn’t seem quite right. Whales swim, in the sea, which is literally below the sky. The whales’ position is inverted, but the colour palette, the clouds, and the two figures looking up at them communicate an unexpected harmony. Nafay has said that he tries to bring reality and fantasy together in one canvas. Here, he has achieved it, and made the whales intrinsically part of the ecosystem of his universe. There is also a sense of togetherness for the figures at the bottom of the piece, who hold hands as they look up.
Nafay is particularly interested in clouds and the sky, and it tends to take up most of the space in a piece. It is vital, the beating heart of Nafay’s artworks. He’s said that one of the main aims of his art is to appeal to the emotions of the viewer, and he uses the sky to capture the atmosphere and pathos of his work, whether it’s dark blue, light blue, purple, or green. Nafay has described his paintings as an escape from a world that is filled with terror and sadness. “Beneath the Horizon'' elicits wonder, but “The Magical River and Deer” is more solemn and down to earth. It feels like a nice break. It’s the kind of scene you’d sit and enjoy when outside surrounded by nature on all sides. The purple, as in several of his pieces, brings to mind the pensive quiet and never ending expanse of outer space, the calm of twilight.
For Nafay, art is a language he can speak free of judgement of his accent. It is also an important healing force in his life. It brings hope. By portraying nighttime, quiet and a still alive and kicking wonder, all of which are associated with renewal, Nafay’s work seeks to portray this “No matter how dark it looks outside the window, there is still light within us which we can carry to help the others stuck in darkness and art is light for me.”
Andrew Morgan’s virtual worlds are designed to be captivating, lying somewhere along the border between the futuristic and the nostalgic. Morgan, a 3D artist from the United Kingdom, started out creating levels for old PC games like Duke Nukem 3D and Doom as a child. As a result, video games, science-fiction, retro technology, as well as 80s and 90s references heavily influence his work. He has said: “As an artist, I aim to create a timeless netherworld somewhere between past and future.”
Morgan’s work ranges from quotidian portraits of the inside of a cabin and house, scenes showing the streets of a futuristic neon light-bathed city, to glimpses into the interior design of modern-looking homes. These pieces are made using Cinema 4D and render technologies such as Redshift and Octane to resemble “screenshots from a game you might have played when you were a kid, but over the years the memory has become distorted, exaggerated and idealised.” Additionally, he has started using game engines to create VR experiences. His NFTs “Malltopia” and “Emergence” are certainly exaggerated and idealised homages to the past, though “Emergence” has a tint of the future too.
“Malltopia” combines what a shopping mall looked like while Morgan was growing up with the idea of a utopia. It features his usual neon, a BMX bike, a boom box, and a popular 90s design in the background. The shopping mall of Morgan’s memory, like a utopia, is filled with objects that are now considered vintage. While his style is realistic, his depiction is not. It collects these objects into a particular slice of the 90s that evokes nostalgia. “Emergence” covers a similar theme, but it also includes what Morgan says was “the boundless optimist of the time,” with the purpose of reflecting on the past while anticipating the future. This is again alluded to by the title, and this piece looks at ideas surrounding the term “Cyberspace,” which was a popular buzzword among those pitching a digital utopia. Morgan uses textures that resemble the liquid metal aesthetic of early CGI renderings that were widespread at the time.
Like Nafay, Morgan’s colour palettes feature purples and blues, mostly appearing to be set in the nighttime. Not much happens in them, but the places portrayed are places that seem like they would be pleasant to be in. The human figures in them are either walking somewhere or standing in a reflective pose, as if taking a moment to take in the world around them. Taking a breather to take in the beauty.
Taking time to appreciate the beauty in life and the world around her is what Portuguese illustrator Camila Nogueira aspires to do with her more recent art. As a shy child, art quickly evolved as a means for her to express herself and it has been a way for her to escape everyday anxieties, to remind herself of life’s beautiful moments when she is at her lowest. Nogueira admits that being obsessive and a perfectionist, creating art can be both tricky and soothing for her, “I find it hard to unwind. I don’t create these chill scenes only for you, but also for me. It’s a way to dive into paradise for some seconds.”
A sense of wonder is evident in all her work, in her magical renditions of cities like Porto in Portugal and Ljubljana in Slovenia, and the surreal fantasy worlds she imagines herself in. Like Morgan, these are often places she herself would want to be in, idyllic scenes in nature with surreal and vibrant colour palettes, similar to Nafay and Morgan’s. However, unlike theirs, her landscapes as a whole are more rooted in the magical and her style is more cartoony. “Tropical Vibes”, for instance, features trees with unknown creatures leisurely perched on the branches. Nature, along with cities, is one of Nogueira’s passions and like Nafay, it recurs in her work. And “Tropical Vibes” does indeed give off tropical vibes, with its warm pastel colour palette and landscape teeming with greenery. It is beautiful, drawn in a style that utilises a fine, consistent line, is highly detailed, and is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli movie backgrounds.
“Create Your Chill” is a fuller embodiment of Nogueira's sense of wonder. Even the piece’s perspective points upward to it. It’s as if we, the fortunate viewers, get a chance to be in her literal shoes. Looking up at the tree branches, following a kaleidoscope of butterflies flutter up towards the sky. Using a low viewpoint not only enables Nogueira to achieve a closer connection with the viewer but it’s also a viewpoint that closely resembles her own. It’s the level from which a small child would see the world, and gives the viewer the experience children have of looking at something for the first time and being in total awe of it.
Nogueira’s art unveils the beauty in the world for herself and others, and she has plans to make it more accessible. While in school, Nogueira briefly did graffiti art but became disillusioned as her creations were wiped from existence after a few days of being completed and quit when she began college. However, she has plans to get back into street art in the future, this time painting murals, to gift people joy as they go along with their daily lives. The same joy that is visible in her NFTs and illustrations. She has said: “Bringing colour to cities is definitely one of my biggest dreams.”
The feelings their art inspires in viewers and the experience provided to them are fundamental for Nafay, Morgan, and Nogueira’s work. Each creates worlds inspired by distinct but occasionally overlapping subjects: nature, science-fiction, nostalgia, and the magical for themselves and others. Though done differently, they all drive towards building a momentary escape for a frazzled artist and viewer. Everything will be okay.
Follow Muhammad, Andrew, and Camila at: @le_nafay, @dreamfibre, and @camila_illustration.