In addition to household names in digital art, such as Pak who, earlier this month, auctioned his NFT works for 17 million USD at Sotheby’s, physical artists have been carving a space for themselves. Superstar artist Damien Hirst, best known for his installations of dead animals preserved in formaldehyde, announced plans to sell 10,000 artworks tied to corresponding NFTs in a series called ‘The Currency Project.’ Others include John Gerrard and Urs Fischer who have already debuted their first NFTs. In Scotland, artists Philip Colbert, David Iain Brown, and Trevor Jones are also jumping on the bandwagon, which has tremendous potential to make Scottish art more accessible to a global, international audience. Their work pays homage to the history of art while giving traditional themes and styles a new lease of life, made possible through the popularization of cryptocurrencies and trading on the blockchain.
“I became an artist when I became a lobster.” This enigmatic statement starts to make more sense upon closer inspection of the work of Philip Colbert. Born in Scotland and based in London, Colbert is a Neo Pop-Surrealist artist who works across the mediums of painting, sculpture, installation, clothing, furniture, and, most recently, NFTs. Referred to as “the godson of Andy Warhol'', his practice is inspired by his time as a student at the University of St Andrews, where he graduated with an MA in Philosophy. Colbert’s large-scale history paintings, narrated by his cartoon lobster alter-ego, ignite a dialogue between art history, contemporary art theory, and the imagery of contemporary mass culture and digital media. He reworks high art themes and motifs from Old Master paintings; the work of early Pop artists Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist; and Surrealist Salvador Dalí’s beloved lobster in order to explore the role of art in today’s world. Over the last few years, he has gained a cult following and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide including Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery, the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai, and is currently on view at the Sejong Museum in Seoul, South Korea. Last month, Colbert dropped his first NFT, which he titled The Cryptofixtion, a play on words of cryptocurrency and crucifixion. The video depicts his lobster persona tied with cables to a cross made of iPads while rotating 365 degrees. By using the quintessential icon of Western art and culture, Colbert channels the power of symbolism to comment on the dizzying rise and the increasing role of technology in everyday life. He has also been busy developing his Virtual Art World ‘Lobster Land’, complete with its own museum, where The Cryptofixtion is on view. The Cryptofixtion may be the first, but it is highly unlikely to be the last NFT by the artist.
David Iain Brown
Also getting in on the action is emerging artist David Iain Brown, who lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city with a booming visual arts scene. His bold abstract paintings have been exhibited in several groups shows both at home in his native U.K. as well as abroad in cities such as London, Copenhagen, and New York. In 2019, a year after receiving his MFA from the Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Brown landed his first solo exhibition at the Ninasagt Galerie in Düsseldorf, Germany. Medium is less important to Brown as is having the ability to experiment with different textures, colours, and shapes. Starting as a printmaker, he created colourful illustrations of everyday objects and his surroundings but eventually turned his focus inwards. By adopting an abstract formal vocabulary, he could relinquish control over the work and in the process find freedom and joy. Colour is an especially important component as an expression of his feelings and in creating atmosphere, that being said, viewers are able to draw their own conclusions about each work, depending on their individual life experiences. Another key element of his practice is layering through a process that is both additive and subtractive; in some areas, Brown adds materials onto the canvas, while in others, deconstructs and reveals its underlying structures. The final result is a body of work with texture and depth, in a space between progress and completion. During the lockdown, Brown saw an opportunity to expand the physical into the digital. His NFT collection on OpenSea, ‘The Digitization Series,’ is a series of digital drawings based on finished artworks in which he reassembles its shapes and forms using the digital illustration app Procreate. So far, he has sold 14 of them and is excited about the potential of the new medium for collaboration with fellow artists and creatives across the globe.
Edinburgh-based painter and NFT artist Trevor Jones has long sought to build bridges between the material and the virtual. According to his artist statement, his aim is “to investigate how various technologies can be incorporated with my work to enhance or alter the viewer experience.” Originally from Canada, he travelled the world before falling in love with Scotland, where he has remained since. Once he graduated as a mature student from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2008, Jones took a job as Director of Art in Healthcare, a nonprofit that provides art workshops for people with disabilities and lends original Scottish artwork from its collection to healthcare facilities nationwide. After 7 years, Jones made the difficult decision to leave AiH to focus on his art career full-time. Fortunately for him, the gamble paid off and he is one of the top-selling NFT artists in the world right now. Since the early 2010s, Jones has embedded QR codes into his oil paintings where one can scan the painting with their smartphone, opening an interactive website and online gallery. Shortly after discovering QR codes, Jones was introduced to augmented reality and pioneered incorporating AR into oil painting. In 2017, Jones invested in Bitcoin, believing in its potential to revolutionize the world. To date, he has sold 5,284 NFTs, many of which are digitized versions of his oil paintings. His most successful sales are Genesis, a collaboration with Argentine comic book designer José Delbo, and The Bitcoin Angel, an oil painting on canvas depicting two marble statues in front of a gold Bitcoin, fetched a whopping $604,967 and $188,888 respectively. Currently, Jones is working on a six-month project of large-scale paintings and NFTs set to drop on Nifty Gateway later this year in August and September.
To keep up to date on these artists and their cutting-edge work, follow Philip, David, and Trevor on Instagram: @philipcolbert, @davidiainbrown, and @trevorjonesart