If you haven’t noticed by now, there is an NFT (non-fungible tokens) revolution. Fashion brands like Gucci, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton have already jumped onto the metaverse with their NFT ventures. Meanwhile, Grimes has raked in millions of dollars selling her collection.
This past week alone, American labels like Altuzarra and Kim Shui have released their own versions for sale during New York Fashion Week. Other new players to the scene include Ambush which released 2,022 NFTs of its popular POW! jewellery design on Valentine’s Day.
The iconic Pow! ring kickstarted the fortunes for high-end jewellery label Ambush when it was founded in 2008. For the latest phase into the metaverse, the brand is debuting its Pow! “Reboot” NFT collection.
Meanwhile, Prada and Adidas are taking their ongoing collaboration into Web 3.0 as well. The two companies just announced the launch of a user-generated NFT project called Adidas for Prada re-source.
This community-sourced effort invites users to contribute photographs – 3,000 of these works will be minted as NFT tiles and compiled as virtual patchwork by well-known coder and digital artist Zach Lieberman with the contributors maintaining full ownership rights of their individual tiles.
If all this talk is putting your mind in a glitch, let’s start with the basics: What exactly is an NFT? Those three letters simply stand for non-fungible token, a one-of-a-kind digital token that’s stored on a blockchain that can be sold or traded.
And if you’re curious about that other term “blockchain”, think of it as a collection of records or digital ledger of who owns the token down the road.
NFTs can range from music to photographs, videos, drawings or even fashion garments in digital form. Branding itself as the world’s first digital-only luxury fashion brand, Singapore-founded label Republiqe has made a name for itself coding digital collections and auctioning NFT garments.
Which brings us to crypto art, a megatrend in the NFT world. Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, is arguably the biggest name on the market. His NFT series Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold for US$69 million (S$93 million) at Christie’s.
Crypto artist Pak, whose identity still remains a mystery, is another head-turner in the scene. The artist’s NFT piece The Merge generated US$91.8 million (S$124 million) in sales in Dec 2021, topping the list of most expensive NFTs in 2021.
“I think crypto art is trending because of the huge numbers attached to such things,” said Singaporean crypto artist Hunn Wai. “People who bought cryptocurrency also want to consume and buy cultural artifacts that speak of their domain (in the digital world). So they are the ones pushing the market.”
Given their sudden boom, NFTs are also a commonly misunderstood concept. “The news that reaches the masses about NFTs are the more extreme anomalies, where memes go viral or a jpeg gets sold for millions,” said Kristal Melson, a local illustrator who designed LoveBonito’s first NFT.
“Those instances are out of reach for many − it’s very saturated now because the barrier for entry is low.”
While making one’s mark in the crypto art world isn’t easy, we’ve got Singaporean visual artists who are doing impressive work and making the global community sit up and take notice.
Here are four talented local NFT artists on our radar.
Who: Shavonne Wong has made quite a name for herself both in and outside the NFT space. As a fashion photographer for the past decade, she has worked with fashion magazines and global brands such as Lancome. When Covid hit, Wong pivoted to 3D art and design, spending the whole of 2020 learning 3D with the goal of creating realistic human models.
Since then, Wong has risen to fame as a crypto artist, collaborating with institutions like Sotheby’s and the World Economic Forum. Her 500-piece NFT collection Love is Love has seen tremendous success too. Hollywood star Idris Elba bought three pieces as his first-ever NFTs.
Where she sells her work: SuperRare, Foundation, OpenSea and her own website
How she got into crypto art: “My husband was the one who told me about NFTs back in Feb 2021 and it seemed like an interesting use of technology along with being an additional income stream. I decided to dive in to figure it out and have been there ever since!
Because NFTs first boomed in art, I feel that a lot of artists and creatives in the world were naturally attracted to the financial upside that it possibly provides. In a world where the ‘starving artist’ mentality is the norm and even romanticised, the idea of being able to earn a proper income while doing work they want to do, not just commissions or client work, is almost unheard of.”
Her inspiration: “My inspiration is not specifically from crypto art but art in general. It’s a little cliche, but I’m inspired by whatever I come across and the messages I might want to say. As an example, ‘Love is Love’ is described as “an art experiment in self-identification and expression of love, powered by the idea of being able to influence your art.”
The NFT artworks she is most proud of: My favourite pieces are Lunah Moon I (pictured), The Kiss and I Am (Not) Happy.
Favourite crypto artists: “There are plenty of very popular artists who I love in the scene, but I’ll just name the artists from my community NFT Asia. Artists I love are @rocielart, @willzwey, @r_hakim and @iannocent.”
Who: Originally a painter, Howie Kim moved into the digital realm with digital illustrations, photo manipulation, GIFs and animation. The visual artist now works with commercial establishments such as Universal Music Group, DBS and Martell. His works have been published in several magazines too, including our June 2020 cover.
Kim’s ongoing NFT collection is titled Bongdirk759, and features original characters drawn in his trademark surrealist style. The collection’s main character is Bongdirk, whom Kim describes as a “pink alien-bear hybrid living with his other rare surreal friends in the digital planet #759”.
Where he sells his works: OpenSea
How he got into crypto art: “I have been doing digital works for quite a number of years now, and honestly had like a hundred people telling me I should check out NFTs and that it would be great for me. I think I first heard of NFTs maybe two or three years ago. Back then, like everyone else, I was a little sceptical because of how foreign it sounds. But about four months ago, I finally decided to try it out.
Because it is so new, there is lots of potential, possibilities and growth, so I’m just excited for whatever it brings. I wouldn’t consider myself an ‘NFT artist’, I think of NFTs as an extension, platform or venture for my practice.”
His inspiration: “The Bongdirk759 collection originated from one of my original characters, Bongdirk, who already appeared in my works prior to NFTs. Generally, outside of my NFTs, I think my works often consist of character and world-making. Although surreal, these characters and worlds that I create are representational, somewhat narrative and non-abstract.
With Bongdirk759, I want to retain those conventions. I think of the entire collection as a single work, with me creating characters and writing stories to accompany it – almost like characters from a TV series or storybook. I will also be releasing ‘scenes’ from the digital planet soon.”
The NFT artworks he is most proud of: “Here are just three out of many that I’ve picked out simply because of how they look and their little stories. Mister Philips (bottom left) is known for two things, his gold watch and his quest to find love, although his heart is broken 99 per cent of the time. Jacky (bottom right) is a depressed clown who does the opening act for The Magician (top right). And Darney (top left) is a dinosaur-alien hybrid that carries around a human bag. Most believe that he got the bag from devouring the human.”
Favourite crypto artists: “Many of them, like myself, are just artists in general who mint and sell their works. One I really like is Tony Babel who does mesmerising vintage loops.”
Who: Hunn Wai (right) is director of industrial and meta-design at Lanzavecchia + Wai, a design studio he co-founded with fellow designer Francesca Lanzavecchia (left) in 2010. Specialising in furniture and product design, the studio has worked with major brands like Hermes, Zanotta and Tod’s. Among his commissioned NFT projects is an edition of five NFTs created for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s charity auction.
Where he sells his work: Lanzavecchia + Wai’s projects are mainly commissioned work for now, so their solo work is currently unlisted on OpenSea. Watch their space for updates.
How he got intro crypto art: “I was looking to get into NFTs with Lanzavecchia in Feb or March last year. I was invited to be an artist-in-residency with a publication and spent the next few months climbing a steep learning curve on designing for intangible products and created our first NFT Living Vase 01. Since that partnership, we’re also working on bigger projects with other magazines and brands.”
The NFTs artworks he is most proud of: “Our Genesis series Living Vase enabled us to learn and get our name out there. It was really the first push for our design practice into that realm and unlocked a lot of other opportunities.
Secondly, One Flower of Hope for the Refugees for UNHCR (pictured). This is an edition of five NFTs by Lanzavecchia + Wai minted on the Ethereum blockchain, pledged towards UNHCR’s charity auction. It features a delicate blue flower which blooms in a desert against all odds, an analogue for precious hope in the face of adversity and is a dedication towards a refugee’s resilience and bravery. All proceeds from the charity auction will be donated to UNHCR in support of vulnerable displaced Afghans.
Thirdly, our upcoming ‘10k’ NFT project with international collaborators involving high-profile cultural icons. I can’t say what it is about yet, but it’s going to change how we think about NFTs moving forward. We’re launching in April, so stay tuned.”
Favourite crypto artists: “The first is Pak. His work The Merge is presented as a molecule/atom, and the more you buy, the bigger your NFT becomes and it changes in colour. He’s thinking on a conceptual level about how to sell NFTs, and using the characteristics of NFTs in a very smart way.
There’s also Krista Kim, whose piece Continuum was lit up on billboards at Times Square. What interests me is that she would like to go into the metaverse to heal and come out better, challenging current dystopian stereotypes.
The third would be my wife Oliva Lee. She’s done beautiful work and is also launching her NFT projects this year. I can’t wait − she’s already thinking about fictional worlds and objects through her teaching at the National University of Singapore. The way she thinks about design is a perfect fit for the metaverse.”
Who: Singapore-born visual artist and illustrator Kristal Melson collaborated with LoveBonito on the label’s very first NFT in Jan 2022. Titled Tiger Bloom, the piece highlights the re-emergence of the self in the journey of becoming a mother, reflective of Melson’s own experience.
As for her own NFT collection, she describes her works on OpenSea as allegories for the human condition. Made up of maximalist electric colours, they explore movement, tropics and folklore. Melson has also created a Foundation collection Automatika: PopMatik, a “playful series of wonder and bubbles”.
Where she sells her work: OpenSea and Foundation
How she got into crypto art: “I used to do work entirely in traditional mediums, mostly pencil, paint and ink. It’s a tedious process. Out of convenience, I began working in digital formats. The limitation I felt at the time was that digital art wasn’t perceived as ‘original art’. Galleries or art shows usually look for paintings in traditional mediums. So when I had heard about how digital art now can exist as originals (and most of my work is digital), it was a natural progression.”
Her inspiration: “I treat crypto art like a different medium, like drawing on paper or painting on a wall. With all my work, I usually have some music or a soundtrack that plays in my head as I create. With crypto art, adding music and motion gives so much more life to a drawing. I hope to continue pushing boundaries.”
The NFT artworks she is most proud of: “I’m proud of the Tiger Bloom piece unveiled with LoveBonito and Chan + HorI Contemporary. It’s a personal breakthrough, and I loved exploring motion with that piece. After becoming a mother, creative work took a backseat as my time was limited. I started taking steps back to making art, and working on ideas about the changes post-motherhood. Working with LoveBonito felt like a perfect match, given that the brand’s theme is all about journeying with women.
Another highlight is Bubble Trouble (pictured), a newly minted piece. The majority of my work in the last few years has been commercial work or commissions, but this is a purely personal piece made on my own terms.”
Favourite crypto artists: “I recently discovered Maciej Kuciara who collaborated with Steve Aoki for the Neon Future NFT collection. It’s stunning and so alive – I feel his work embraces and pushes the digital medium perfectly.
Every day, I feel like I have a new favourite artist that I discover on Twitter. But of all the big crypto artists that are making waves, I do love what Mad.Dog.Jones does with motion and light in his pieces. Mcbess has always been a favorite artist of mine too, I especially love his animation work.”
TEXT: Rebecca Rachel Wong/FEMALE