Written by Nitika.
Micol from Vertical Crypto interviews Sparrow, aka @blackboxdotart, about her creative process, artwork, early days in the crypto art ecosystem, and its evolution.
Sparrow Read is one of the OG crypto artists. Her venture into the cryptoart space is a unique one. She began her artistic career as a painter, working on encaustic wax paintings. These are the world’s oldest paintings, dating back to 2BC in some cases. In 2018, she discovered blockchain technology while looking for ways of recording history for the provenance of her artwork in an immutable and public manner. She believes that a public ledger where artists can record their work and make it freely available to everyone is a simple, less expensive, and powerful idea. After researching file storage, metadata, and longevity, she decided to tokenize her first artworks on the blockchain in 2019.
“It’s always in the back of my mind that how long is this gonna last? What records am I leaving behind?” she shares, stressing the fact that she started doing digital art because of the blockchain. The record of her tokenized work is the record of her development as a digital artist.
Sparrow tells Micol, while she enjoys digital art, she loves the physicality of encaustic wax paintings because they appeal to all of the senses. Doing digital artwork is convenient with her regular day job and she lets her day-to-day life influence what she creates. Paintings, on the other hand, take time to set up and clean and need planning. She shares that she approaches her paintings with a sense of wonder and love to explore new techniques. She applies this experimentation ethos to her digital art too. When asked about combining the two mediums, Sparrow says she prefers to keep them separate because they serve different functions and have different feelings.
Her early digital art pieces from 2018 were still images and photo manipulations that she incorporated into collage pieces before gradually transitioning to Generated AI, GAN images. Glitches and fractals are two of her favorite tools to experiment with.
She describes GAN images as just coloring pixels, and it is up to us to turn them into human figures or create art from them.
“It is fascinating how our minds fill in the blanks of anything that is remotely human-shaped; we tend to personify it,” she says on how people react to the GAN image series.
One of her AI works, also a part of the Museum of Crypto Art genesis collection “The Girl With No Shadow,” is available on Super Rare. She explains that the title of this GAN artwork comes from the US title of a book by Joanne Harris that she was reading at the time. The book’s UK title is ‘The Lollipop Shoes,’ which is why the image has a lollipop. She collaged a photo of the sky background with a GAN image to create a figure that stood in the way, implying the quote from the book:
“There’s no such thing as magic,” I said. “Then call it something else.” She
shrugged. “Call it attitude, if you like. Call it charisma, or chutzpah, or glamour, or charm. Because basically, it’s just about standing straight, looking people in the eye, shooting them a killer smile, and saying, fuck off, I’m fabulous.”
Micol discusses that her instinct with this art piece was to figure out where the face is because there are no features, and Sparrow explains why she chose not to show features consciously. The practical reason was that GAN images aren’t particularly good at generating faces. Sparrow’s figures are mostly women, and there is a notion of facelessness or not seeing women in society. The massive image gives the impression that the figure is taking a stance that corresponds to the quote. It takes up the entire space. The appearance is imposing and impactful due to its opacity and use of a single color.
Sparrow says she is creating the ambiguous creatures in her images, which are neither men nor women and have no features, as part of her latest works on Super Rare. It is the next step in her digital art journey. She’s trying to figure out when and where the creatures become otherworldly and lose their human forms. She describes her process as selecting GAN images and then training the eye to see the composition of relational elements, which she learned through physical painting.
When Async Art entered the picture, she collaborated on ‘First Supper‘ with 13 other OG crypto artists. Sparrow says that Async Art, the platform, has opened up many possibilities for what one can and cannot do with blockchain technology and artistic medium.
Async Art is a platform where smart contracts and tokens are required for the art to be what you want it to be.
“In the blockchain, Async Art makes more sense as a way to deliver art rather than just as a provenance mechanism,” she says. It makes use of blockchain, in which art serves as a token. It made her see the immense potential in the NFTS, technology, and possibilities open to the artist. All the other platform applications cater to the financial aspects like fractalization, making financial instruments like a pool of NFTs and then an ERC20 to represent the pool allowing artists to express themselves with the tokens.
She shares another platform called the dCanvas app, where one can purchase a piece of canvas and build the whole picture. The beauty of the Async Art platform, according to Micol, is in the collaborations, and Sparrow agrees. She has done as many as five collaborations with artists on the Async Art platform.
When it comes to collaborations, Sparrow contends the traditional art world is set up to revolve around competition; there are physical barriers to collaboration between artists, but there are also mental barriers. What is refreshing about the crypto art community is that it is entirely different from traditional collaborations. People are eager to collaborate because of the underlying technology, and artists are easily attributed with payments, and royalties are processed smoothly. It is due to the nature of the smart contract of Async, which enables it. There is a genuine sense of community, which has resulted from less competition and more coordination and cooperation among the early crypto artists.
Sparrow defines cryptoart as “the community of artists and whatever they determined it to be. Whatever they are doing is crypto art”. In her opinion, many of history’s art movements were simply artists working alone in isolation, doing their own thing, misunderstood by galleries and collectors, but today we have reached a privileged point where developers and collectors understand artists and what they are doing and can work together in creating something historically significant.
Micol asks Sparrow if the growing crypto art scene has sparked a sense of competition. Sparrow believes that it doesn’t seem that way. The early crypto artists are present and working today. Although she thinks, we need organizations and groups to communicate certain values to newcomers and help them understand how the early artists created the space; what we see today in the crypto space results from values such as collaborations among the early artists and the platforms working together as a community.
She shares that discussions revolving around collaborations, preservation of art, and communities are crucial and progressive to the crypto space. One of the people having those discussions is Colborn, founder of the Museum of Crypto Art(MOCA). That kind of partnership among collectors, artists, and technology is unparalleled in other art movements. Her artworks are also collected by him and included in the MOCA collection. She further explains, artists by nature imagine different ways of doing things. The crypto artists saw the flaws in the old system and created something they could fit into by expressing themselves through their art.
She hopes the Museum of Crypto Art captures the spirit of “We don’t need someone from outside to validate or do something for us; we can and will do this ourselves.”
Micol concludes by stating that this is the first time in tech history that people’s needs drive technological advancements and innovations. Platforms take a bottom-up approach to development. They integrate and modify themselves in response to the artist’s demands and feedback. Sparrow adds that people reporting on the crypto space are also crucial to the movement along with platforms, collectors, and curators.
Their collaboration is equally important in telling the stories. Colborn, Fanny, Artnome, and Micol are few people who have been documenting the crypto movement from its early stages and telling stories of the crypto art world.
The cryptoart system as Sparrow puts it, is “If something doesn’t exist, we create it together.”
You can watch the full interview streamed here.