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Artists in Bali respond to NFT craze

Richard Hortsman

The Jakarta Post

Bali  /  Tue, April 6, 2021  /  08:00 am
Artists in Bali respond to NFT craze

Jake Kobrin experiments with virtual reality technology in front of his oil painting 'Equanimity'. (JP/Courtesy of Jake Kobrin)

A non-fungible token (NFT) can authenticate digital assets like JPEG, GIF or MP4 files on a blockchain and thereby certify their originality and ownership. Royalties can be locked into contracts, so that artists receive cryptocurrency payments each time the NFT is resold after the initial sale.

The NFT phenomenon has spread to Bali, and the The Jakarta Post talks with two artists quick to respond to what has been referred to as the crypto art craze. Ida Bagus Ratu Antoni Putra, - Monez - is a Balinese artist and design studio proprietor who has created digital illustrations for 15 years. His clients include Apple, Starbucks and Walt Disney Indonesia. “Piracy and the need to protect my work is one of the main reasons I got into NFTs,” said the Bachelor and Masters of Arts graduate of the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar. In 2018, Monez was embroiled in a publicized plagiarism case when another artist copied his mural in a Denpasar eatery onto walls in two other city restaurants.

"As a designer, I follow changes and trends. I have finally uploaded two crypto artworks, Dream Valley and Circus Clown, one a lighthearted Bali nature-inspired scenario, the latter an intimidating monster beating a drum. It's hard to imagine why people would buy these files. Yet, they buy, not only for good art but also as an investment. The development of NFT offers new hope for digital artists," said Monez, who has an international Instagram following and has exhibited physical artworks in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States.

‘Circus Clown’ by Balinese NFT artist Monez is a JPEG file illustration. The circus monster taps his drum around the villages to announce the beginning of the death
parade.‘Circus Clown’ by Balinese NFT artist Monez is a JPEG file illustration. The circus monster taps his drum around the villages to announce the beginning of the death parade. (JP/Courtesy of Monez)

"NFTs are a phenomenon, because people can sell works at fantastic prices to a whole new market. They are a prevalent topic of discussion in the local design community. There is, however, no legal umbrella in the NFT world. Piracy often occurs, and there are few solutions open to you when your work is online and appears in someone else's screenshot and is then sold as an NFT."

A collage of 5,000 individual images, Everydays — The First 5000 Days by American artist Beeple, has intensified the meteoric rise of NFTs. The first to be sold by a major auction house, Christie's, it changed hands for US$69.4 million on March 11. Beeple is now among the top-three most valuable living artists in any medium, alongside Jeff Koons and David Hockney. This sale represents a landmark vanguard action confirming creatives utilizing peer-to-peer digital platforms may bypass the artworld gatekeepers and raise the financial stakes to dizzy heights.

"Many illustrator friends wish to participate. The terrain, however, is very [new], requiring time to understand through watching YouTube videos and joining forum discussions. I now have an NFT-savvy partner who is responsible for uploading the files and the platform transactions. I provide the artworks," said Monez.

American multidisciplinary artist Jake Kobrin is experienced in digital and conventional media and is known for his complex psychedelic and esoteric paintings. An early explorer and adopter of the use of virtual reality in the creation of digital art, he has been visiting Bali for years and has been living on the island since the pandemic. “I have minted two art pieces, cryptosigil, a digital talisman and Bicycle Day inspired by psychedelic cultures,” he told The Jakarta Post. Minting refers to the process of turning a digital image or file into an NFT. Kobrin and Monez appear on Foundation, one of the curated, high-quality NFT market platforms.

"NFTs are a godsend providing an opportunity to value digital art in league with conventional artworks. This is the first time digital artists have achieved prices that match some of the highest bidding physical artworks sold in recent history", said the 28-year-old artist with a classical art education background. Kobrin studied in Florence, Italy, at the Angel Academy of Art, and at the Vienna School of Visionary Art in Austria, under teachers trained by Ernst Fuchs.

“I am deeply inspired by the sacred intention and tradition of the land, culture and the remarkable mythology and artistry. There is a peace that pervades Bali that is very difficult to find elsewhere,” stated the artist who has exhibited his paintings in countries around the world. “I anticipate NFTs will play a big role in the consumption of digital commodities experienced via AR and VR. As these technologies gain precedence and the importance of physical objects and artworks becomes less, I foresee a time when digital art in AR will appear as real to the viewer as a work of art that hangs on the wall now.”

'Dream Valley' by Balinese illustrator Monez is an NFT-protected MP4 file created on an IPad Pro and is his lighthearted and vibrant animation inspired by Bali's natural environment.'Dream Valley' by Balinese illustrator Monez is an NFT-protected MP4 file created on an IPad Pro and is his lighthearted and vibrant animation inspired by Bali's natural environment. (JP/Courtesy of Monez)

“Instantaneous digital art transactions allow accumulation of value over time and the facility to be traded much like a physical art object. These aspects give a greater use case for the emerging technologies of cryptocurrencies and blockchain that will essentially function in the future. I am aware that energy used to support NFTs traded on the blockchain does, however, have the potential to damage the environment.”

As opposed to the many pitfalls of the conventional art world, artist sovereignty and increased survival opportunities help define the benefits of NFTs. Some critics are, however, adamant, they are an investment in tech with a veneer of supporting the arts. Kobrin shared this valuable insight, a reminder of the perils of our increasingly digitized world. “I enjoy painting and making digital art. The soul that an original painting encapsulates, however, is lacking in digital art. It can be draining to spend too much time on technology and devices. Therefore, I spend a lot of time in nature to counterbalance the stresses of technology.”

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