In many ways, a South Carolina graphic designer is the most prominent artist at the moment. Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, became a cultural icon overnight when a jpeg of his work, backed by a non-fungible token (NFT), was sold at Christie’s for $ 70 million in March . Since then, the 40-year-old has been a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, won GQ âartist of the yearâ award, and her work made the cover of Time magazine.
In November, Beeple made headlines again when his ‘kinetic video sculpture’ titled Human sold for $ 29 million at auction.
At a recent crypto art festival in New York sponsored by its patrons Metakovan and Twobadour, Beeple was mobbed by fans waiting their turn to get a selfie or a quick word with the affable feel of the art world. .
Beeple was so immersed in the theatricality of the Nov. 4 event that he postponed his scheduled press interviews. But Quartz eventually caught up with him to ask him how he handled the fame of the âmonkey shitâ level, as he describes it. The secret, he says, is to stay focused on the part of your job that gives you the most pleasure and to persevere. The following interview transcript has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Quartz: Has success and adulation impacted your creativity? Do you feel compelled to produce something better than your last piece?
Beeple: In the case of the Christie’s auction in March, the sale ended at 11 a.m. and I had to do another piece that I knew everyone would be looking at before the day was over. I knew I had to produce my next piece in literally 13 hours. It had the pressure to do something better than the last one very quickly.
Even like Human was up for auction, I was working on a whole spring collection [for another client] worth $ 50 million and a bunch of different coins before that. I’ve been in this position long enough to have had times when people were very interested in the job. I’ve also gotten used to ignoring expectations or pressure, which really pops into your head.
I did this [making art] for almost 20 years without earning any income. This is something that I would absolutely continue to do every day because it is what I love to do even though I never made a dime of it again. This is something that I am so excited to create every day. If people get it, so much the better. But mostly I do stuff that I want to see personally. It’s just something I have to do, I don’t feel like I have a choice.
Making art is therefore a kind of constraint. How would you describe the pleasure you get from it?
My skills are not where I want them to be at all, and there is still a tremendous amount of room for improvement in many different areas of what I do. This is what keeps me very motivated: translating the ideas in my head on paper, on the screen, or whatever. At the moment, they don’t come out as well as in my head and I don’t know how to improve them. So every day I have to try hard to improve myself. These little breakthroughs and times when I learn something are most rewarding for me.
Of course, external validation is always nice. I obviously want people to like what I do, I’m human. But it’s a little more superficial than personal breakthroughs that other people might not immediately recognize. [in my work].
What’s the best creative breakthrough you’ve had lately?
I don’t think I fully realized how much the technology behind the Human project was. The fact that this piece will continue to evolve over time is revolutionary. In traditional art, you make a painting, a sculpture, or whatever and it’s done; it is frozen in time and the artist will never have the means to add to this piece.
I think a piece that keeps changing is much more like the full potential of digital art. Pieces that adapt and evolve with us, I believe that is the future of art.
A future where art is constantly evolving is a heady philosophical proposition. Are you influenced by a particular futurist?
It doesn’t sound great, but I’ve never read any books. I have probably read a couple of books in the past 20 years. But I read a lot of news and read a lot on the Internet. News inspires me enormously.
Before becoming an artist, you worked as a graphic designer. How do you distinguish between these two jobs?
Before NFTs, I mainly considered myself a designer because I basically solved art problems under the guidance of people who paid me. The art that I am currently doing still has a lot of design elements but now I am the client and I do what I want. I was still making art when I was working as a designer, I just didn’t sell it. It really is the only thing that has changed.
Pieces that adapt and evolve with us, I believe that is the future of art.
I really didn’t care about the design work I was doing. I wanted the client to be happy and their project to be successful. But I always put my real passion and my energy into the works of art that I made. But there was no way to get it back and I was just pulling it out for free. I feel like I still have a bit of both worlds in terms of design and art. I see art as a statement – like in what you mean – while design is how you go about it.
Has massive fame changed your relationship with your family?
My children are five and eight years old. They saw me signing autographs. My family is incredibly supportive. My brother is a mechanical engineer and he is largely responsible for building the Human One box.
Does family support protect you from sarcastic comments from art critics?
There are people in the traditional art world who struggle with this [crypto art], but they will come. For every person who thinks it sucks, there are a hundred others who think it is amazing. You are not going to please everyone. I’m used to people saying, âThis is stupid. It’s just another person on the internet giving their opinion, which is okay. We can all do it.