Every innovation in tech almost certainly has a name behind it. Steve Jobs was behind the smartphone, Bill Gates was behind the PC, and Mark Zuckerberg was behind social media. However, with the decentralized and anonymized nature of cryptocurrency and by extension, the blockchain, it made sense that there wasn't a singular prolific figure who pushed the envelope further.
However, with the rise of NFTs, came Beeple, an artist whose art would transcend beyond what was seemingly thought plausible within the digital realm. Credited with creating pieces that ended up driving a boom toward the entire NFT space, the artist has quickly turned into the name behind NFTs.
However, this begs the question, how has a singular artist been able to drive tons of dollars into the digital space? Moreover, how has his influence shaped the world of NFTs? Today, we're going to go explore all of that and much more!
Who Is Beeple?
Michael Joseph "Beeple" Winkelmann, born on the 20th of June 1981, is a US-based artist, animator, designer, and illustrator. Now hailed as one of the most valuable living artists, he's a man of humble origins, raised in North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and currently living in North Charleston, South Carolina. He is a Computer Science major who graduated in 2003 from Purdue University. While we aren't sure if his degree contributed to much, his eventual transition to digital art was definitely eased up with his general prowess and understanding of technology.
Contrary to popular belief, Beeple wasn't really into blockchain technology or cryptocurrency, for that matter. For most of his life, Beeple's work remained unnoticed. In fact, Mike Winkelmann primarily focused on traditional art for most of his life. His primary job was to design corporate websites. But, it was quite clear that he had a passion for the art world from the get-go.
Naming himself after the furry toy from the 1980s, Beeple's work had already been popularized to the extent he was working with artists like Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber before the pandemic. In fact, Shakira's fiery wall of fire in the Super Bowl was all Beeple's idea. A testament to his art even before his eventual rise to fame.
What Is Beeple Known For?
Many artists have tried to pave their way in the NFT market. But whenever we talk about non fungible tokens, it seems like Beeple takes the cake for being the most prolific. Like many digital artists, Mike Winkelmann wasn't really well-known before his big break. However, his passion was as clear as day.
Such is his passion for art that on the 1st of May 2007, he started his now fabled project, "Everydays the first 5000", commonly referred to as "Everydays". In this journey, Beeple vowed to create one art piece every day for 5000 days straight. No holidays, no weekends, no days off. Sounds impossible, right? Well, for most of us, that might be the case.
But, for Mike Winkelmann, the challenge was to hone his commitment to the art world and also to sharpen his skills throughout the process. In fact, he did not miss a single day of creating art, even with the birth of his two children and getting married in the process too. Beeple's art is often considered quite controversial, often drawing inspiration from political figures while also presenting a dystopian image of the world around him. While his entire journey revolved around digital art, Beeple aimed to work on a new medium every year. With this, he transitioned from Adobe Illustrator to Cinema 4D and other art mediums in the process.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of digital art is how significantly the tool used can change your artistic rendition. And, Beeple's knack for transitioning from one tool to the next has allowed his artwork to remain vibrant and unique with each passing year. For instance, his switch to Cinema 4D allowed his artwork to have, well, a more cinematic approach in his art.
Beeple and the NFT Market
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of non fungible tokens and NFTs went through quite a boom. As such, it was only a matter of time before artists like Beeple jumped on the bandwagon.
However, he didn't discover the world of NFTs or even the idea of selling his art himself. His loyal fans had him try out the NFT thing. And so, in mid-October 2020, he started researching exactly what the future of NFTs and their amalgamation with digital art was.
Looking at history, Beeple's first break is considered to be his first drop in late December 2021 on Nifty Gateway. Over a single weekend, Beeple sold over $3.5m worth of NFTs, immediately turning him into one of the most valuable living artists in the world. For a digital artist like him, Beeple felt like he had struck gold.
In fact, he found it insane that he was able to communicate with potential buyers while sitting at his computer and was then able to auction and sell his NFTs. Over the course of six months, art pieces, such as Crossroads, were sold on secondary NFT markets for $6.6m.
And then comes Beeple's magnum opus, one of the world's major auction house, Christie's, listed a montage of Beeple's "Everydays the first 5000" with the auction house originally starting the bid facilitated by Noah Davis at a measly $100. Little did we know, Beeple's montage would be making history. Over the course of the bid, the price would shoot to about $70m, immediately entering him into the list of the most valuable living artists coming in at a healthy third place.
This sale also turned him into the most valuable digital artist in the world and sent waves of both intrigue and fascination in the traditional art world as well. The fact that Christie's, a major auction house known primarily for its relevance with traditional art pieces, such as its sale of Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvador Mundi, firmly established the fact that digital art now had a place right beside traditional art as well.
Moreover, the fact that Beeple was present at Art Basel popularizing himself as a digital artist, or his artwork being presented by Louis Vuitton as a digital artist has further elaborated the fact that NFTs aren't just a fad and are here to stay.
How Did Beeple Influence The NFT Market?
Beeple sold millions in digital art in a singular weekend. Unlike traditional art, which requires an artist to go through many hoops and hurdles just to get their art sold, NFTs hold a unique place. Beeple said it himself, "Anyone can list their art on the OpenSea and sell it."
In the midst of the pandemic, this creates a unique opportunity for artists who've not been very lucky in selling their art. With the crippled economy and the fact that money wasn't circulating due to the lockdown, digital art, more aptly, NFTs, became an excellent medium for artists like Beeple to showcase their art.
With the help of technology, an artist was now able to sell their art and make money in a single day if collectors deemed their art piece worthy. Gone were the days when an auction house was the only place you could auction your art.
Beeple, for all intents and purposes, has democratized art. With pieces now getting harder and harder to trace, the introduction of blockchain helps with transparency and also plants digital art onto the map. His work has allowed various other artists to present their own NFTs into the market, and they've been able to successfully auction them for millions of dollars.
According to nonfungible.com, a website dedicated to tracking the non-fungible market, while global trade volumes did fall down by 77%, the market still remains strong with over $1.6b traded in the open market in the third quarter of 2022.
Traditional Art and NFTs
Digital art and traditional art have never really mixed well. In fact, art that isn't digital is often considered better than ones created using a tablet or a stylus. This notion, however, couldn't be farther from the truth. But, that ideology remains for olden folk who might not yet appreciate the uniqueness of digital art.
But, with Beeple's sale and with NFT artists now selling and auctioning off their work, there's definite money to be made in the market. And, it is only a matter of time before we see more seasoned collectors trying their luck at NFTs. In fact, TheArtNewspaper's report on the matter also mentioned that individuals in their 60s and 70s were also now curious about NFTs and wanted to learn more.
The primary reason why art from Beeple and other artists have gone through such a boom, besides their inherent quality and creativity, is the initial speculation people had with the market. You see, at its very inception, crypto was a very speculative market. Those who bet on it early made tons of money off it. And now, NFTs seem to be the next big thing that precisely these individuals, amongst many others, are investing in.
5 Famous Beeple NFTs You Should Know
Now that we've gone over exactly who Beeple is, how he influenced the market, and how selling NFTs ended up being a pivotal moment for the entire industry, here's a quick look at some of the most prolific art pieces of his that differentiate him from many artists.
Everydays: The First 5000 Days
Beeple's most iconic piece and the one that eventually sold for nearly $70m, started on the 1st of May, 2007. Consisting of over 5000 different pieces, the piece was eventually completed on the 21st of February, 2021. The art piece chronicles Beeple's life throughout an impressive fourteen years, with his art style traditionally evolving as time goes on.
Beeple tried to incorporate different mediums and tools throughout his journey. The pieces consist of various forms of political satire, images from space, and dystopian landscapes. Art critic Will Gompertz, for instance, coined Beeble as a "talented exponent", further signifying the magnificence of his long, rigorously drawn montage.
Quite a big fan of montages, his more recent, "THE COMPLETE MF COLLECTION" also takes some stylistic cues from his 5000 art piece journey.
The next piece from Beeple that was auctioned at Christie's was HUMAN ONE. A kinetic video sculpture that resembles a hologram with slowly rotating LED screens on all sides. The artwork is controlled remotely by Beeple, who will be able to access the piece and will be able to change its contents over time.
Our protagonist, for lack of a better world, is an astronaut who navigates the seemingly barren terrain of a slightly recognizable world with various signs of decay and eventual signs of life following through. The sculpture debuted at the di Rivolo Museum of Contemporary Art in late April 2022. This is also marked as the artist's debut in an internationally acclaimed museum as well.
Selling via Nifty Gateway for a cool $6.6m, weeks before his Christie's debut, CROSSROADS is a 6-second clip that plays one of two videos, either of a very happy, victorious Trump, or one showing a grim, sad Trump depending on the result of the 2020 elections. As fate would have it, with Biden winning the elections, we ended up with a clip of Trump seemingly dead, with onlookers passing by paying him no heed. While he's no politician, Beeple keeps the spirit of art alive by mocking the status quo now and then. And CROSSROADS seems to be the perfect example of that occurrence.
From creating videos to sculptures, Beeple's OCEAN FRONT might seem mundane to the average viewer. However, Beeeple created and eventually sold the piece for an important cause, climate change. Featuring a dystopian image of what's to come, with various shipping containers presiding on an ocean floor, the piece eventually sold for a whopping $6m.
After the NFT was sold and purchased by Justin Sun, founder of the Tron Foundation, the entire auction amount was donated to the Open Eart Foundation, a charitable institution determined to avoid the ongoing effects of climate change.
The fact that Beeple ended up donating the entire proceeds to charity speaks volumes about his staunch principles. Since he's a first-generation digital artist, while his art may not transcend through time, his acts will. This will, in turn, paint every artist, whether famous or not, in a positive light.
TIME The Future Of Business (Beeple Edition)
Purchased by Hanrgb for $320k in an auction on SuperRare, Beeple collaborated with the fabled TIME magazine for their May 10th/17th 2021 issue. The piece of art displays a wireframe and a more completed render of a figure created and rendered with the help of Cinema 4D and more than ten NVIDIA cards.
The owner of the NFT also received a physical display of the NFT with TIME's iconic red borders used around the display. Beeple collaborating with one of the most prolific magazine publishers in the world is another sign of his success and why he's been a very pivotal artist in the digital NFT space.
From popularizing the premise of a digital auction to having work featured in Christie's to funding dollars for climate change, Beeple has certainly placed a mark in the world of NFTs and art as a whole. And he'll forever be remembered as a digital artist who paved the way for many others to come.