One of the most fascinating aspects of NFT technology is the creation of digital provenance. We now have a transparent and immutable ledger at our fingertips with a record of exactly who did what and when — from the earliest explorers of new frontiers to the latest converts to mint their genesis pieces.
Many of the space’s biggest names were not the earliest adopters. For example, Beeple was a consistent force in the digital art world for years but only minted his first NFTs last year. As the market continues to grow at a rapid pace, it’s important to recognize the trailblazers who believed in crypto art’s potential at a time when it was anything but in vogue.
For those who are new to the scene, please take a moment to educate yourself on these ten important pioneers who helped lay the groundwork. This list is far from exhaustive and we’ll be showcasing more OG artists in future editions (edit: Part 2) to ensure everyone who contributed to building this community gets the shine they deserve.
An Italian artist duo founded the Hackatao project in 2007 and have ascended to crypto art’s top-tier ($6.7M in sales) with their striking tattoo-inspired iconography and groundbreaking animated pieces. Their work often explores pop art themes and supports social causes like environmentalism and women’s empowerment, as evidenced by their recent “Heroines” series with José Delbo and upcoming “Queen of Art” drop on Makersplace.
This London-based artist can lay claim to some of the earliest crypto art as we know it. One of the first creators to mint on SuperRare in 2018, XCopy has seen his signature GIF artworks draw considerable buying interest and buzz from market observers in recent weeks. A 2020 commission titled “Hope” just sold yesterday for 250 ETH ($446,572). XCopy has also announced an upcoming Nifty Gateway drop called “Traitors,” so expect more retail buyers to become acquainted with his name soon.
No conversation about crypto art OGs is complete without Coldie, a beloved creator, collector and fixture in the community. Known for his stereoscopic 3D style and mixed-media works, Coldie created the highly-coveted “Decentral Eyes” portrait series featuring the likes of Warren Buffett and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. He recently formed a boutique crypto art consultancy called Universe Contemporary with Lady Phe0nix to share his expertise with new entrants to the space.
While Robbie Barrat’s name may be more closely associated with the artificial intelligence and generative art movement, his legacy is inextricably tied to crypto art history as well. Barrat’s seminal “AI Generated Nude Portraits” series is notable not only as prime examples of early AI art masterpieces, but also for being the very first works to be minted on SuperRare back in April 2018. For more information on the historic project, check out this excellent Artnome piece.
Africa’s preeminent crypto artist is instantly recognizable. Hailing from Aba, Nigeria, Osinachi (Prince Jacon Osinachi Igwe) frequently takes aim at social issues and injustices in his colorful artwork, railing against his home country’s cruel LGBTQ+ laws and the toxic masculinity that pervades global society. He became the first-ever Nigerian artist to showcase his work at New York City’s Ethereal Summit in 2018, and was a finalist for the Bridgeman Studio Award the following year. Believe it or not, the 29-year-old artist still uses Microsoft Word to draw all of his work.
Los Angeles multi-hyphenate Sarah Zucker is a comedian, screenwriter, filmmaker, Jeopardy! champion… oh, and also an OG crypto artist since 2019. She combines VHS and analog video effects to achieve her signature blend of throwback film composites, Internet-era imagery and feel-good feedback loops. Did we mention her GIF art has been viewed more than 6 billion times on Giphy?
Scottish artist Anna Louise Simpson is a student of pop culture and it shows in her compelling collage work. Tackling weighty subjects like consumerism and quarantine, Simpson has been working as an artist for more than a decade and took her talents to the blockchain in 2019. She cites Kippenberger, Richter and Rauschenberg as influences for her mixed-media work, which often combines oil paints and Indian ink with found items like magazines and posters.
Robness and Max Osiris
Self-described “compatriots” Robness and Max Osiris brought Duchamps’ conceptual art irreverence to the blockchain with controversial works like the former’s “64 Gallon Toter” and the latter’s “low effort NFT,” which got the artists respectively banned from SuperRare and Foundation. Whatever you think of the #TrashArt movement, there’s no denying the duo’s OG credentials. Robness’ involvement in the space dates back to the heady 2016 days of Rare Pepes, while Osiris came to on-chain artistry in 2018 following stints as a web entrepreneur, digital nomad and psychedelic explorer. Read more on the debate over recycling and censorship that Robness helped spark here.
superrare.co/artwork-v2/art… This piece. This morning I remembered why i got to banned from @SuperRare the 1st time. This was kind about it (pre:1st ban)
Who wears more hats in this space than Lady Phe? A prolific curator, commentator and champion of the underrepresented, Lady Phe0nix is one of the most vital voices at the nexus of crypto art culture. In addition to regularly moderating events like Beeple’s landmark Christie’s auction announce and closing, she founded Crypto Fashion Week, curates Yes Universe, and runs the Universe Contemporary consultancy with Coldie. Plus she was the first to coin the term “audio reactive NFT,” helping pave the way for the current disruption we’re seeing in the music industry.
Drawing inspiration from GIFs, concept art and 2D graphics, Criptocromo established a consistent presence as an advocate of low-res imagery during crypto art’s infancy. Combining spooky pixelated elements and retro whimsy, his pieces are steeped in a special sort of nostalgia for generations that grew up on 8-bit video games. Despite being collected by many of his contemporaries here, the underrated Mexico City artist remarkably still has some early works available and hidden in plain sight on popular platforms.