The fast, yet somehow covert, rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchain technology has entered Washington’s art scene. As artists come to grasp the full potential of creating in the Web3 space, a new exhibition is capturing artists’ real-time experimentation with NFTs, unveiling new (and potentially lucrative) possibilities for creators. “Unbound” features the work of four local, independent artists of color making waves in the local arts and entertainment industry. With mediums ranging from textile design to graffiti art, the exhibition’s fusion of physical artwork with Web3 technology offers viewers a unique opportunity to become fully immersed in a variety of artistic expressions.
Graphic Designer + Visual Artist
Justin Victoria is a mixed media artist who’s always had an eye on the digital realm. The German-born, New York-raised graphic designer, abstract painter and photographer pushes the boundary of traditional image-making.
Victoria merges his hyper-saturated and occasionally pastel, abstract acrylic work with digital graphics to create a seamless, mesmerizing effect. Well versed in photo manipulation, Victoria is unabashed to meld traditional artistic mediums with technology, now culminating in the artist’s participation in “Unbound.”
The challenge is welcome.
“I feel like I kind of found a voice with abstract-on-canvas. But how do I make it sing in this other medium?” Victoria questions.
Projection-mapping software is the tool to create NFTs, a “visual coding” of sorts, Victoria explains. However, he isn’t wholly unfamiliar to the world of crypto art, having created a token reminiscent of a fluid resin painting for the popular NFT marketplace ZORA in 2021.
“Let’s just kick down the door and see what’s possible,” Victoria says. The artist hopes to “bring as many people through [to “Unbound”] and just keep expanding on these new techniques.”
For Victoria, “Unbound” is an opportunity to continue exploring the possibilities of NFTs, and to bring exposure for artists of color in Washington creating with Web3 technology.
“People of color are the backbone of so much of pop culture and just everything — rock and roll, you name it,” he says. “We’re all worthy of our shine.”
Follow Justin Victoria on Instagram @ber_lem.
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Kyla Hill is a textile artist whose practice centers around the incorporation of hemp-based materials. Hill’s background is in fine art painting, but over the last decade, learning about the benefits of hemp and its multifaceted use piqued her interest in creating textiles. The artist’s work explores themes of sustainability, and naturally, all things hemp.
In recent years, hemp has surged in popularity among communities that harness the plant’s benefits for everyday usage. For example, “hempcrete” is a non-toxic, energy efficient alternative to concrete, Hill explained. It’s the very material that the artist found inspiration in to create her installation for “Unbound.”
Of her soon-to-be revealed project, Hill says, “It’s kind of post-apocalyptic, but also futuristic.”
Using a digital recreation of hempcrete textiles as a canvas for projection-mapping, Hill’s installation will mirror the consequences of today’s ongoing climate crisis.
In her practice, Hill also recognizes the NFT-sustainability predicament. NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain are known to consume large amounts of energy due to the nature of their storage. In her installation for “Unbound,” Hill’s work will explore this quandary through the lens of what the world will look like 50 years from now.
Follow Kyla Hill on Instagram @hempresshill.
UX Designer + Figurative Artist
In her paintings, mixed media artist and muralist Sonia Jones captures the beauty of everyday moments, people of color and women and children. Jones layers oil and acrylic paint with more pronounced textures, such as fabric, to explore identity, self-perception and the essence of life.
With a background in UX design, the artist is also familiar in creating with new media technology. Jones explains that what’s unique about creating for Web3, in contrast to designing for mobile and website, is the creative liberty attached to crafting a digital aesthetic.
Jones’ art is primarily figurative — capturing both faces and people. For the artist, finding a middle ground between her medium and using Web3 technology to create art is trying to “marry the two in a very interesting way — in a way that’s authentic to who I am as an artist, but also as a Black woman.”
She says, “It’s not necessarily [recreating] painting into a digital medium, but how to use the best of what I can do in the digital world.”
Graffiti Artist + Apparel Designer
David Zambrano is a graffiti artist and clothing designer whose label DEZ Customz primarily specializes in custom footwear. For Zambrano, “Unbound” is an opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone as a creator.
Initially, the artist’s interest in creating for Web3 emerged from a desire to understand how an artist can take a 2D painting and manipulate its dimensionality. Zambrano’s work for “Unbound” will be his first experience creating an NFT.
Zambrano’s draw to Web3 is motivated by the “possibilities to see the examples of what could be,” he says. “There’s this magic that’s going to happen, and I’m excited about that.”
His contribution to “Unbound” will be a “three-dimensional exaggeration of graffiti” that balances color, shadow and light, he says.
“We really want to bring the user into the fold and have them be able to manipulate [the artistry to] see the depth that’s really contained within it.”
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The Making of “Unbound”
“Unbound” started with a question.
“How do we take advantage of this new technology and how do we introduce artists and artists of color to this technology?” asked Levi Robinson, program director and curator of Hue2 Foundation.
Noticing the frenzy around NFTs and crypto art, Robinson envisioned a multi-layered project that promoted education around using Web3 technology for art that would uplift local artists of color in Washington.
Robinson says the project couldn’t have been realized without the help of the ILLUMINUS team, a Boston-based collective promoting the intersection of art and technology. The group assisted the artists in learning the NFT program-mapping technology to incorporate their respective mediums.
Diane Dwyer of ILLUMINUS says the group’s role in assisting “Unbound” is all in the exhibition’s name.
“These artists are pushing their own personal and artistic boundaries, as well as sort of the boundaries of how we know the art scene to function,” she says.
High Caliber Events Co-Founder Mollie Q. Coleman praised the four creatives participating in the exhibition for their talent and the doors they are opening for other artists of color in Washington interested in creating for the Web3 space.
“Creating the opportunities and accessibility for BIPOC artists in general is a huge part of our mission,” says Coleman.
On a larger scale, she says, the exhibition represents “connecting community and culture so that we’re not left behind in the midst of everything that’s happening.”
“Unbound” will be open July 14-16. It is curated and produced by the nonprofit Hue2 Foundation, art consulting company Art Vibez, PR strategists High Caliber Events and the Boston-based group ILLUMINUS, which hosts an annual festival dedicated to art, design, technology and science.