Since ancient times, graffiti has been a way for people to express themselves and make their mark in a world that would prefer them to be silent. It’s a declaration of oneself, a sign that says, “I was here.”
Mint Gold Dust’s Producer Seth Scher knows this world well. Growing up in Philadelphia in the 1990’s, he was exposed to the thriving straightedge hardcore, rave, and hip hop culture there, and the graffiti movement was the cultural thread that tied it all together.
Fast forward to 2007, Seth was introduced to graffiti artist and designer Curve on a film set.
Curve moved to Philadelphia by way of New Haven, CT where his passion for exploration was forged and his introduction to graffiti began. It was in Philadelphia where he found himself immersed into the scene. His teenage years were spent painting in the streets, tunnels, and rooftops, using the city environment as a workshop and stage to express himself. This led to exploring other art-forms, which graffiti has roots in: including illustration, animation, and graphic design.
In 2020, Seth Scher was analyzing NFTs for his own work when he and Curve first discussed the idea of graffiti NFTs. The ultimate goal was to capture the essence of graffiti and create something that serves as a permanent historical record. Selling an NFT was one thing, but preserving a cultural echo and oral history was another. Graffiti by nature is ephemeral and defined not only by its markings, but by the space it occupies– a unique challenge to solve in a digital landscape.
Around this same time, Mint Gold Dust founder Kelly LeValley Hunt was having some of these same thoughts. She explains,
“Graffiti is our modern day hieroglyphics telling the past, the future, but most important, the present day story without a political media spin but with a grassroots version of our present day lives. If we don’t document this work on chain then we are erasing a large part of our history that some believe is not worthy of historical study.”
After going back and forth on how to retain the essence of graffiti when translating them into NFTs, they decided to simply borrow materials done on a wall, be it a tag or an art piece. Once hi-resolution images were taken, Curve’s pieces were then digitally enhanced to add depth or variation to each piece. The blockchain offered a permanence and formal authorship to work that was temporal and co-opted, but the story didn’t end there.
Curve was connected with Mint Gold Dust partner Illust Space to geo-drop his NFTs into the physical world through Augmented Reality, essentially creating a digital tag. This digital act of disruption is able to act as a record of where the original piece was tagged, offering a permanence that was unachievable before, or it can help writers create new tags that can be dropped anywhere in the world creating a new wave of graffiti.
We recently caught up with Curve to discuss his latest works on Mint Gold Dust and his thoughts on blockchain technology. Check it out below.
In your own words, why do you think NFTs are a good medium for graffiti writers?
From my understanding NFTs allow artists to have ownership of their work. Graffiti has been co-opted, exploited, and straight up stolen, and NFTs can create opportunities for graffiti artists to profit from their work on their own terms. It can also allow writers to keep their anonymity, which is very important for some.
Would you say that the disruption that decentralization and NFTs bring is attractive to you and other writers?
In part yes, because it’s new and exciting. Although I cannot say that I completely understand it. I think graffiti grew alongside other disruptive and anti-establishment movements, so there is definitely a lineage there.
What’s your process when digitizing your works? How does having video files supported influence this chapter in your artistic process?
My process for the most part still involves old fashioned sketching and drafting. Although with my iPad I don’t need to scan anything. If I paint a wall, I can begin digitally manipulating it immediately. I still create graffiti in a traditional manner and often digitizing is an afterthought. When it happens, that is when my pieces change and alter in their form and function. When I started sharing my graffiti on social media in 2013, I began to see this potential. There are times when the addition of digitization has made me approach my traditional process differently. For instance if my goal is that a particular piece be eventually animated, the steps with which I start it and finish it, will allow for that option, making my creative process very different from my norm. I enjoy experimenting with all the technological tools offered, without completely knowing what the outcome will be. While there has been a small video art tradition involved in graffiti since the 80s, I think our phones have made us all part time multimedia editors and artists. The supported video files have opened new doors and ideas for my work. I have been able to collaborate with digital video artists, who have many years in that field, and may have never got a chance to work with graffiti art as a subject. I also enjoy adding a musical or sound element to my pieces. The association with certain musical genres has always been alluded to, but has never been able to be explicitly shown until now.
Tell us a bit about your AR NFT pieces. How do you see this technology being a solution for writers and taggers?
The concept behind my AR NFT pieces is about the dilemma of seeing graffiti digitally versus the real world. The environments where graffiti exists are intrinsically tied to the process of making it and the aesthetics of said graffiti. The experience of viewing it outside, in person, and in the elements where it was created, are an important part of how graffiti grows, expands, and holds its power. I don’t seek to change or reinvent graffiti in a digital space. Since that is our current reality and affects so much of how we interact with one another, I seek to comment on this with my graffiti. I see the current technology as providing new avenues for writers to keep doing what they’ve always been doing; Getting Up.
What’s next for you? I’ve seen Zoidrecords on IG, are there any plans to do audio NFTs in the future?
My plan is to take my Zoidrecords project to the auditory level. Ultimately, releasing music and graffiti asmr is the idea. I’d like to treat these aspects as important as the graffiti that is seen.
Check out our 2 part podcast series with Curve, Seth, and Mint Gold Dust curator Eleonora Brizi below: