Credit: Justin Aversano
Art

Justin Aversano on How ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ Confronts Loss and Life

BY Eric James Beyer

March 14, 2023

The Alpha:

  • Web3 mixed-media photographer Justin Aversano will debut the latest iteration of his well-known Smoke and Mirrors collection at Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles on March 25.
  • The exhibition will consist of 78 limited-edition silkscreen-on-papyrus prints of portraits attached to NFTs. Viewers can see the prints, which depict “healers, spiritualists, creatives, and family,” until April 8.
  • Aversano tells nft now that he has a particularly intimate connection to the pieces in this exhibit. “All of these artworks, all these art projects really come from a place in myself of death,” he explains.

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Justin Aversano is a household name in Web3. One of several individuals to help put NFT photography on the map, the artist has released some of the most successful and thought-provoking projects the space has seen in recent memory.

Twin Flames, a collection of photographs showcasing 100 pairs of twins that helped establish Aversano as one of the top-selling photographers in Web3, was partly a tribute to the artist’s late fraternal twin. The collection remains one of the most sought-after projects in the community and has done 5,900 ETH (just under $10 million) in trading volume on the secondary market. 

Aversano’s work often deals with themes of death, pain, and the intangible relationships and connections that exist beyond the limits of ordinary human perception. Smoke and Mirrors, the photographer’s February 2022 collection, embraces this idea perhaps more directly than any other of his works.

The collection consists of 78 portraits of “artists, astrologers, psychics, tarot readers, and other forms of mystics” from around the globe, each representing a unique tarot card. Now, Aversano is taking Smoke and Mirrors into new territory by debuting photographs from the collection at the Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles on March 25, reimagined through the medium of silkscreen on papyrus prints. 

From ancient Egypt to the blockchain

While speaking to nft now about the collection, Aversano drew comparisons between the NFT tech of today and the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, pointing to the permanent and expressive nature both share. 

“It’s a digital archeology of hieroglyphs that we’re creating in real-time.”

Justin Aversano

“I work in different printing media processes,” Aversano explained. “In each project that I do with a thematic subject matter, there’s a specific printing method that goes along with that theme. So, for example, the tarot project [is] printed on papyrus and connects to our ancestors.”

“We’re working with the silkscreen to make the photograph a painting. Then there’s another layer — minting these things on the blockchain. To me, that’s a way of connecting the future to the past. It’s a digital archeology of hieroglyphs that we’re creating in real-time.” 

Smoke and Mirrors features some well-known cultural figures, including artist and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, author Neil Gaiman, and NFT collector and Web3 builder Gmoney.  

A black and white photograph of a woman wearing a white sweater and a necklace in the shape of a cross while wearing a ski mask on her head.
Nadya Tolokonnikova. Credit: Justin Aversano

Confronting death

Of the 78 images in the collection, 22 are classified as “major arcana,” with the remaining 56 being “minor arcana,” with the major arcana being the first 22 cards in most tarot decks. And while an abstract philosophical motif guides the collection, Aversano has also imbued the collection with a distinct intimacy: the photograph that represents the death tarot card is a portrait of Aversano’s father standing next to the grave of the artist’s late mother, who died from cancer. 

A black and white photograph of a man holding a flower standing next to the grave of his wife. There is an open space on the headstone where his name will be written when he died.
Credit: Justin Aversano
A mixed-media, silkscreen print photograph of a man holding a flower standing next to the grave of his wife. There is an open space on the headstone where his name will be written when he died.
Credit: Justin Aversano

“All of these artworks, all these art projects really come from a place in myself of death,” Aversano said of the conceptual nature that drives his work. “How to connect with life. My father is the photograph of the death card, and he’s standing beside my mother’s grave with an empty space where his name is [going to be]. “How do you accept death and acknowledge it?”

While working on Twin Flames in 2021, Aversano teamed up with Jason Ostro, artist, and director of Gabba Gallery. The two have been working together ever since to print the collection in such a way that aligns with Aversano’s vision. Though the NFTs of the photographs that will be on display at the gallery have already sold out on the primary market, collectors can find them on secondary, starting at a floor price of 10 ETH.

The IRL exhibition represents yet another stage in Aversano’s ever-evolving and restless artistic trajectory. As the NFT photography space continues to grow and diversify, the photographer remains a pillar of that medium’s Web3 community, continually experimenting with the opportunities that the blockchain presents him.

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