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 in 2020. 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 twenty important pioneers who helped lay the groundwork. This list is far from exhaustive and we’ll be showcasing more OG artists in the future to ensure everyone who contributed to building this community gets the shine they deserve.
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 sell for upwards of $7 million and is widely recognized as the blue-chip standard-bearer of the crypto art movement. Always a trailblazer, the anonymous artist recently released all of his solo artwork to the public domain under the Creative Commons license in a move that delighted the champions of decentralization in the space.
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.
Josie Bellini is a renowned crypto artist who entered the space in 2017 and broke through with her viral works “Genesis” and “Filter.” The latter features the iconic Bitcoin-branded gas mask that has become synonymous with her brand and an AR integration that helped cement her legacy in the crypto community. As a staunch believer in Bitcoin and the promise of decentralization, Bellini embraces the term “Bitcoin artist” and champions the game-changing cryptocurrency in many of her pieces. Between writing a regular newsletter, maintaining a community Discord and launching her new CyberBrokers project, she also finds time to host an illuminating interview series called “Behind the Art” on YouTube.
This Irish conceptual artist has been at the forefront of art’s intersection with blockchain technology for years. Abosch was experimenting in the space as early as 2013, when he compiled 500 paired Bitcoin keys in a book that he declared a “bank.” In 2018, he notably tokenized himself via 10 million ERC-20 tokens for his “IAMACOIN” project, sold his “Forever Rose” crypto artwork for $1 million to a group of 10 collectors, and teamed up with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on “PRICELESS” — a project where one of two ERC-20 tokens was distributed one quintillionth at a time. For more information on Kevin Abosch, check out this New York Times profile.
Long before Ethereum became ground zero for the current NFT craze, Joe Looney was helping lead a 2016 crypto art revolution on the Bitcoin blockchain. As the founder of Rare Pepe Wallet and co-founder of Rare Pepe Foundation, he developed the first on-chain art exchange that helped Counterparty Protocol’s Rare Pepes trading card series scale into a full-blown crypto cultural phenomenon. In January 2018, Looney presided over the Rare Art Labs Digital Art Festival where a rare “Homer Pepe” card sold for $38,500 in a live auction. (It recently resold for more than $320,000). Artist Matt Kane called it “the most important NFT in art history” as its sale “influenced so many of the original crypto artists to believe we could put our art to work building both a market and belief around this new technology.”
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.
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.
Coin Artist (born Marguerite deCourcelle) is a prolific jack-of-all-trades who has been very active at the intersection of crypto and gaming for years. The artist first rose to prominence for her renowned crypto puzzle paintings “Dark Wallet Puzzle” (2014) and “TORCHED H34R7S” (2015), the latter of which contained 5 Bitcoins and took three years to solve. In addition to inventing the crypto puzzle genre, she regularly livestreams conversations with creatives on the cutting edge of NFT gaming and launched $COIN as a collaborative governance token project last September. Since 2018, Coin Artist has been building the future of blockchain gaming as the CEO of Blockade Games, the studio behind popular projects like Neon District and Plasma Bears.
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.
Olive Allen brought her art to the blockchain in 2018 and hasn’t looked back. Constantly evolving her approach and style, the New York-based artist began her career as a traditional painter but now uses digital brushes and an iPad canvas to create her distinctively sardonic output. In series like “The Sheeplezzz,” she lampoons elements of internet culture like Clubhouse and Trash Art with tongue-in-cheek flair. A firm believer that artists have a responsibility to comment on current affairs, Allen has become a key voice in the space by never shying away from sharing her opinion.
John Orion Young (AKA JOY) has been a colorful fixture in the Metaverse since 2018 and a consistent advocate for VR/AR technology on the blockchain. Favoring cartoonish renders and eye-popping primary colors (with an unabashed soft spot for yellow), Young has established a compelling visual style while building a literal world around his own imagination. From his JoyWorld VR wonderland to JoyToy series, it’s clear Young is already living in 3021 and remains light years ahead of the curve.
Based in Kiev, Ukraine, Yura Miron is a visual artist whose vibrant work draws on influences ranging from psychedelic trips to lucid dreaming and meditation. Many of his signature early GIFs on SuperRare document his psychonaut adventures with hallucinogenics like Aleph and Allylescaline. After Miron received a coveted co-sign from X-Copy last week, collectors scrambled to snatch up his available 1/1 pieces and significantly raised his market floor. The OG duo then decided to reward 29 collectors on KnownOrigin with surprise editions of a 2012 collaboration titled “Effect” before auctioning off the final remaining edition on the platform.
A self-described Bitcoin activist who has dedicated his career to evangelizing the cryptocurrency, cryptograffiti know how to make a lasting impression. While he was a key contributor to early NFT projects like Curio Cards, the San Francisco artist is perhaps best known for his iconic “United Nodes of Bitcoin” (2015) work and a prolific catalogue of Bitcoin art. He recently made headlines by placing 12 “BTC vs. The Fed” billboards in each of the Federal Reserve branch cities to raise awareness in low income neighborhoods, as well as drop clues to a 0.21 BTC cryptographic puzzle prize. With a number of interesting projects planned, cryptograffiti is one to keep an eye on.
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.
Artonymous Artifakt is a highly-respected crypto artist who helped lead the early charge on SuperRare back in 2018. While there’s unsurprisingly not much in the way of biographical details for the anonymous artist, his work speaks for itself. Combining AI and surrealist elements with a proclivity for skeletal imagery, his recognizable pieces have been collected by plenty of fellow OGs like Coldie and Criptocromo.
Hailing from Paris, Pascal “PBOY” Boyart began his forays into crypto art in 2017 through a series of popular street art murals incorporating Bitcoin QR codes. The French artist received more than 1.21 BTC in two years from donations sourced solely from his frescoes. He officially transitioned into NFTs in 2019 by tokenizing the first-ever street art mural “Daddy, what is money?” and views the medium as a “very satisfying” means of immortalizing ephemeral works that can be subject to censorship. Boyart remains beloved within the Bitcoin community and recently sold his “Dollars Assange” piece for 1 BTC on Scarce.City, an NFT auction platform based on Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. In true cypherpunk fashion, 30% of proceeds went to support Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s legal appeal.
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 announcement and closing, she founded Crypto Fashion Week and curates Yes Universe. 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.