The more Web3 evolves, the more challenging it is for artists and builders to innovate within its walls. Gamified drops, unique burn mechanics, and more are all now commonplace in the NFT ecosystem. Each new pioneering dynamic raises the stakes just a bit higher.
This is a blessing for collectors, but it puts the onus on creators to stay on their toes and do something, well, new. Thankfully, even in the depths of an increasingly brutal bear market, the space isn’t short on creatives willing to step up to the plate. Enter visual artist Jeremy Cowart, a painter, illustrator, and photographer known for working with celebrities like Barak Obama, Taylor Swift, The Kardashians, and a litany of others.
Having been involved in Web3 since August 2021, Cowart’s dynamic and interactive NFT projects have brought truly unique aesthetics to the crypto art world. Now, he’s aiming to push the space in a direction it’s never been before by creating Auras, a 10,000-piece NFT collection, live in front of a Nashville audience. Oh, and he plans to create it in 20 minutes without generative code or software of any kind.
We spoke to Cowart ahead of next week’s performance about what (he hopes) will be a historic moment in the annals of Web3.
A performance like no other
On May 2, 2023, Cowart will take to the stage at Vū Nashville for less than half an hour. Using himself as the canvas for the project, the photographer will don a white mask and project hundreds of images at himself from several different angles to create 10,000 NFTs in a 20-minute span. The venue is key to the project. Vū features a massive, 123-foot LED screen that the artist will utilize in the project’s creation, revealing a never-before-seen creative methodology he has been developing for the better part of the last decade in the process.
Taking place in partnership with Transient Labs and OpenSea, Cowart is going to great lengths to physically recreate NFT trait rarity and variety, in a nod to the well-known 10K PFP tradition in the Web3 space. That’s no small feat, given the fact that PFP projects’ traits tend to be computer-generated.
But perhaps the most compelling thing about the ambitious live performance is that it came close to never existing. After entering the NFT space in early 2021, Cowart became disillusioned with NFTs and decided to bow out of Web3 by August of the same year.
Finding himself at Miami’s Art Basel in the fall, however, he serendipitously stumbled upon the generative NFT art scene per the recommendation of a friend. He spent the next two months obsessively reading up on the space and decided to try his hand at it again. “My abstract painter brain understood what I could do with that,” Cowart told nft now.
Cowart’s reentry to the space came in February 2022 with the release of the 999-piece Block Queens, a generative collage project that the artist was able to build to scale with the help of Transient Labs co-founders Ben Strauss and Marco Peyfuss. The pair encouraged Cowart’s experimental ideas, which were to make the NFTs in the collection three-dimensional, interactive concept pieces.
Block Queens sold out within seconds of its release.
From there, Cowart turned his eye to creating 1/1 pieces, with pieces from his unique Lightographs series selling on SuperRare for over 15 ETH ($30,000 at the time). Fast forward to January 2023, and Cowart began to develop the idea for what would eventually become the Auras live mint.
Cowart has always been a fan of happy accidents, never being content with having what he sees as too much control in creating a piece of art. This tendency reflects itself in his soon-to-be-revealed artistic methodology, which he has been tinkering with for years.
“My process in the studio has gotten exponentially more experimental and weird,” Cowart explained. “Especially over the last year. Most photographers, when they’re shooting, they want control. I want chaos. I call [my work] a contrived happy accident.”
When pressed on why he’s drawn to this particular element of chaos, Cowart says it reminds him of how he works in mediums like painting.
“When you’re painting fast, you’re not in control of where the paint splashes or drips, but you’re still in control overall. You have a vague sense, but things just happen. It’s the exact same process for photography, I’m painting in a very abstract way with my camera. I invented these systems that allow accidents to happen.”
With 10,000 being such an iconic number in the Web3 space, Cowart originally became fascinated with the possibility of being able to create a 10K collection in 10 minutes. Upon testing the methodology, he realized that, despite the blazingly fast capabilities of the camera technology involved, he would need somewhere closer to 15 or 20 minutes to reach the output threshold he’s aiming for.
“The hard part about this is after the shoot,” Cowart acknowledged of the process needed to fully realize his vision. “In three or four days, we will have people manually assign the rarity traits to 10,000 photos. There are eight or nine trait categories. It’ll take about 500 hours with a team of around 16-20 people.”
The NFTs will go live on OpenSea on Tuesday, May 9. While the mint price has yet to be determined, Block Queens holders will be entitled to a free mint of the project (that collections floor price has been slowly rising since news of Cowart’s performance came out last week). 301 pieces will be held in Cowart’s artist vault, with the remaining 8,700 going up for grabs.
A commentary on AI art
A conceptual centerpiece of the project is how Cowart is exposing the front-to-back creative workings of his human-centric methodology as distinct from involving AI art tools of any kind.
“I don’t think you can argue against the idea that a year from now, everyone in the world is going to have the most amazing AI apps on their phone, which means that we’re about to be so inundated with unbelievable imagery,” Cowart offered as a response to the rise of AI art in the last year. “What that means to me is that human art is just not going to be impressive anymore on the surface level. I’m not here to be a hater. I just think there’s a lot of sadness and heaviness coming with that, as well as some really interesting possibilities.”
Regarding utility for the collection, Cowart says he is less concerned with providing perks for holders of Auras than he is with creating intricate and well-constructed art whose value will be evident simply as art. High-end art projects like those from Claire Silver, Tyler Hobbs, Justin Aversano, and more, he says, hold more long-term value than projects that explicitly offer utility.
“My goal,” Cowart underscored, “is that this will just be considered a historic art performance that we’ve never seen before.”