It’s been almost a decade since we last interviewed post-conceptual artist, Skye Nicolas. And with the recent rise in NFTs (non-fungible tokens), it’s not surprising that the New York-based artist has been busy creating innovative digital artworks while firmly establishing himself within the burgeoning NFT community.
It used to be that 20th-century artists relied on a repetitive style to form a recognizable brand… Skye Nicolas in his art career spanning two decades has traversed multiple disciplines. From large-format paintings of figurative works to conceptual art. Therein lies his mastery; in combining the exploration of various mediums into one articulate language that is truly his own.
Skye what have you been up to in the last decade?
It’s so strange to think that the last interview we had was almost a decade ago, but I guess it comes as no surprise as this proves that my brain is calibrated in such a way that I don’t think of time in a linear sense. I am somehow able to pull certain events and experiences from my memories with ease and relive every detail, which feels like these events took place yesterday. Perhaps this is why most of my current work is inspired by nostalgia.
Although I am constantly creating new work and doing exhibitions, highlights of this past decade include co-founding an entrepreneurial venture in which I had hands-on experience in building a business from the ground up. On the creative side, I was hired for various projects as creative director and consultant. It was an honor to work with the fashion world’s top creative agency in Paris as a consultant, developing products and experiences for iconic luxury fashion house SAINT LAURENT, specifically for their concept store, Rive Droite. In 2019 (pre-COVID), I was invited by Self Service Magazine to participate in an exhibition at the prestigious Dallas Contemporary art museum, in celebration of their 25th year anniversary. About six months ago I dove into the world of NFTs and have been an active member of the community ever since.
You work in the world of future art, a traditional artist looks back at how previous artists have worked in their medium for ideas on moving forward. Where do you look? Who do you look at?
I spend a lot of time ruminating on various thought experiments, ideas while observing certain societal behaviors that manifest new modes of existence. As children, it’s natural for us to daydream about the future. And as people get older, they have a tendency to look back and reminisce about the past. We’ve reached a point in our culture with the way we’ve seamlessly integrated technology and social media into our lives that has facilitated the creation of dream worlds. What I mean by this is that individuals no longer have to necessarily live in the same reality, as they are freely curating their own personalized narratives via social media and the online content they consume.
It used to be that millions of people saw the same tv show the previous evening, and casually talked about it over lunch the next day. It was a simpler world back then, with defined narratives that functioned as the framework of a shared reality. Society was in sync, in step with a cadence that moved in the same direction of a shared timeline. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as reality has become a nebulous idea. There is so much content out there today that individuals are now curating their own experiences that influence a perceived reality, subconsciously cultivating their own biases and narratives. It is now possible for multiple individuals to exist in the same physical space, but they do not necessarily have to inhabit the same reality; reality as defined by a shared narrative they espouse. This phenomenon of living in curated cultural bubbles has given rise to new subcultures that exist online. They dream of past timelines that never existed; an induced nostalgia. We’ve seen this expressed in the online culture of Vaporwave and its sub-genres. It’s a new generation’s fascination with fragments of a past they never physically experienced. Their inherent curiosity and attempts to connect with a nostalgic illusion is expressed via their creation of stylized art and music, similar to how an AI would piece together a pastiche of 80’s and 90’s culture based on data collected online. It’s this sifting through information while being in a timeless state that fuels my creative process these days. Revisiting the past, visiting forgotten worlds, speculating about the future, then funneling all that data into a contemporary context to see what comes out of it.
On the technical side, I do a lot of research in learning about old school visual effects, finding ways to recreate screen textures, then combining these ingredients with an analog painter’s sense of composition and execution. I try to imagine how an abstract expressionist painter would compose a digital painting that had moving elements. Anyone who has a fine art background will notice that all my digital artworks, visually, is composed in such a way that resembles an analog painting. But that’s only one component of the work. I carefully add layers, whether by embedding hidden narratives that are unlocked by some kind of interactive component, or simply by playfully introducing a contextual riddle. I’ve always believed in the elegance of simplicity, yet having some paradoxical complexity and depth behind it. Like a blank sheet of paper camouflaging a bottomless rabbit hole. It is this personal philosophy that I’ve devoted my entire art practice to, and is the ethos of all my creative endeavors.
Don’t you feel strange mining your memories for art? Making them available for purchase?
There are two ways to parse and answer this question: the fundamental idea of creating artworks based on memories and selling them, isn’t a novel idea; that’s one. But, if by “mining” you mean developing a series of artworks in which the concept and creation process requires the extraction and embedding of those memories into the artworks, I believe you’re referring to the Yat Art series of autobiographical 1/1 pieces on SuperRare, which frames memories of my childhood in an experiential context, complimented by the extensive collection of Yat Art editions on KnownOrigin, which are supposed to represent fragments of my consciousness. Do I feel strange making these works available for purchase? Why should I? Do people not purchase books and autobiographies? Do people not purchase the life stories of others, regardless of the medium used to tell those stories? I don’t see the difference. My approach in creating the first series of Yat Art was to come up with a unique way of telling a story by adding experiential depth and narrative layers to the works, which resulted in pioneering a new artform.
What’s a Yat?
A Yat is a unique combination or string of emojis that function as a domain. Yats can point to any online content. For example, in my KnownOrigin series of Yat Art editions, the Yats in each piece points to a galaxy of online content: videos, articles, web pages, and on occasion downloadable mystery files and assets. A recent article on Mashable that featured my work does a great job at covering Yats and the culture behind it.
We got in touch because you are so embedded in the digital space, also you have a couple of cool projects coming up soon – can you fill us in on them?
Certainly. I was about to debut new work at an amazing NFT art event in Sydney called Future Art. This would be a huge event that brings together some of the biggest names in NFT art, celebrated in a music festival type atmosphere; you can just imagine the scale of this event. Unfortunately it had to be postponed indefinitely until COVID restrictions in Australia are lifted. The works are part of a new series of nostalgic pixel art called IRIDESCENT HEARTS, inspired by the neon billboard landscapes of Southeast Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo. It plays with romantic youth culture tropes, visually stylized in a nostalgic 80’s style pixel animation featuring old school manga characters. Messages, song lyrics, lines of prose, scroll through the picture plane, a nod to Jenny Holzer’s LED work. They’re stunning pieces, especially when displayed at large scale, just as when digital artworks are featured on the NEO SHIBUYA screens at the iconic Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. These artworks are minted on the premier NFT art platform SuperRare, where collectors are able to purchase and collect premium digital artworks from a diverse roster of top artist in the NFT space.
Another project I’m very excited about is a series of billboard installation art that is in collaboration with the CryptoBabyPunks community. These are site-specific billboard pieces that will be seen in various locations around Los Angeles. There will be two types of billboards: Billboard 1, will feature tweets from the CBP twitter account. These tweets chronicle specific events that are significant to the CBP community and NFT culture. The billboard will at times be changing locations, so there’s a fun treasure hunt aspect to it. Billboard 2, is an interactive installation art piece utilizing Yat technology. This billboard will be set in a specific location and will remain as a CBP landmark for the duration of the exhibition.
So, SN x CBP Billboards – why Beverly Hills?
For this project we partnered up with SKRELLi, a member of the CBP community who runs the HOLLYWOOD BABY PUNK twitter account. It’s a really fun twitter account to follow as SKRELLi posts daily content of meme-like photos that capture the jet set lifestyle of his BabyPunks in luxurious settings. As far as we know, SKRELLi lives in the Beverly Hills area. Some of the billboards that change locations may show up in Beverly Hills. You’ll just have to wait and see!
Can you tell us a bit more about the CBP community.
The CryptoBabyPunks started as an NFT collectible avatar project that paid homage to the original CryptoPunks. There are only 999 Babies; this limited supply and scarcity makes them highly valuable NFT collectibles. Each Baby comes with unique traits and rare attributes. Although it is a derivative project that has no affiliation with Larva Labs (the creators of the OG Punks), it is a very well thought out project as you could trace each BabyPunk’s parents using punks.family. There are multiple projects being developed around these adorable Babies, as some of the CBP community members are top developers for some of the biggest innovative studios in the NFT space. There are also collaborations with creators who provide fun utility as a reward for being a member of the CBP community, such as free NFT airdrops (sending NFTs to a wallet address).
Overall, the CBP community is comprised of passionate NFT enthusiasts and collectors, as well as prominent artists, personalities, and legendary NFT collectors. People who are curious about NFTs should follow the CBP twitter account, and perhaps think about adopting a BabyPunk as their first NFT. I also encourage people to join the CBP community Discord server, where Baby owners meet, interact, and are always helpful in assisting newcomers when purchasing a BabyPunk. Everyone is welcome to join.
So during the exhibition, people can enjoy CBP content for free via your art billboard?
Yes, absolutely! The billboard piece functions as a sculptural portal; an NFT rabbit hole of sorts. People who’ve never interacted with a Yat will be able to type in the emoji-based url on their device’s browser, and it will lead them to all kinds of content that is always changing. On some days it may point to specific CBP related tweets, meme art, Twitter Space invitations, Discord conversations, and all kinds of fun CBP culture content throughout the campaign period in which the billboard will exist in a physical location. It gives art fans and onlookers who are curious enough, to dive into the world of CryptoBabyPunks and experience CBP culture.
Is there anything for people to collect/ buy from this exhibition?
I can’t reveal too much about the collecting component of the project. But what I can say, is that I may tokenize these billboards—meaning, to turn them into NFTs that will forever exist in the blockchain. I’ve always advocated for other practical use cases of NFTs and blockchain technology, such as tokenizing ephemeral landmarks, locations, objects, and historical artifacts in general, as a new means of historical and cultural preservation. So even long after the exhibition is done and these billboard art installation pieces no longer exist in the physical locations they once occupied, their NFTs will be proof of their existence. Not only giving the artworks a high tech historical on-chain record, but also artistically and philosophically generating a permanent digital imprint of their essence.
How can people find out more about the show and your art practice?
To learn more about my work, people may visit my website at skyenicolas.com. In NFT world, everything is happening on Twitter. So for the latest updates on SN projects, future drops, exhibitions, shows, etc, follow me on twitter at: twitter.com/skyenicolas
During lockdown what have you been watching, reading, listening to?
At the beginning of the lockdowns I was able to binge-watch an amazing trove of finely curated films on MUBI. One that comes to mind is ‘Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate’, which I remember seeing for the first time when I was a kid during a screening at the British Council in Manila. I haven’t had the time to read books, but I’ve been diving into a lot of past art articles, such as those written by Rene Ricard, as well as Hunter S. Thompson’s writings published in Rolling Stone. I’ve listened to a ton of podcasts, mostly on topics that cover technology and crypto.
As far as music, there’s a wonderful YouTube channel that features some of the best indie music called ‘i’m cyborg but that’s ok’. Whoever runs the channel does this brilliant job of taking some obscure classics and indie films, re-editing them into music videos that blend seamlessly with the featured tracks. I’ve also been listening to old school dub mixes, 90’s jungle/drum and bass, Russian Post-Punk, Soviet Wave/Synth Pop, as well as Dark Wave/Synth Wave bands, and a smattering of City Pop.
Do you worry about the future?
I try not to. Everyday situations give us enough challenges to deal with. Life is too short to not focus on the positive aspects such as being kind and cultivating empathy. I’d like to believe that a majority of people are trying their best to focus on love, even in the midst of all the chaos.