Artist Spotlight: Jæn
Weekly spotlight on a new artist in the NFT ecosystem
This is the fourth instalment of a new weekly series in which I am going to spotlight a brand new artist along with their works while getting to know them better and understand their creative processes behind the pieces in more detail.
It’s important to remember that the NFT ecosystem also encompasses extremely talented artists who specialise in creating scarce pieces (1/1s or limited editions) for curators & collectors alike to add to their collections and ultimately for everyone to enjoy visually (and often audibly too). NFTs allow such artists to create for themselves instead of the demands of a client, and I want to shine a spotlight on the motivations of new and upcoming artists in the space.
My name is Boffin and alongside flipping JPEGs for profit with the members of “The One” since day 1, I’ve also been collecting and connecting with these artists. The passion for their craft and the stories they have to share have been nothing but a treat to experience, and it’s with that intention that this series is being started to share those stories with the wider NFT audience.
This week the spotlight is on the French Artist; Jæn. He is a multifaceted artist and I had the pleasure of chatting with him about world-building, experimenting with new technology as an artist and a small preview into his creative process. You can (and really should) browse his entire portfolio here
Boffin (B): Can you please introduce yourself and what style of art you like to produce/specialise in?
Jæn (J): Hi! I’m Jæn (pronounce it like Jean in “Jean-Paul”, or however you like, honestly) and I’m from Bordeaux in France. I’ve been a professional artist for more than 10 years, starting with academic research on contemporary Japanese art, exhibiting photography and photo manipulations, commercial illustration, traditional painting and drawing, and 3D printing and augmented reality in street art, before going full crypto artist at the tail end of 2020. I also make my own music and write a little bit.
B: When was the first time you heard of NFTs and why did you decide to take a leap into this world?
J: This is going to be slightly long! For years, I had been trying my best to bring the digital to the art world, namely in exhibitions. Either through limited, even 1/1 AR prints, or 3D prints, which in all cases needed a physical incarnation to be valued. That was really frustrating, as even though I love drawing, acrylics, spray paint and watercolour, the free power and fine-tuning allowed by the digital remained unmatched for me. I was also dabbling in VR painting (Tilt Brush), and saw digital art as lacking a place in the broader art world, a place where no one says “but it’s an illustration, not art!” or “animation is great for Instagram, but it’s not proper art”. In October 2020, I discovered Frans Huys’ illustrations of mask sculptures from fellow Flemish Renaissance artist Cornelis Floris de Vriendt. I cleaned, coloured and animated these 500 years after their birth, and was looking for a place to properly store, value and share them in the digital space. This would ultimately become the project named “Cornælhuys”.
At that time, a friend who had fully dived into blockchains and cryptocurrencies told me about NFTs, and said it would be a great match for my art. I took a quick look as he showed me mainly stuff full of crypto logos and stuff like that, and all felt a bit alien and really hard to get around. Yet, I was intrigued, and as I completed the first phase of Cornælhuys, it clicked: these old/new masks should be NFTs, it made a whole lot of sense - and would make even more sense when the term “Digital Renaissance” was coined, bridging everything I had done. So in November and December, I applied a bit randomly to SuperRare and Async Art, and was accepted by both. I began trying to wrap my head around blockchains and cryptocurrencies, and for the first time in my life, decided that I would understand by doing. I minted my first work in January 2021, and went head-on into crypto art and blockchains with an unexpected success, and never looked back. I had found what I had been looking for, a proper home for digital art in a lush, funky digital ecosystem, full of amazing people.
B: In your 10 years of experience as an artist through multiple mediums, from your academic research to where you are today, how much of your current work do you see being inspired by what you studied at University?
J: The artist I wrote my Master’s thesis about was Takashi Murakami. I was drawn to his work because the discourse between Japanese pop/otaku culture and the Western eye was really relevant for my generation, but also because we share a taste for the colourful, the psychedelic, and the outlines, and concept-wise, for analysing the zeitgeist and diving deeper to work with actual meaning. Paradoxically, his “Superflat” conceptual framework and fascination for commercial art from the mouths of Warhol and Koons would probably help me not care about making “serious” art, and letting pure aesthetic pleasure be self-sufficient or balance symbolism and more intellectual stuff.
B: From all the works you've minted (and even works prior to being in the NFT space), your work and the subject matter are diverse and do not necessarily relate to your previous works. Where would you say you get the ideas for the pieces or even themes from and how do start to create said pieces?
J: Sometimes, I explore concepts in series, sometimes, themes emerge after a few works have been created, like the Blockchain Mythology body of works. They formed a relevant ensemble by themselves, which I discovered while doing it, or even later. I also like one-shots, what I call “gems”, because not being related to anything else - yet! - actually makes them more of a world of their own, in one singular piece. To answer your question better, I think it’s a slow process. As a kid, since life was often painful for me, I made my own sanctuaries through imagination - if I had had a happy childhood, I would probably not have become an artist. You start that process of creating and experimenting with everything inside your mind early on - eventually becoming a regular lucid dreamer and using your sleeping time as a creative lab of sorts, and then hone your skills of choosing what’s relevant or not over the years.
Drawing & writing were the most meaningful ways to give shape and power to what you could imagine, so that’s through these forms that the aesthetics were in turn slowly honed and shaped. Having done (commercial) illustration since my teen years, you start to confront yourself with others’ points of view and taste, first in a painful way because you can’t separate what you make from who you are, and then in a way where you discern when the feedback is valuable, and when you should acknowledge you know better. There’s no shortcut to this.
So now, I make fewer mistakes (and still make a ton!), and know early on when to follow through with a concept or not, although I never know how it’s going to be received, which is as stressful as the first day, since what I put out matters to me. It’s cliché, but being an artist is really taking yourself naked outside on the streets. You get slowly used to it and learn to own it, but make no mistake, when you appreciate and value art, there’s real magic that opens up to you, most of which is hard to describe through words.
B: You mentioned earlier that early on when you were doing commercial illustrations, you would give others’ point of view more importance than you would now and it’d be hard to discern what is valuable feedback and what’s mostly noise. What was the transition like from creating commercial illustrations to now having complete control of your pieces?
J: Commercial illustration had always been just a part of what I do, and even back then, I mainly took offers in which I had some freedom because adapting to the client has always been very painful to do and I wanted to limit that as much as possible. So, in a way it hasn’t changed at all, I just have more time for the things I like the most!
B: Prior to creating crypto art (or even knowing about the medium), you were already exploring the digital art space in various ways. Had you not known about crypto art, where were you originally hoping that path would take you?
J: I honestly don’t know, because I was starting to wonder if I shouldn’t go full commercial, become a video game AD or any other solution to fix the starving indie artist's depressive state. You hear people say “crypto art saved my life”, that sounds either like a cliché or an attention-seeking blanket statement, but in my case it’s true. Without crypto art, I would have crushed my soul going to interesting, but ultimately unfit work environments or a lame day job with very little time left for art.
Thank you to everyone for tuning in to read this. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have to craft this. Tune in next week when there will be a new artist spotlighted and new conversations to be shared.