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Artist Spotlight: MarkTheHabibi
Weekly spotlight on a new artist in the NFT ecosystem
This is the third 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 Egyptian/American Artist; Mark, also known as “MarkTheHabibi”. He is a 3D artist and I had the pleasure of chatting with him about clay animation, multi-cultural influences, and community building along with 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?
MarkTheHabibi (MTH): Hello! My name is Mark, but I go by MarkTheHabibi. I mainly produce 3D art in the NFT space, but I've been a cinematographer for 10 years, and have also been experimenting with code-based art.
B: The word “Habibi” and the theming around your project are predominantly Arabic. What was it that made you dial into "Habibis" before you decided to pull the trigger on this style/branding for your NFTs?
MTH: My parents immigrated from Egypt to the United States in the 1970s, so I grew up in a household that spoke English and Arabic, usually a mix of the two at any given moment. So for me, Habibi is a word that I would hear multiple times a day. Translated to English, it means "my love" or "my dearest". It's basically a term of affection that family members, lovers, or even friends will refer to each other as. We don't really have a word in English that really captures the feeling of it. Originally, before the pandemic, I wanted to start a production company called "Habibi Studio", but after the pandemic happened and I lost most of my work, I started dabbling in 3D art, since I had time on my hands. I started to make these little avatars for fun, with lots of inspiration from Cryptopunks, Hashmasks, and Lirona's #boiz. Eventually, it hit me that this is the Habibi project I wanted to make, not a film studio.
B: That’s a very interesting point you mention there about the Arabic/English language translations and this is a fairly common & shared experience in bilingual households. As such, how have you found the experience of translating the “untranslatable” into your pieces?
MTH: I love the way you expressed that, "Translating the untranslatable". I think that's a very real thing that comes into play for me when I make Habibis. On the front end, they are just cute little clay avatars. But for me, they reflect my desire to make something that is joyous about my culture, and not violent. As westerners, whenever we hear Arabic, we instantly think a lot of weird thoughts because we've been programmed to think that way. Thoughts of violence and terrorism. But, that's really not who Arabs are. We are genuinely the kindest and most hospitable people on this planet. So with Habibis, I want to passively undo just a tiny bit of that by introducing a new word and idea to the NFT culture.
B: Your style of plasticine/clay-based NFTs is also very unique in the space that we haven't seen a lot of artists use ever. I am assuming that's because it’s a very time-intensive process but it would still be interesting to know why you chose it?
MTH: All of my NFTs are actually produced digitally in Blender. I really gravitate towards the clay and plastic look for a number of reasons. First off, they just look awesome to me, haha! Second, they are a huge throwback to my childhood watching claymation films like Wallace and Gromit or Fantastic Mr. Fox. I can't get enough of that stuff. Third, the clay and plastic textures have a really unique way of catching and reflecting the lights I set up in a scene. I'd consider my best strength to be lighting, so working with textures and models that highlight that (no pun intended) is a lot of fun.
B: Firstly, mad props for creating your pieces in Blender, they look handmade (with the thumbprints & imperfections)! Wallace and Gromit are some of my favourite childhood movies along with Chicken Run. Building on this, what was the jump like from cinematographer to creating these 3D pieces? Scene setting, lighting, backgrounds, etc
MTH: CHICKEN RUNNNNN! Man, what an incredible film... But, I first became interested in 3D because a lot of cinematographers and gaffers were learning to use 3D software to previsualize lighting on sets. Rather than wasting time and experimenting on set, they could use 3D software to previsualize the lighting, hand that off to the gaffer before the day starts, and get to shooting quicker.
But I think when I found out about NFTs, it just seemed way more exciting to me. And for those who are wondering, I got into NFTs because I loved the idea of people collecting my works on the blockchain. For context when I got involved, Beeple hadn't sold "The First 5,000 days" yet. There wasn't really the money craze yet. Now, because Blender is fully ray-traced with the Cycles Engine, all of my skills as a cinematographer and lighting expert translated quite well. I really love it. Scenes that would take hours to light in real life can be lit in Blender in seconds. It's a really fun playground and you can see that in some of my pieces too.
B: Relatively speaking, you've done a great number of collaborations with other top tier artists and each & every Habibi as a result has looked extremely unique. Your collaborators include artists such as Des Lucréce, Defaced, Deadfellaz and even Disclosure. With Habibis having a strong identity of their own and each of your collaborating artists having their own unique and honed style, what was the experience like from initial talks & planning to ultimately minting said pieces?
MTH: Collaborations have been a really unique and challenging process for me. I consider myself an artist who's still finding their voice, and that's a process that takes a long time. Some of my earlier collabs are quite weird, awkward, and a little aimless. Which I should add, I don't think is a bad thing at all. It just accurately reflects where my head was at, in that particular moment. Which as well all know is/was pure chaos since the NFT scene was moving at the speed of light in 2021. Now, I'm starting to really hone in on what makes a Habibi a“ Habibi”, and bring that to each collab. Basically, I'm in the process of making Habibis into an icon, not just a character. Once I figured that out and really spent time understanding that, the collaborations became a lot easier to produce and manage.
B: I would say that the chaos, in the beginning, is often needed to give us clarity as we progress in our careers. That doesn't necessarily mean the work we’ve created in that chaotic period is any less meaningful. Jumping from one form of chaos to another, you’ve also launched Generation Habibis along with your 1/1 pieces. With the “Collector” community being different to the “Generation” community, how would you say your community has evolved since the launching of Generation Habibis?
MTH: Many people see me as an artist, and I am! But, I've always been a massive community-oriented person. Ever since I was in high school, I've been building clubs and social groups open to anyone and everyone. Some have been online, and some have been in-person. Honestly, while I'm proud of my skills as an artist, I'd consider my skills as a community builder to be one of my greatest.
Launching Generation: Habibi has been incredible for Habibis. Because we've nurtured an incredible community, we've managed to make our community our greatest asset. But, it's really not for the faint of heart. If you thought making a generative project was difficult, it's really nothing compared to creating and developing a positive, non-toxic community.
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.