Artist spotlight — Trevor Jones – KnownOrigin

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Originally from Canada, I set out in 1996 with a backpack and an appetite for adventure. Three years and four continents later I found myself in Scotland, fell in love with it, and decided to stay.

I graduated from Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art with an MA (Hons) Fine Art with distinction in 2008. Shortly after, I was hired as the Director of Art in Healthcare, a not-for-profit providing art workshops for people with disabilities as well as lending high quality, original Scottish artwork from it’s prestigious collection to hospitals and other healthcare settings throughout the country.

I had a successful exhibition the end of 2016 called “Would I Lie to You: The Art of Politics and Propaganda?” consisting of 10 large paintings of world leaders. The portraits were created with oil paint and garbage I found on the street. With the AR component it was quite humorous but also very topical, provocative and engaging. Thanks Trump! To my surprise, one art collector bought out the entire collection and for a change, I had an excess of money in the bank and time to really think about the direction I should take my work and next exhibition. During this time, I was also researching various stocks to invest my windfall, which eventually led me to bitcoin. I wasn’t able to get the courage to buy any until June but once I did, I went on an absolute tear on the exchanges buying and selling pretty much every other cryptocurrency around that looked good to me. DYOR was not a term I was fully aware of yet lol. It was not a good time for my blood pressure!

I became obsessed and spent the rest of the year essentially gambling, learning about cryptocurrency and checking my phone every 3 minutes. Long story short, by the end of 2017 I developed more of a HODL approach to investing and also, I came to the realisation that this crazy ecosystem was a new and exciting world filled with unique characters, world changing potential, volatility, and fantastic stories and it would make a brilliant focus for my next exhibition. At that point I began searching for commercial galleries or even other traditional painters who were working in the space, but I found very little online to be honest.

I usually spend a full year working towards an exhibition and so I knew it was a huge risk to invest all of 2018 into creating crypto themed paintings, especially considering after my online research I still had no idea if there’d be any interest in the artwork or, more importantly, a market for it. Then again, I’d spent half of 2017 gambling with crypto and I survived, so I figured I’d take one more massive risk. Thankfully I did as I haven’t looked back since.

My dad was a heavy duty mechanic; pragmatic, logical and pretty much the opposite of what people tend to think of me as, being an artist. Although, since I began this journey down a creative career path, Dad did try his best to get his head around the importance and value of art and I admired him even more for making the effort. Saying that, I do have a little of his utilitarian attitude. Even in art college the notion of how a painting ‘works’ was constantly on my mind. Why can one painting be so powerfully emotive and another I can walk right past with little more than a glance? Of course, this is an exceptionally complex question to try to answer but soon after graduating I was exploring how I could engage the viewer more effectively ie how could I make a painting ‘work’ better? Could I create a painting to attract one’s attention for a longer period of time?

I read a study that the median average time a person looks at a painting in a gallery is 17 seconds. This statistic stuck with me and so after art college I was very much interested in experimenting with ways to encourage viewers to spend more time looking at my artwork. This in turn led me to the potential of technology. My first commercial gallery solo show in 2010 ‘Synaesthesia’ included giving gallery visitors MP3 players and headphones to listen to the individual songs that inspired each abstract painting. This experiment almost tripled the average viewing time for each artwork over the reported 17 seconds and so I knew I was onto something.

In 2012 I began painting large QR codes in which viewers could access more information through an interactive website built specifically for the pieces. Then, a little over a year later I discovered augmented reality and my mind was opened to a completely new and exciting digital world. Although some may argue that this use of technology is in fact taking people’s eyes off the physical work and onto their mobile device, I counter that the viewer is still engaging with the art and learning about it in a more multidimensional way and hopefully, this will encourage them to come back to the physical work to experience it on even deeper levels.

So, although the themes and even my painting techniques and styles often change the one thread that ties my work together the last decade and which continues to inspire me is exploring how technology can be used to increase or enhance engagement with my art. Painting is a visual language and just like with learning any language it takes time to develop and refine and I continue to improve on bringing all of these ‘ingredients’ together. Adding extra tech layers including AR, video, music or animation to the theme I’m exploring creates opportunity but in turn it becomes an even more complex language. Therefore, I’ve had to learn how to adapt these and combine all of the components to communicate the message most effectively rather than produce something visually that’s confusing and convoluted and thereby ending up as more style over substance.

Although I’m fascinated by the intersection of art and technology, I still consider myself a traditional painter. I’m just as excited by the formal qualities of my painting; composition, texture, colour, line, form, tone etc as I am with how I can reimagine it in some digital format. The most important focus for an artist; digital, physical or ‘hybrid’ is how best to develop one’s visual language to communicate their message as clearly and as comprehensively as possible; therefore, researching and learning from ‘traditional’ artists, past and present, is essential in my mind.

To be honest, differentiating between traditional and digital art isn’t important to me and quite possibly this could instead be creating a counterproductive narrative to the cryptoart space overall as an art movement. Yes, the art institution is often averse to change, it can be pretentious and nepotistic and so unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that something new will be embraced with open arms. However, I think it’s potentially damaging in the long run to constantly draw attention to the differences between cryptoart and the traditional art world. I may be wrong, but this could have the effect of slowly painting cryptoart into a tiny corner of a very large gallery filled with opportunity. Moreover, just because we’re all excited about the exponential growth of rare digital art and the cryptoart marketplace why throw the baby out with the bathwater. Focus on what ‘traditional’ art and the art market does well and learn from this while simultaneously addressing areas that can be improved on through the technology like secondary sales commission for artists.

I was late to the game and decided to become an artist in my early 30s as I’d hit a crossroads in my life. I was suffering from depression and I was looking for meaning, something to give me direction. Looking back now it all sounds so cliché lol. Anyway, it took time, but art was a major contributing factor to my recovery and I’ve not had any issues with depression since. So, from that point of view my art is fulfilling an absolute purpose!

Externally, I’m hoping my work becomes something of a bridge between the two art worlds, the traditional and the crypto or rare digital. As I’d already mentioned I’d like to see the day when cryptoart is recognised simply as ‘art’, but I also know this will be a long journey. The more artwork created currently that is able to bridge this chasm and can be acknowledged on both sides will help contribute to an important dialogue in the future.

Last year I was in the middle of working towards an exhibition titled ‘Crypto Picasso’, which was to open this summer but then I was side-tracked for a few months with the Coindesk ‘Most Influential’ 2019 commission. Since finishing that project I’ve been back to work on the new paintings while getting more involved in the NFT world; however, the Covid19 situation has forced me to push back the exhibition once again. Thinking objectively though, it’s not all bad as I’ll now have more time to create the NFTs for each of the new paintings.

So, the plan is to have a solo show open in October at Edinburgh University School of Informatics (AI, Robotics & Blockchain) with at least 20 paintings, each with GIF or video animation for the NFTs and augmented reality connecting the digital to the physical works. I’m really pleased that Scotland’s top art historian Bill Hare will be writing the introductory essay about this new body of work for a catalogue. As one of my key objectives is to introduce cryptoart to more people and in particular those involved in the traditional art world and academia I’m happy with how things are turning out with this new work. Although 2020 didn’t start off well I’m aiming to end it on a high!

Oh, and lastly, I’m really looking forward to this exciting project to open on the 21st of this month with you guys at KO — the Cryptovoxels private view exhibition of my two latest NFTs The Bull & The Bear. I’ve checked out your gallery space and it’s looking super cool!

View Trevor Jones Collection

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Big love — KO Team

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