If there’s ever been an artist suited for the digital renaissance of putting art on the blockchain, it would be Matt Kane — a traditional artist who transitioned into digital art by writing his own software and pushing boundaries impossible in the physical art world.
Kane is most known for his collection “Gazers,” which launched in December 2021 and is considered by many to be an OG among generative artists. He recently released his collection Anons, which is centered around understanding identity through art and immortalizing true anons from yesteryear.
Kane spent a chunk of his career as a software developer but was always experimental with different artistic mediums, including physical canvas. However, the limitations of the physical art world made the American ponder whether digital art could remove many of the barriers to better his vision for creating art.
“In my 20s and 30s, I was really trying to find what the right medium for my voice was. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with canvas and fabric because I was really interested in pattern. But I realized it’s not the medium that matters — it’s my vision. It’s how I get my vision and my mind out into the world,” Kane tells Magazine.
“Within that realization, I knew I had to learn to code because there’s so many physical limitations to traditional art. Code circumvents the limitations of our physical bodies and time. It allows us to manifest our visions, and so it’s become the perfect medium for me.”
Anon #3 by Matt Kane (anons.art)
Kane had heard about NFTs a week before CryptoPunks launched in June 2017 through a Quora article, but he remained an observer while he continued to create and tinker with digital art, a medium that had captured his deep curiosity as early as 18.
“When I read this [Quora] article, and it talked about NFTs — I understood from years before what Bitcoin was and the blockchain — it just all snapped, and I remember thinking, this is what I’m looking for. It’s going to allow me to sell digital work, and prints can be optional. What I’ll be creating are actually paintings as databases, and this is going to be the way that I’m going to be able to do that. To transmit files and ownership of the artwork,” says Kane.
Despite being introduced to the concept of digital art provenance via NFTs in 2017, it wasn’t until May 2019 that Kane minted his first NFT, M87 Black Hole Deconstruction, on SuperRare.
M87 Black Hole Deconstruction #6 by Matt Kane (SuperRare)
“I watched the space develop just before Punks and looked on. I was Googling blockchain galleries, and there were none. That was the paradigm I was in at the time. I thought I needed to find a gallery to represent me on the blockchain. Now I’m very much about self-representation and cutting out the middleman, but back then, I was still in that paradigm,” Kane says.
“In 2018, I watched places like Dada, SuperRare and KnownOrigin come out in the summer of 2018. I continued to watch for another six to 12 months and then decided to pull the trigger,” he adds.
Lost in code dealing with personal tragedy
Kane’s journey to digital artist stardom has been bittersweet, however, as he lost a close friend to suicide while on the way to visit her in 2013. This left the then 32-year-old devastated and even, at one point, contending with some of his own suicidal thoughts.
“During that time, I had left my life in Seattle trying to find something new and was already in an upheaval. Then losing her — it really threw me quite into an abyss. I was on the road and about a week away from seeing her. It made me wonder, what if I had visited her earlier? It was really devastating,” Kane shares.
“I ended up in Texas and just making really destructive decisions. I caught myself in a moment of my own suicidal ideations and realized I was in a really bad place.”
“The next day, I bought a train ticket to LA to go visit my friend out there, and I think I stayed out there for a month. It was out there that I kind of just took some breaths, and I assessed my life and where I was. I was looking into my future and understanding how devastated I was and understanding my desire to rejoin society, my desire to get on with my life. I had years in front of me that were going to be wasted, and so I decided I’m going to just start coding.”
“One of Us” Variation 1 (Vimeo)
Kane used coding as a way to distract his mind from the painful emotional baggage he was dealing with.
“It was math, and it was distracting my brain. I couldn’t think about emotions or how I was depressed. It was like I needed to figure out how to use sine and cosine to make this brush. It was really about building a tool of expression for the future when it would be safe to express myself again,” says Kane.
Had it not been for the tragedy of losing a loved one, Kane, in his own words, says he may not have pursued the artistic path he is now so well known for.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like I’ve had a lot of conflicts coming into success the last few years because I understand that had I not lost her, I never would have committed myself to digital art the way that I have. And that’s difficult because I would trade all the success to have her back in the world, but things can’t change.”
Much of Kane’s work shows an immaculate use of color and reflects his sense of history and time.
“I think my hope is that my art marks time, especially with Gazers. It’s not necessarily any emotion that I’m trying to imply. I think we all bring our own experiences, and if an image pattern or whatever I’m doing in my art is really resonating with me in a strong way, I’ve always believed that it’s really going to resonate strongly with others.”
Gazers #25 by Matt Kane (OpenSea)
Gazers inspired by cavemen
While often cliche, NFTs are still incredibly new. Kane has stated that we’re in “prehistoric times for NFTs,” and the inspiration for Gazers is connected to the caveman days.
Leaning on his passion and ability to work with color, Gazers is a 1,000-piece collection with the moon as its centerpiece and acts as somewhat of a lunar calendar for the blockchain.
“People on Twitter were talking about how we’re in the caveman days of NFTs. What struck me about that was — it made one of these constellation connections for me. I knew that our caveman ancestors recorded phase calendars on antler bones, […] and they would use that to understand when to go, timewise, to attack a mammoth and whatnot,” Kane says.
The project’s website describes it as “algorithmically synching closely with moon phases in the sky, joining the blockchain with one of humanity’s longest running lineages in art. Gazers seeks to create a community of collectors celebrating the change of our perceptions that happen over time, our collective goals in crypto, and our love of color theory, astronomy, and generative art.”
Gazers #137 by Matt Kane (OpenSea)
Gazers #126 by Matt Kane (OpenSea)
Gazers #77 by Matt Kane (OpenSea)
Launched in December 2021 with Art Blocks Curated, Gazers has done over 8,800 ETH in secondary sales on OpenSea and still commands a 12.6 ETH floor despite being in the depth of an NFT bear market. Gazers are dynamic and have rules built into them. While possessing different rules, similarities can be drawn to 0xDEAFBEEF’s “Entropy,” which has a rule built in that when the NFT is traded, it degrades in quality.
“The way that each Gazer forms is it creates a color theory about it. It has different rules, so each month, different rules are formed that basically designate the color of your moon and sky. The frame around it stays the same, but the sky and the moon change. Then on the website, we track the lunations, so we have little previews to go back in history,” Kane explains.
“The moon phase changes over time, and some of the gazers are clocks — they’re all clocks. But some of them can also track minutes and hours, and those are really beautiful compositions because they play with the moon phases in a multilayered way.”
“I was really thinking about the future of art when I made Gazers. It accelerates over time. It speeds up one frame per second on average in each artwork every year.”
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Notable sales to date
CryptoArt Monetization Generation: Sold for 320 ETH ($1.24 million equivalent on date of sale) on Oct. 18, 2021. (SuperRare)
Surfacing Water Lilies IV: Sold for 110 ETH ($179,520 equivalent on date of sale) on Jan. 24, 2023. (SuperRare)
Gazers #550: Sold for 46.5 ETH ($72,131 equivalent on date of sale) on Jan. 18, 2023. (OpenSea)
“I’m very eclectic, so it’s very strange, but Andy Kaufman [entertainer] is one. I got interested in comedy first, and Andy Kaufman is the comedian who made me understand that comedy is actually an art. It actually made me pivot from comedy to fine art. I also get around Mark Rothko [American abstract painter]. I really love his work and what he did in terms of layering, making these really thin layers of color. I was studying his work in my early twenties, and I’m still living off of that education that I learned.”
“Also artists like JOY [John Orion Young] and Josie Bellini. When I came into this, they were very self-representing. They weren’t using middlemen. They haven’t used middlemen as much in their careers on the blockchain, and I always admire that. Plus, they are fantastic artists in their own right. I like that principle, so releasing Anons on my own contract was a big deal because I felt like I’m joining you guys now, kicking the middleman out.”
Which hot NFT artists should we be paying attention to?
AwfulEye: “He’s legally blind in one eye, but he’s still painting with an iPad. I think he gets really close up. Recently, he’s been creating some code projects with the help of artificial intelligence. I find it incredible that you have an artist with a visual impairment using AI to help you manifest your vision. To me, it’s one of the reasons that we have AI, to benefit humanity.
Panter Xhita: “I’ve really been a big proponent of Panter. She’s Argentine and a surrealist. She’s fantastic.”
Favorite NFT in your wallet that’s not your own
It’s my Alotta Money piece, “Bitcoin Fixes This.”
“I think that I’m so centered on the community. They all still make me smile. It’s the ones who are in Discord or on X [formerly Twitter] who give an update on what they’re thinking and feeling. They’re ever present in my life.”
Who do you listen to when creating art?
“Italian disco. Plus Giorgio Moroder. This playlist is what I’ve been listening to whilst creating Anons.”
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Greg Oakford is the co-founder of NFT Fest Australia. A former marketing and communications specialist in the sports world, Greg now focuses his time on running events, creating content and consulting in web3. He is an avid NFT collector and hosts a weekly podcast covering all things NFTs.
Follow the author @GregOakford