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Q&A with Robness

Superworld artist in residence

SuperWorld was fortunate to sit down with ROBNESS to discuss his artistic vision, and to learn more about what the future has in store for the most provocative artist in the crypto space. In tribute to his preferred aesthetic, we have included his responses in ALL CAPS. 

SUPERWORLD (SW): Thanks so much for talking with SuperWorld, Robness! I couldn’t be more excited to hear your thoughts on a host of topics. For starters, you’re an undisputed OG in the NFT and cryptoart space, and by most accounts, the highest selling cryptoartist by volume in history. You’ve seen this space move from its early days of the RarePepe crew (which, though it was only 5 or so years ago, feels like an eternity!), and your influence in the space touches all of us. My question is, did you ever feel like you’d have this much influence? And to what degree was the SuperRare controversy over ‘64 Gallon Toter’ a catalyst for you to stand at the proverbial bully pulpit as a voice of free-expression, true decentralization, and a foil to collectors who have historically tried to manipulate the market. 

ROBNESS: TRUTH BE TOLD, THE #TRASHART SAGA EMANATED WITH NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS AND IT’S STILL ASTONISHING TO WITNESS TO THIS DAY.  IT’S HARD TO REALLY TELL ON MY END THE SPHERE OF INFLUENCE MY WORK HAS HAD, BUT IF IT HAS GROWN TO SUCH A DEGREE, THEN I’M HONORED IN THAT REGARD.  THE TOTER, IT’S STORY AND THE MEANING IT HAS ON PEOPLE COMES FROM VARYING DEGREES.  SOME SEE IT AS A REACTION TO BEING REJECTED FROM THESE CRYPTOART CURATED PLATFORMS; OTHERS SEE IT AS A SYMBOL FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE CRYPTO SPACE AS A WHOLE.  MANY VIEWPOINTS AND INSPIRATION COME FROM ARTISTS AROUND THE WORLD, AND TO ME, THEY’RE ALL VALID, IN PARTICULAR IF THEY FEEL COMPELLED TO MAKE A TRASH PIECE OR TWO.  TOTALLY HUMBLED AND HONORED.

64 GALLON TOTER by ROBNESS


SW: I promise I won’t ask about your artistic process because I’m not sophisticated enough to understand it, but I am interested in your learning process. Do you set out to learn something before you create a work, or does learning something (about the world, about a technique, etc.) serve as the springboard for your art? 

ROBNESS: I CAN’T IMAGINE BEING A COLLECTOR OF MY WORKS, AND I MUST ADMIT IT’S PROBABLY FRUSTRATING TO SOME TO FOLLOW, DUE TO MY CONSTANT CHANGING AND MORPHING OF STYLES. MY PROCESS USUALLY BEGINS WITH TRYING OUT A NEW TECHNIQUE, LIKE A DIGITAL ART PROGRAM OR SOME VISUALLY INTERESTING EXPERIMENT.  FROM THAT POINT, I BEGIN TO DEVELOP A BASELINE ‘AESTHETIC’ WHERE I CAN SPRING A BUNCH OF WORKS FROM. USUALLY I’LL HAVE A LULL BETWEEN SERIES AND STYLES BECAUSE I’M GOING THROUGH THE USUAL ARTISTIC STRUGGLE OF CREATING SOME TYPE OF NEW VISUAL FLAVOR THAT I’M HAPPY WITH.

SW: Many of your pieces--I’m thinking of pieces like, “HODL Ave” , 21 KIngs Rd.”and “Men of Self-Demise through Grand Enterprise” seem so technically intricate and anarchic at the same time. How much do you let chaos (of motion, of ideology) inform your creations?

Men Of Self-Demise Through Grand Enterprise by ROBNESS

ROBNESS: EMBRACING CHAOS SEEMS TO ME JUST A NATURAL FIT.  THE WAY I LOOK AT IT IS IF YOU CAN’T LOOK AT CHAOS SQUARE IN THE FACE, YOU’RE RUNNING FROM THE TOTALITY OF REALITY AND THE SPECTRUM OF EMOTION. SOME OF THE PIECES YOU MENTIONED COME FROM A COLLABORATION BETWEEN MYSELF AND SCOTLAND ARTIST NORMAN HARMAN ENTITLED ‘THE LAST CONFIRMATION.’  IT’S A SERIES OF WORKS THAT DABBLE IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE LANDSCAPE RENDERS, CRYPTO POP CULTURE/HISTORY AND GLITCH FUTURISM ALL IN ONE. WE EMBRACE THE LIGHT AND DARK THEMES OF ITS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY WE ARE PROVIDING A HISTORICAL SECTOR TO THE ENTIRE SPACE AS WE MOVE ALONG.

SW: To what degree did you interact with your subjects beforehand? Or more to the point, how much thought do you put into a piece before you create it?

ROBNESS: MY ABSTRACTS USUALLY HAVE NO PRESET IDEA OR ‘DESIGN’ TO THEM.  FOR THOSE I USUALLY LIKE TO LET THE UNIVERSAL RANDOMNESS GUIDE ME AND WHEN I BEGIN SEEING A THEME TAKE SHAPE IN THE MIDDLE OF CREATING IT, THEN I’LL VENTURE AND BEGIN TO MOLD WHAT I SEE.  IT DEPENDS ON THE SERIES, REALLY. SOME HAVE THEMES BUT SOMETIMES I JUST LOVE TO LET THE ACT OF CHANCE TAKEOVER.

SW: This may sound weird, but your art is very narrative to me, almost like a visual thought diary. It (your art) is oftentimes very beautiful, but I like how you incorporate the anarchic quality of inspiration and emotion with images that could otherwise be seen as “ugly.” The skewering of the McDonald’s meme you did, for example. You filled out and minted an actual McDonald’s application, citing Rare Pepe, SuperRare and Rarible as references. Have you had to fight the inclination to articulate your “warts and all” vision? Wouldn’t it be easier to just make “beautiful things?”


MCDONALD’S APPLICATION by ROBNESS

ROBNESS: EASIER? OF COURSE! BUT EASY IS NOT WHAT INTERESTS ME. TRUTH BE TOLD, MY WHOLE LIFE HAS BEEN USING THE MATERIALS THAT I HAVE TO MAKE THE BEST WORK I COULD.  SO IN A SENSE WHETHER IT BE THE FINANCIAL LIMITATIONS OF HAVING THE BEST MUSIC EQUIPMENT TO PRODUCE OR DIGITAL ART PROGRAMS I COULDN’T AFFORD, TRYING TO MAKE BEAUTY OUT OF THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN SOMETHING DEAR TO MY HEART.  THANKFULLY NOW THAT’S NOT SUCH A BIG PROBLEM BUT I STILL NEVER FORGET TO HAVE THAT STRUGGLE IN MY ARTISTIC POUCH SO TO SPEAK, IT’S THE MEAT OF EXPRESSION TO ME. 

SW: Do you have any formal training in music or art, or did your art education come outside a professional “institution”? 

ROBNESS: I AM PROUD TO SAY I AM COMPLETELY SELF-TAUGHT IN EVERY REGARD.  SELF-TAUGHT MUSICIAN, SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST, SOUND ENGINEER, AUTHOR AND I EVEN WROTE A REALLY CRAPPY VAPORWAVE FULL FEATURE SCREENPLAY. MAYBE I’LL REVISE IT ONE DAY…!

SW: Could you explain the genesis of “Glitch Art?” Was there a “Eureka” moment, or did you come into it sort of organically?

ROBNESS: GOING BACK TO EMBRACING THE ‘UGLY,’ THE CULTURE OF THE GLITCH IS EXACTLY THAT; TAKING THINGS WE INSTINCTIVELY REGARD AS A MISTAKE, WE FLIP IT ON ITS HEAD AND TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AND CRAFT BEAUTY OUT OF THAT.  I BELIEVE THE NET ART AND GLITCH COMMUNITIES ARE ONE OF THE BEST MOVEMENTS WE HAVE IN MODERN ART BESIDES THE RISE OF GENERATIVE. OF COURSE, THE GLITCH ART SCENE EXISTED WAY BEFORE CRYPTOART IN GENERAL, BUT I DEFINITELY AM A PRACTITIONER OF THE STYLE AND HOPE TO CONTRIBUTE MY OWN UNIQUENESS TO IT.  SO YOU COULD SAY I JUST NATURALLY FELL INTO THAT ETHOS.

SW: Some of my favorite works of yours include the “Charming and Bountiful”, “Guernica II” and of course the “64 Gallon Toter”, and I think it’s a testament to the beauty and impact of your art that I’m drawn to many sometimes disparate works. But what about you? Are your “favorite” pieces based more on the emotional resonance you felt creating them, or is it too hard to consider your own work objectively? 

ROBNESS: “GUERNICA II” MIGHT BE ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITES.  WHEN NORMAN AND I COMPLETED THAT PIECE, I REMEMBER TITLING IT AND THINKING “THIS PIECE MUST MEET THE STANDARDS OF THE ORIGINAL,” AND I STARED AT IT LONG ENOUGH AND REALIZED WE MIGHT HAVE JUST ‘DONE IT.’ ALSO OF NOTE, I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO MAKE A SEQUEL TO A FINE ART CLASSIC, WHICH I DON’T THINK HAS NECESSARILY BEEN DONE BEFORE IN THE ART WORLD. IN THE SAME VAIN, WHEN I BURNED THE CRYPTOPUNK, YES, IT WAS A COMMENTARY ON THE CULTURE, BUT ALSO AN EVOLUTION OF AN ICONIC PIECE OF ART IN ITS OWN RIGHT. 

Burn Footage, Cryptopunk #2317 by ROBNESS


SW: You’ve been in the #blockchain and #cryptoart space since day one, so you’ve seen a real sea change in how art is created/viewed/appreciated. When did you first sense that NFT or “cryptoart” was a viable platform for you?

ROBNESS: CRYPTOART, OR BLOCKCHAIN ART AS WE CALLED IT BACK IN ITS BEGINNINGS WAS A “EUREKA!” MOMENT AND A PERFECT FUTURIST FIT FOR ME AS AN ARTIST. ALL OF MY ARTISTIC IDOLS, WHETHER IT BE FROM MUSIC, FINE ART, FILM OR OTHER MEDIUMS HAVE HAD A SENSE OF FUTURISM AND WONDER TO THEM.  THE FIRST TIME I EXPERIENCED THE TOKENIZATION CONCEPT WAS WITH THE GAME ‘SPELLS OF GENESIS’ ON THE COUNTERPARTY NETWORK THAT LIVES ON TOP OF BITCOIN.  FOR PEOPLE THAT DON’T KNOW, COUNTERPARTY WAS THE FIRST TOKENIZED LAYER PROTOCOL DEVELOPED AND STILL LIVES TO THIS DAY.  SOMETIMES WHEN I FEEL A LITTLE NOSTALGIC I’LL MINT A PIECE OR TWO ON THE BITCOIN CHAIN.

SW: Some people consider your art to be overtly “glitchy” or “trashy” or “naive” or whatever new term people are slinging around. I understand it’s human nature to apply labels, but I think those labels do your work an injustice. So, how do you reconcile being perceived as one kind of artist with the desire to just be an artist? 

ROBNESS: I CONSIDER THAT A COMPLIMENT ACTUALLY.  MOST REACTIONS TO NEW TYPES OF ART IN HISTORY, FROM ALL EXPRESSIONS USUALLY HAVE THAT NEGATIVE REACTION TO IT.  I REMEMBER READING ABOUT THE TANGO LEGEND ASTOR PIAZZOLLA AND HOW HE RECEIVED A BACKLASH IN HIS HEYDAY FOR MAKING TANGO MUSIC MORE ORCHESTRAL THAN ITS REGULAR DANCE COMPOSITION STYLE.  AFTER A WHILE AND THE NEGATIVE REACTIONS SUBSIDED, HE TURNED INTO THE QUINTESSENTIAL HERO OF THE TANGO GENRE AND ROSE ABOVE ALL THE REST.  SO YEAH, I TAKE THOSE CRITICISMS AS MORE FUEL AND INSPIRATION THAT I MIGHT BE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT.  IN A SENSE I CAN ALREADY SEE IT BY WHAT THE #TRASHART PHENOMENON HAS BECOME EVEN WITHOUT MY PARTICIPATION AT TIMES.

SW: I love how vocal you are in calling out the bias and bullshit inherent in so many corners of the NFT and cryptoart world. How does it feel now that so many of the people who want to patronize you were the very people who were threatened by you earlier? I’m talking specifically about collectors who didn’t know what the hell to do about you in that Marcel Duchamp “Is that urinal art?” kind of way. 

ROBNESS: I RECENTLY TWEETED OUT IN THE CRYPTO WORLD THAT I’M LONG GONE FROM GOING “I TOLD YOU SO!” WHEN I’M PROVEN CORRECT ON LATER EVENTS THAT TAKE SHAPE IN THIS SPACE. PRIMARILY BECAUSE I MYSELF HAVE LEARNED THESE LESSONS IN MY OWN LIFE.  MANY TIMES I HAVE VIEWED ART OR LISTENED TO MUSIC I LOATHED AND I’LL HAVE AN EXPERIENCE OR TWO IN MY LIFE THAT IS AUGMENTED PERFECTLY BY THOSE TASTES THAT I DIDN’T LIKE BEFORE. AFTER THAT, YOU IN A SENSE ‘FLANK’ THE TASTE AND SEE IT FROM A NEW PERSPECTIVE. AFTER THAT I’LL GO IN DEEP AND SEE EVERYTHING THAT GENRE HAD TO OFFER FOR MONTHS, LIKE A FIEND.

SW: I don’t ask this of everyone (Mainly b/c I’m not interested in most responses to the question, but I am interested in your response b/c you’ve been at the center of this storm yourself), but…ok take a deep breath: WHAT IS ART?

ROBNESS: THERE HAVE BEEN MANY QUOTES OF THE PAST THAT HAVE DONE JUSTICE TO THAT QUESTION BUT LET ME TRY AND ADD TO IT.  I BELIEVE ART IS WHAT AN INDIVIDUAL CONCEPTUALLY DECIDES OTHER HUMANS SHOULD DIRECT THEIR FULL EXPERIENTIAL ATTENTION TO.  THE ARTIST IS MERELY THE COMMUNICATOR SAYING ‘LOOK….LISTEN TO THIS FOR A SECOND.’  YOU ARE PEERING INTO THE ABSTRACTION AND VIEWPOINT OF ANOTHER PERSON, WHATEVER THAT MAY BE AND IT LITERALLY CAN BE ANYTHING.  VERY OPEN TO WHAT ART IS AND I FEEL IT’S POSSIBLY THE BEST WAY TO GO.

SW: You’re very outspoken on Twitter, so I have what I think is a good sense of what your ethos is, but I don’t have a sense of who you are. Is that intentional? How close are you to the indefatigable LORD OF THE CAPSLOCK, cackling-like-a-gargoyle and thorn in the side of the art establishment role you’ve assumed (whether intentionally or not)?    

ROBNESS: AT FIRST THE ALLCAPS WAS AN INSIDE JOKE DURING THE MANIACAL TRADING DAYS OF CRYPTO. THERE WAS A SITE CALLED POLONIEX AND THEY HAD A CHAT BOX CALLED THE TROLLBOX. SOMETIMES I WOULD GET ‘BANHAMMERED’ FOR 24 HOURS JUST FOR USING CAPS. THEN I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, “WHY THE HELL IS ALLCAPS SO LOATHED?”  THEN IT JUST BECAME A JOKE WHERE I GOT BANNED EVERY DAY AND I DID IT PRIMARILY TO ENTERTAIN PEOPLE. AFTER THAT I BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT ALLCAPS AND THE EMOTIONS IT TRIGGERS IN PEOPLE WAS KIND OF RIDICULOUS.  IN A SENSE, ALL I’M DOING IS CHANGING THE CHARACTER LOOK OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE A TAD AND FOR SOME PEOPLE THEY JUST CONSIDER IT ‘LOUD,’ WHICH TO ME IS AN ABSTRACTION THEY’VE BUILT PSYCHOLOGICALLY.  SO IN A SENSE IT TURNED INTO A FILTER OF SORTS. IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE ALLCAPS AND GET ALL EMOTIONAL ABOUT IT, THERE MUST BE SOMETHING ELSE AFOOT! 

SW: Tell me about the first piece of art you ever remember creating.  

ROBNESS: A FRIEND OF MINE BACK IN THE DAY WAS TALKING ART WITH ME AND HE ASKED A SIMPLE QUESTION, “YOU WANNA GET DRUNK AND PAINT.”  AND LITERALLY THAT’S HOW IT STARTED.  WE WENT TO GO GET ART SUPPLIES AND THEN WE HAD TO STOP AT HOME DEPOT FOR OTHER THINGS. THEN I SAW SOME PAINT REMOVAL KNIVES AND I REMEMBER HE SAID “GO FOR IT.” SO I BOUGHT THEM AND INSTEAD OF USING NORMAL PAINT BRUSHES I USED THOSE SAME REMOVAL KNIVES TO PAINT WITH.  I ATTRIBUTE MY MUSIC LIFE TO ALREADY CORRUPTING ME BY BREAKING CONVENTIONAL RULES RIGHT FROM THE GET-GO.

SW: As an artist, you’d be in the minority if you hadn’t had at least one shitty job in your life. What’s the worst job you ever had (and, if possible, was it to sustain your art? Or just bad luck)?

ROBNESS: STARBUCKS DRIVE THRU, LONG AGO.  LITERALLY THE WORST.  ALTHOUGH I CAN’T COMPLETELY ATTRIBUTE MY MISERY TO STARBUCKS. DURING THOSE YEARS I WAS PARTYING MY ASS OFF AND I WOULD KEEP MY APRON IN THE CAR AND USUALLY STAY UP UNTIL 3 A.M. AND THEN I’D HEAD TO WORK FROM MY FRIEND’S SPOTS.  DEFINITELY NOT A HEALTHY TIME IN MY LIFE.  I’D CLOCK OUT AROUND 12.00 P.M, HEAD TO THE BEACH AND LITERALLY PASS OUT. GOOD TIMES THOUGH!

SW: Sorry—gotta ask it: Creative influences. Let’s start with dead ones

ROBNESS: DAVID BOWIE, DALI, JIMI HENDRIX, NIKOLA TESLA, FELA KUTI, JAMES BROWN, PICASSO, FEDERICO FELLINI, ANDY WARHOL, BASQUIAT, MILES DAVIS, ASTOR PIAZZOLLA, AKIRA KUROSAWA, FREDDIE MERCURY,  STANLEY KUBRICK….AND THE LIST GOES ON.

SW: Anybody living?

ROBNESS: RIDLEY SCOTT, ELON MUSK AND JAMES TURRELL

SW: It looks like the capital “A” art world has blinked first in the cryptoart/”art” art standoff, which is in many ways a good thing, but do you fear that the old art world paradigms will fall back into place now that big auction houses and galleries have discovered a new revenue stream?

ROBNESS: AT FIRST CRYPTOART HAD A RESISTANT ATTITUDE TO THE OLD ART WORLD ESTABLISHMENT, NOT SO MUCH ANYMORE. IT SEEMS ARTISTS ARE FLOCKING BACKWARDS TO THESE OLD ESTABLISHMENTS (BEEPLE, PAK) WHEN IN FACT I’M LOOKING FORWARD AND SEEING THAT THOSE OLD ESTABLISHMENTS ARE IN A DESPERATION MOVE TO CLING ONTO THE NEW GUARD. IN THE SAME WAY BITCOIN WAS HELL BENT ON MAKING THE BANKING CARTELS SUBMIT, I FEEL THE SAME SHOULD BE APPLIED TO OLD ARCHAIC ART INSTITUTIONS AS WELL.

SW: How much work does an artist or NFT creator have to put in to cultivate collectors and audience? 

ROBNESS: I’D SAY A LOT NOW.  PRIMARILY BECAUSE THE SMALL COMMUNITY THAT USED OPENSEA.IO TO MAKE ART NOW IS LITERALLY HAS BECOME AN OPEN SEA OF SORTS, CONSIDERING THAT WITHIN THE LAST YEAR THE NFT SPACE HAS GOTTEN DIGITAL CREATIVES FROM AROUND THE GLOBE TO COME IN AND PARTICIPATE.  THE COLLECTOR COUNT AS OF RIGHT NOW IS STILL SUPER SMALL AND NOT ENOUGH TO GO AROUND IN MY OPINION. NOT YET AT LEAST, SO TO STAND OUT I WOULD JUST SAY BE CONSISTENT AND STICK IN IF YOU REALLY LOVE THIS MOVEMENT.  I DO AND I’LL NEVER STOP BECAUSE IT’S A PART OF ME NOW.  BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY IS AN ADDED TOOL AND AN ENTIRELY NEW INDUSTRY OF ALL INDUSTRIES SO TO SPEAK, JUST LIKE THE INTERNET WAS FOR BUSINESS. 

SW: The cryptoart community still feels pretty cozy, aside from the occasional shitheads, but the party is getting bigger and bigger by the day. How do you feel about that? And I’m not talking about gatekeepers, but sometimes it seems to me (at least in the realm of social media) that the more a movement grows, the lower the bar gets, the more diluted the dialogue, the more base the insults, etc. How do we keep the #NFT creator community together without devolving into the usual beefs?

ROBNESS: I THINK BEEFS ARE INEVITABLE, HELL I’VE GOTTEN INTO MY SHARE WITH SOME WHALES IN THE SPACE. I ALSO CONSIDER THAT A BLESSING BECAUSE I GOT TO SEE WHAT SOME WHALES ARE CAPABLE OF IN REGARDS TO BEING MANIPULATIVE, WHETHER IT BE TO CRYPTOART PLATFORMS THEY BUY FROM OR JUST OVER ARTISTS THEY BUY FROM DIRECTLY. MOST ARTISTS WON’T SAY IT, BUT ARTISTS CAN BE AFRAID OF INSULTING THEIR COLLECTORS OR DISAGREEING WITH THEM, BECAUSE ALL OF A SUDDEN THEY LOSE THEIR CASH COW SO TO SPEAK.  FROM DAY ONE I CALLED BULLSHIT ON THAT AND LUCKILY MAX OSIRIS AND I SWAM OUR WAY OUT OF THAT MUCK AND HAVE HAD GREAT COLLECTORS WHO UNDERSTOOD OUR ETHOS AND TRUE WAY OF APPROACHING ART, UNMITIGATED AND UNCONTROLLED. THAT BEING SAID, FORGIVENESS IS A TRAIT THAT NEEDS TO BE REESTABLISHED IN THE 21ST CENTURY, WITH ALL OF THIS CANCEL CULTURE CRAP I SEE. FORGIVENESS IS STRENGTH OF CHARACTER AND NO HUMAN ON THIS EARTH IS PERFECT.  SO FORGIVING AND FORGETTING NEEDS TO COME BACK FOR SURE.

SW: You own dozens of SuperWorld properties, and I’m curious, as an artists and a virtual real estate landowner, what are your plans for your plots of land, and what got you initially interested in SuperWorld?

ROBNESS: I SEE THE PROMISE OF THE METAVERSE, AND OF HOW CRYPTOART AND SCULPTURE WILL PLAY INTO THE FUTURE OF ITS CREATIVITY.  WHEN I SAW SUPERWORLD AND I SAW THE NEXT PHASE IN WHICH AUGMENTED REALITY WOULD TAKE SHAPE WITH THESE PROGRESSIONS,  IT WAS A NATURAL FIT FOR ME AND I CAN’T WAIT TO START GETTING INVOLVED ON THE PLOTS I HAVE ACQUIRED. I’VE GOT MOST OF MY PLOTS IN THE LOS ANGELES AREA; THE MOST POPULATED SPOTS AND SHOPPING-BASED: 3RD STREET PROMENADE, ABBOT KINNEY IN VENICE BEACH AND ALL OF THE WEST SUNSET STRIP.  BASICALLY, I JUST PURCHASED MY ALL TIME FAVORITE PLACES TO FREQUENT. OF COURSE I MIGHT HAVE TO GET MORE! THANK YOU GUYS FOR SUCH A GREAT PROJECT!