Artist and Southaven native Anthony Sims has a love/hate relationship with selling his artwork as an NFT.
NFT, which stands for non-fungible token, is a unit of crypto-currency or electronic cash that is used to buy, trade and sell items that exist solely in the digital world.
The concept is similar to other peer-to-peer electronic cash networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum where users exchange tokens for - in Sims’s case - ownership of a piece of digital artwork.
“Nothing will ever replace painting for me,” Sims said. “And nothing will ever replace going to an art show or gallery or a museum and looking at a painting that has all these amazing brush strokes. That’s never going away.
“But there is a part of me that loves being able to walk in somewhere and look at a screen that is just this infinite, crazy, and just as detailed as a painting, but that’s digital and moves around. That is also interesting.”
Sims, a graduate of Lewisburg High School who now works as a robotics engineer in Dallas for Amazon, said NFTs are a growing trend and offer artists like himself the chance to sell their artwork for more money, just in a different medium.
Buying NFT artwork is a fast growing trend worldwide. Crypto investors took notice when the venerable auction house Christie’s announced plans to auction the work of digital artist Beeple. The piece was sold to a Singapore-based investor for $69.3 million.
Sims said he didn’t know anything about the world of NFT artwork until about a year ago when he heard about it on Twitter. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and cancelled arts shows and closed museums, a lot of his artist friends who create art for a living turned to selling their artwork as an NFT.
“They needed to find something to do to make a living,” Sims said. “So they discovered NFTs and it turned a lot of other artists like myself on to NFTs. When I found out about it, I thought I could do that.”
Sims said the art community has been slow to embrace NFT. Some like it, others hate it. He’s found a happy middle ground with the digital platform. He still creates and sells physical artwork, but also sells his work to the NFT community.
“With an NFT, you are buying a digital piece,” Sims said. “And you own it on the Internet. You are the holder of that. And the way NFT works is it’s like paper money. But all you can do is send it back and forth. It would be like if Chuck E. Cheese had a currency and McDonald’s had a currency. If you have the Chuck E. Cheese currency and you wanted something at McDonald’s, you could swap tokens.”
Sims said artists also retain equity in their artwork because NFTs are sold as smart contracts where artists receive 10 percent of the selling price every time they pass to a new owner - something artists do not get on the secondary art market.
“One thing an artist doesn’t like to see, is somebody buys your painting for $1000 and then turns around later and sells it for $100,000. That sucks because I don’t get any of that money,” Sims said. “But what smart contracts have done for me is they have given me a permanent equity in my brand as an artist. So now if somebody sells it for $1,000, then I get $10. So I am permanently getting equity in every resell of my NFT.”
The most money he ever made in a year selling his physical paintings was $5,000. But in the world of NFTs, his 18 current pieces of art for sale on the platform called Rarible are now valued at $104,000. His latest listing just sold for 2.5 Ethereum which currently translates into about $8,000. Another piece sold for 5.0 Ethereum or about $16,952 on the digital art market called Super Rare.
“The crazy part is, I’m not even one of the leading artists,” Sims said. “I’m barely in the top ten percent.”
Sims is known for his skeleton artwork which was inspired by his conflicting emotions growing up as a person with mixed-race heritage. He looks Mexican but could also pass as Arabic. In reality, he is half-Mexican and half-white and was raised in a predominantly white environment.
“I went to Lewisburg High School where there are only like 50 black people and maybe 20 Mexicans,” Sims said. “It’s not super diverse.”
Sims said he was a bit of an outcast because of his mixed-race heritage and his friends would make racist jokes - not because they were racists, but because the jokes were funny.
“I make white people jokes,” Sims said. “I make black people jokes. I make Mexican jokes. But they’re just jokes. So racism wasn’t something that hurt me growing up. But it was something that was always prevalent. It was always something weird and I never felt I belonged to a certain identity.”
The skeletons emerged as a way to connect with his Mexican heritage. He was inspired by the sugar skulls which are used in the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead to commemorate lost loved ones.
“I really like sugar skulls because they make me feel a strong emotion about my own mortality,” Sims said. “Understanding that I am going to die is something that rocked my work since I first understood I was going to die at some point.”
The skeletons in his artwork are a representation of what it means to be human and helping him to understand his outward identity.
“My skeletons come in all shapes and sizes and colors,” Sims said. “I don’t know what category people want me to be as far as my race. I don’t understand that. I’ve never felt white. I’ve never felt black. I’ve never felt Mexican. So the sugar skull tie-in was that I do know that I am Mexican, whatever that means. And the art world would describe it as very primitive or urban. So typically when you see my art, the first color you see is black. I’m not black, but I was influenced by black artists like (Jean-Michel) Basquiat. He fought the press to be called just an artist. But everyone kept calling him a black artist. He just wanted to be an artist and that is kind of how I feel. So it’s why I paint blue skeletons and red skeletons and gray skeletons and black skeletons.”
Sims said NFT artwork is starting to show up in more and more art shows at galleries. Although NFT art pieces are digital, Sims said they can still be displayed like traditional art in galleries or in homes.
“What a lot of people are doing is they are getting Wi-Fi TVs and putting the actual image like a screen saver that never turns off,” Sims said. “A lot of NFTs have animation. There are also 8-by-11 frames that are like mini TVs that repeatedly play whatever NFT you are showing. So there are capabilities of showing them in the physical world.”
A recent art show in Memphis where Sims had some of his NFT artwork on display drew a decent turnout and convinced him that NFTs are here to stay and will continue to grow.
Sims is already exhibiting his digital pieces in his “Sims Museum,” a museum that exists in a virtual world called Decentraland, where users can walk through the museum as an avatar and even buy land in it. He would like to see Memphis and the Mid-South - which could include Southaven - get in on the ground floor of NFT art and consider building a physical museum solely for NFT art.
Sims said if tourists come to Memphis from all over the world because of Elvis Presley and Beale Street, he doesn’t see why they wouldn’t do the same for this new form of art.
“It’s really trendy right now,” Sims said. “I think it is totally an option and I think Memphis is the perfect place for it. We can’t just be viewed for Elvis by the rest of the world. There is a lot of art talent in Memphis. We need to be viewed as a bad ass place as an art town. If we made a physical NFT museum tomorrow, we would be the first physical NFT in the world. I genuinely think this could be something for Memphis or Southaven or anywhere we put it.”