Paints, brushes and a canvas are the tools usually associated with the visual arts, but not for Osinachi.
He has become one of the leading crypto artists in Africa, using digital means to create and sell his work.
Sitting at his dining table in his comfortable but modest home in the Nigerian city of Lagos, Osinachi opens a laptop and launches Microsoft Word. He balances the screen with his stylus.
“You can do a lot of things in Word,” he explains, selecting basic shapes in the program, distorting and playing with their dimensions, filling them with bright colors and drawing with the keys of sound. pen. .
“What I have done over the years is push myself to go further and see what I can accomplish with this word processing tool.”
Although digital art emerged decades ago, “crypto-art” is a phenomenon that has materialized more recently.
The term was coined because the blockchain technology used to buy and sell so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which prove ownership, is the same as that used for cryptocurrencies.
“Only one person can say, ‘This room is mine.’ This is why digital art is precious now, ”says Osinachi.
Additionally, artists can ensure that they receive a commission each time the artwork is sold – a significant advantage that the traditional art world does not enjoy.
Last October, the 30-something became the first African crypto-artist to have his work sold by auction house Christie’s in Europe.
His series of five NFTs, Different Shades of Water, premiered at the London edition of the 1:54 African Art Fair, is inspired by the work of British artist David Hockney.
The images are a commentary on putting work first over well-being, according to Christie’s, but they’re also breathtaking to watch, enveloping the viewer in a warm embrace.
“I think the first thing that appeals to them is the beauty of the work,” Osinachi says, reflecting on what makes his work popular.
“Then followed by the message that I convey through the work. And beyond the message, there is the process. ‘How did you do that?’ When they find out that I use Microsoft Word, it is mind-boggling for a lot of them.
Prince Jacon Osinachi Igwe, to give his full name, was born and raised in the industrial town of Aba in southeastern Nigeria. When his father brought home a computer at the age of 15, Osinachi began experimenting with creating digital images using Microsoft Word.
As he developed his work and tried to sell it in a traditional gallery, he was rejected. However, in 2017 he discovered he could sell NFTs using the blockchain.
He remembers that initially, before the idea for NFTs took off, limited edition prints of his work were selling for as little as $ 60. At Christie’s auction in October, her work cost over $ 68,000.
In fact, using online marketplaces like SuperRare, OpenSea, and Nifty Gateway, Osinachi has sold NFTs for more, but he says the recognition of his work by the international auctioneer has been invaluable.
“For me, it’s validation of NFTs,” he says. “In addition, it is a great victory for African digital artists [to see] that an African artist does that.
Isabel Millar, Associate Specialist in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Department, has observed how the initial divide between digital art collectors and mainstream buyers is gradually blurring.
“I think what’s really interesting is now there’s been this crossover,” Millar said.
The acceptance of Bitcoin as a means of payment during auctions is further proof of this development.
Global attention was drawn to crypto art when Christie’s sold a digital collage by little-known American artist Michael Winkelman, known professionally as Beeple, for $ 69 million last year. He revealed the demand for this way of exchanging art.
Millar notes how empowering the medium is for artists, which could help African artists bypass the gatekeepers. “It kind of bypasses a lot of the traditional structures of the art world of galleries and fairs,” she explains.
However, this does not prevent these platforms from adopting this innovation.
Art X, West Africa’s largest international art fair, based in Lagos, held its first NFT exhibition in November.
Several screens featuring vibrant digital images were mounted on a jet black wall in a sprawling marquee. It was organized by Osinachi and featured 10 artists from African countries including Nigeria, Morocco and Senegal.
Art X founder Tokini Peterside says she is excited about what she describes as an “NFT revolution”.
“We realized this was a fantastic way for… digital artists to monetize their practice,” she says.
Peterside cites the rise of 21-year-old digital artist Anthony Azekwoh, also based in Lagos.
The young talent made around $ 40,000 from his NFT art series, The Deathless Collection, in 2021, with the NFT for The Red Man selling for $ 25,419.
However, some cultural curators are skeptical of the democratization of art through the platform and question the extent of the medium’s transparency.
“It’s like there is a bunch of [tech] the brothers who set the prices, ”explains a gallery owner who asks to remain anonymous, referring to the strong involvement of technological entrepreneurs who traditionally sponsor NFT art.
“Will be [New York’s] Museum of Modern Art become less relevant? No. Established institutions will remain important.
Passionate about crypto-art, Ade Adekola has been a digital artist for over 20 years and recently started selling his work under the name NFT.
He shows me his latest works exhibited at the B57 gallery, his own space located on Victoria Island, an upscale neighborhood of Lagos. The artist explains that while the NFTs are an exciting new opportunity, the Guardians still exist.
“What makes you a winner in the NFT space is not your ability to create,” says Adekola. “It’s your ability to sell, and your ability to sell is fundamentally based on your ability to communicate. “
But this opportunity for African artists to reach the rest of the world through the NFT art markets offers them a chance to gain a larger audience, according to Osinachi.
“Intermediaries tend to decide who moves on and becomes a great artist. In the NFT space, the artist can decide to go do his thing, make a name for himself and earn money with his work.