Paints, brushes, and a canvas are the tools typically associated with visual art, but not for Osinachi.
He has become one of Africa’s greatest crypto-artists, 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 stares at the screen with his stylus.
“You can do a lot of things in Word,” he explains, selecting basic shapes in the program, warping and playing with their dimensions, filling them with bright colors, and drawing with touches of the 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 what are known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which prove ownership, is the same as that used for cryptocurrencies.
“Only one person can say, ‘I own this room. “This is why digital art is precious now,” says Osinachi.
In addition, artists can ensure that they receive a commission each time the work is sold – a significant advantage that the traditional art world does not enjoy.
Last October, the 30-year-old became the first crypto-artist from Africa to have his work sold by auction house Christie’s in Europe.
His five NFT series, Different Shades of Water, first shown at the London edition of the African Art Fair 1:54, was inspired by the work of British artist David Hockney.
The images are a commentary on the priority given to work over well-being, according to Christie’s, but they are 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 I convey through the work. And beyond the message is the process. ‘How did you do that?’ When they find out that I use Microsoft Word, a lot of them are mind blowing. “
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 met with refusal. 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, this is validation of NFTs,” he says. “It is also a great victory for African digital artists [to see] that an African artist is doing this. “
Isabel Millar, Associate Specialist in Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art Department, has observed how an initial divide between digital art collectors and mainstream buyers is gradually blurring.
“I think what’s really interesting is that there’s now been this crossover,” Millar said.
The acceptance of Bitcoin as a means of payment at auctions is further proof of this development.
Global attention was drawn to crypto art when Christie’s last year sold a digital collage by little-known American artist Michael Winkelman, known professionally as Beeple, for $ 69 million. He revealed the demand for this mode of art trade.
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 such platforms from adopting this innovation.
Art X, West Africa’s premier 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 inside 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 that the platform democratizes art and question the extent of the medium’s transparency.
“It’s like there’s a bunch of [tech] bros fixing the prices, ”said a gallery owner who asked to remain anonymous, referring to the strong involvement of tech entrepreneurs who traditionally sponsor NFT art.
“Will be [New York’s] Museum of Modern Art become less relevant? No. Established institutions will remain important. “
Crypto-art enthusiast Ade Adekola has been a digital artist for over 20 years and recently started selling his work as NFT.
He shows me his latest works exhibited at Galerie B57, his own space located on Victoria Island, an upscale neighborhood in Lagos. The artist explains that although NFTs are an exciting new opportunity, 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 NFT art markets offers them a chance to gain a larger audience, according to Osinachi.
“Intermediaries tend to decide who succeeds and becomes a great artist. In the NFT space, the artist can decide to go do their thing, make a name for themselves and make money with their work.”