Collector and NFT enthusiast Derrick Li discovered the digital art form like many of us have – thanks to the $69 million sale of Beeple’s 5,000 days at Christie’s in March 2021. But that’s where all the similarities to those who jumped on the NFT bandwagon end.
Rather than looking for get-rich-quick buys, Li began reaching out to the NFT creators he most admired. He also founded Triple X, an organization focused on curating collections of NFTs by artists (not illustrators – more on that below) and bridging the knowledge gap between mainstream art collectors. and artists working in the digital realm.
Earlier this week, Li announced that Triple X would be releasing a new curated NFT collection, “On Sparks and Souls,” featuring digital works by artists including Jia Aili, who is represented by Gagosian.
Recently, we caught up with Li to discuss the volatility of the NFT market, what sets NFT art apart from digital collectibles, and more.
Can you tell me about yourself and how you got into the NFT space?
I’m Derrick Li, aka Tung or Triple X or X as some artists call me. My family calls me DongDong. People say I have so many names that they hear a new one every time they meet someone who knows me. These “multiple identities” make me feel good because I don’t want to be defined, and it kind of frees me up in the NFT space; like, that’s all me, but depends on your point of view.
I founded Triple X early last year and have been collecting, curating and building NFTs since shortly after Beeple’s auction at Christie’s. I started researching them and realized their potential, use cases and benefits for artists and all users.
There are several factors that attracted me. First of all, I knew I was still early to join this market, so that would be a big advantage – the earlier you are and the harder you are willing to work, the better luck you will have. Second, NFTs have the potential to do so many great things and contribute so much to artists. Finally, I wanted to help artists do great new things.
In your own words, how would you describe Triple X? What would you say you see as part of its evolving role in the NFT space?
From now on, Triple X is me, but I hope it becomes an organization open to supporting opportunities and ideas in digital art that innovate and inspire. My goal with Triple X is to uplift people, especially artists, and make the world a better place. Triple X represents sparks and souls, inspirations and goals, perceptions and understandings. We want people to come together with good hearts and good intentions to create long-term value in the NFT space in interesting ways.
Part of that means bringing more experienced traditional collectors and the general public into the field and helping to build a fundamental and illuminating understanding of what’s happening in the digital realm. From there, Triple X will be able to provide high quality works to collectors and art lovers. I care a lot about the public, the real art lovers.
Classic becomes classic for a reason, and I don’t want Triple X to be seen or associated with the hype. I want it to build a culture, and also have a culture inside, with like-minded people.
There are many dimensions to your business in the NFT world, particularly a curatorial or almost gallery-like verification process that takes NFT collecting into more familiar territory for art lovers. Earlier this week, you announced that you would be dropping a new collection of NFTs from artists including Jia Garlic, represented by Gagosian. Who are the NFT artists included in the collection? How did you come into contact with each of them?
This collection features amazing digital artists like Raoul Marks, David Ariew, and Ryan Hawthorne, and of course, the main character of the collection is Jia Aili. I have two other digital artists working on a piece behind the scenes, but I don’t want to reveal their identities yet. It’s more interesting to keep it mysterious, but based on the quality of the works we’ve produced so far, people can trust me that secrets are also some of the most artistic digital artists in the NFT space.
I also collect NFTs and love reaching out to the masterminds behind these amazing digital artworks. Fortunately, many of these artists responded – at this time, NFT artists were more willing to connect with collectors. Too many ghost accounts are DMing you these days (whether you’re an artist, collector, or builder, it doesn’t matter) and most people wouldn’t even bother to go and check the DM request anymore.
Artist David Ariew also helped me get in touch with many other artists, including Raoul Marks, who is up for sale. David has always been this super helpful and kind person.
Would you say that there is a common thread between theartists with whom you have chosen to work?
Yes definitely! This current collection is called “On Sparks and Souls”, and one of its main intentions is to show the artistic essence of these NFTs and raise the bar of artistic conversation around them. I asked these NFT artists to create works that respond in some way to Jia Aili’s paintings. They could explore ways to understand the paintings, have conversations with them, and combine elements of his works with theirs in refreshing ways, while staying close to his roots. The overriding common thread between these artists, including Aili, is the vibration they have with the essence of art, where true creativity comes from.
So the NFTs in the exhibition are directly inspired by 2D paintings? Why did you choose to pursue this path of building an NFT collection?
Yes. All digital works are inspired by and based on at least one painting by Jia Aili, chosen by each artist in the collection. The final digital artworks are blends of Aili’s visions, art philosophy and artistic input from him directly, as well as personal input, mediums, styles, interpretations and ” signatures” of each artist, which are then minted as NFTs. Through this process, the meaning of the symbols in the original paintings was expanded.
Since the original paintings played a big part in this collection, I plan to plan and organize an exhibition next year that will put these paintings in conversation with the digital artworks – although there are lots of steps, including loans from collectors, to make this possible. The paintings already have homes, but that would be a great conversation between the works.
There is a lot of volatility in the NFT space right now. What do you think of that?
This is the consequence of relentless speculation in the NFT space, which has just collapsed in the crypto crash. Am I worried about the market? No. Am I worried about people? Yes. We need more information and proper education in this space.
The market was so unstable because some people were playing this gambling game, trying to speculate on certain artists’ markets, and then they became the “influencers” to tell people what’s good and what’s not, who should look for and buy in , rather than actual knowledge of the work. NFTs were being sold at prices that made no sense given their real, real demand and artistic values.
There is no liquidity flowing in the space at the moment, so most NFTs become dead assets. The so-called “whale collectors” have to bear a huge responsibility for the current state of space.
Many people have been very impatient; people only have short-term visions and mindsets when they are in this space. Few people have long-term visions or are ready to start building a healthy infrastructure for this market and its reputation. I’m so critical of this because I want the NFT space to have longevity.
Can you tell us about the difference between digital collectibles and NFTs? What are the main distinctions and how do you think these differences will be clarified in the future?
Digital collectible projects are made by teams of developers rather than artists. Often these teams hire an illustrator to create the visual design for their product, but does that count as artwork? My answer may sound controversial, but I say no. Not all creations are works of art. All illustrations are not works of art.
I think it’s extremely important to differentiate digital collectibles that are NFTs from digital works of art that are minted as NFTs. People shouldn’t try to find artistic values or the essence of art in digital collectibles, it’s like expecting lychee to fall from an apple tree.
Of course, many people looking for artwork are confused when they see the successful collectible projects such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks and wonder why such “bad art” has sold for so much. They are not works of art; they are digital collectibles that can offer utilities. The line has to be drawn here, clearly. Then people can start to identify works of art and talk about things with the right definitions and expectations.
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