Pioneering artist and Cultural Medallion winner Ong Kim Seng is one of Singapore’s most recognisable artists. He is known for his fluid and vivid watercolour paintings of city scenes. Even with such a distinctive style — or because of it — Ong has a strong commitment to authenticity in his work.
“I have had agents from all over the world calling me to verify my paintings,” says Ong. “When a well-known painter friend saw someone impersonate his work, that got me thinking.”
Upon finding out about Web3 and technologies like non-fungible tokens (NFT) from his children, Ong became interested in it. As Web 3 stores digital data in a blockchain, he could preserve his art while protecting his legacy.
NFT artwork by a Cultural Medallion recipient
He recently teamed up with VaultV to create NFTs of some of his paintings available at Web3 marketplace Opensea. VaultV is a blockchain-based project managed by technology company OTECH. The NFTs function as a digital certificate of authenticity and the physical artwork can also be redeemed by buyers.
“VaultV digitally certifies the authorship of the artist offline and online through the use of blockchain technology. The NFTs are linked to the physical paintings. When buyers purchase the physical piece, digital certificates authenticate the authorship of the painting,” says Lionel Otsuka, CEO of OTECH.
“The proof of authenticity will remain valid over time. This is due to the immutability of encrypted blockchain transaction records and the digital signature for each artwork.”
Ong is not the only artist bolstering his legacy with Web3 technology. As a result of the NFT boom last year, more artists are now dabbling in digital art. Yes, even those who are known for their physical artworks.
Promoting the work of senior artists artists to young art collectors
Goh Beng Kwan is another Cultural Medallion recipient. He has also been exploring the world of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and NFTs. In January, he minted animated NFTs for the National Gallery Singapore’s fundraiser based on his original works.
In May, for his 85th birthday retrospective at the Conrad Centennial Singapore, Goh had 11 AR works virtually installed for his exhibition. The ArtAF app also enabled visitors to virtually “showcase” 85 of his artworks from the show in their homes. This allowed visitors to get an idea of how his art would look on their walls.
Known for his abstract, mixed media creations, he intends to continue exploring Web3 as a way to spark creativity. “In the past, the artworks were all static. It is now very interesting to see parts of the artwork come alive and in motion. Adding sound to the NFTs also adds a different dimension to the artworks. This was previously not possible,” he says.
Extending the legacy of artwork through Web3
Having his work accessible to younger audiences will allow him to extend his legacy. Goh’s daughter Hazeleen established the ArtAF (Art Affairs) platform last year to help promote her father’s work. The platform also helps other senior artists gain publicity by connecting them with young art collectors.
“Artworks on Web3 allow established artists to showcase their works easily and instantly to a younger audience. It saves time as more artworks can be viewed. Younger audiences can better understand the artist and his creations even before seeing the art itself,” says the younger Goh.
“Web3 can potentially reach a wider and international audience as well.”
Goh, like Ong, believes that authentication technology is a reliable way of safeguarding her father’s hard-earned artistic legacy. To do this, ArtAF uses an open and closed QR code system.
“Over the years, we have seen many examples in which an artist passes away, and the authenticity of the artwork becomes questionable once there are fakes. Digital technology could mitigate disputes that might arise when an artist is no longer around to provide assurances of authenticity,” she explains.
Furthermore, she hopes that her father will continue to draw inspiration from digital technology in his twilight years. He has spent his life experimenting with different media and materials. She says, “By gaining an understanding and insights into the new technology and world that the young generation lives in, this would influence how he expresses himself in his artworks and give him a different perspective when it comes to creating his art.”
(Read more: The British Museum is launching more NFTs)
Opening doors for artists
Not surprisingly, younger digital natives are exploring the Web3 space to expand their artistic horizons. These artists even include those whose work are traditionally known for its physicality.
Multidisciplinary artist Andy Yang was excited about the opportunity to push his creative boundaries. His NFTs are available for sale under online art gallery The Artling’s NFT category. “By extending my exploration in the digital domain, I was able to explore ideas and techniques that would have been impossible or very laborious to achieve in the physical realm,” he says.
The “unprecedented surge” in the community of creators all over the world also allowed him to collaborate on the Hola Mona NFT project with two other artists, Yeo Shih Yun in Singapore and Alba Escayo in Spain, resulting in the creation of a whopping 1,503 images.
“Having been full-time career artists for over two decades, the three of us took up the challenge and decided we could create much better-looking profile pictures (PFPs),” he says.
Better traceability and accessibility of artwork through NFTs
Yang appreciates that NFTs make it possible to track who owns his artwork even after it changes hands while providing a much-needed income stream. Royalties from the resale of artworks help artists further fund their practice, he observes. “The smart contract also streamlines the management and agreements for collaborative projects, making artwork sales and the splitting of royalties much more transparent.”
Despite the current turbulence in the crypto world, artists like Farizwan Fajari, who is better known as Speak Cryptic, intends to stay in the space. The contemporary artist, who started as a street artist and is known for his elaborate murals, began creating NFTs as a way to expand his practice.
“I have an art-first approach, so I try to keep showing up in places with good art, or what I think is good art. Being involved in the NFT space has expanded my audience,” he says. “Plus, I’ve made a couple of new friends since I started, so it is pretty easy to stay.”
Currently, about a third of his current work is NFTs, with commissions, physical works and giving talks and workshops making up the rest.
At the end of the day, the appeal of having their work live on in a pristine form — unlike physical works that tend to degrade with time — also plays a major role. Says Yang, “As an independent artist, the prospect of having NFTs of original artworks on the blockchain really helps. It will really assist in making sure my archived artworks will always be available to be enjoyed even after I am gone.”