I walked into The Henley Vaporium, and everyone around me seemed to be talking about Bitcoin. When I commented on this to Holden Matarazzo, he laughed and pointed at the Bitcoin ATM placed off to the side of the room. The Bitcoin movement is growing bigger every day, and here was proof of that at a vape lounge in SoHo. Everyone in the store seemed excited by its presence. Even people who had never heard of Bitcoin asked the vape lounge employees about the machine. What was the point of Bitcoin? Why should they buy some? How did the machine work? Could they try it out now?
For Holden Matarazzo, Bitcoin was nothing new. I found the artist’s website through coinmap.org, and upon discovering that he accepted Bitcoin as payment for his work, I sat down with him in The Henley Vaporium to talk about his art, his Bitcoin usage, and his hopes for the future.
Emily Braun: On your website, I can see that you work with a wide variety of styles, and you label them accordingly. Where do all of these different styles come from, and which is most representative of your current work?
Holden Matarazzo: Some of the styles, honestly, are older works. Right now, I’m concentrating mostly on the blue paintings. I’m not really a big fan of doing the same thing over and over. I don’t want to have one style become my marketable sense of identity as an artist and just keep repeating that single style. So I go through phases with my artwork.
Braun: Are you an artist full time? And have you always lived in New York?
Matarazzo: Yeah, I’ve been painting forever. I’ve lived everywhere. I went to college in Chicago, lived in New Mexico for a while… Now, I spend a lot of my time going between here and Italy. And just to tie that into Bitcoin, well, Bitcoin is great for that. Getting money between here and Italy is a royal pain in the ass, so I’d go through Local Bitcoins.
Braun: What’s the viewpoint on Bitcoin in Italy?
Matarazzo: It seems like people in Italy are just getting to know it. Italy’s very different economically right now than [the United States]. Here, it’s like everything in life, you have to pay for it. The mentality in Italy is more like, “Hey, you know, let’s get together, and you’ll do something for me, and then we’ll cook dinner together.” It’s not as much of a currency-based system for a lot of things. In Italy, people are more receptive, once they understand Bitcoin, to say, “Oh yeah, oh sure, let’s do this. I’ll take this thing.”
Braun: And how did you first hear about Bitcoin?
Matarazzo: 4Chan, of all places. The asshole of the Internet. It was a long time ago, and when I first heard about it, I was confused. I didn’t really understand it. The barrier to entry, intellectually, is kind of difficult. Especially when it was really new, and there wasn’t the rush because of money. People were more focused on the ideology and the technological aspects of Bitcoin.
Braun: How would you describe Bitcoin to someone who doesn’t know much about it?
Matarazzo: It’s the Internet. A really good analogy for me is, “You use email, Facebook, all of these things… well, they’re all built on this technology and this protocol that we call the Internet. Bitcoin is the actual Internet. It’s a foundation.”
Braun: What do you think the most exciting aspect of it is?
Matarazzo: For me personally, maybe the clandestine nature of it. I mean, there’s so many things that it’s hard to pick. Obviously, I see the usefulness of it with my experiences in Italy. But even further, it has potential in the third world with all of the unbanked people, people who lack access to the control of their own money and how it’s used. That’s really fascinating. And I like the idea that you have this sort of perfect ledger that’s mutually agreed on by everyone. You can use Bitcoin to make transactions that aren’t necessarily open to the scrutiny by the powers that may be. With Bitcoin, you avoid any limitations on control, on what you choose to do with the profits of your labor. And I think that’s great.
Braun: What do you think needs to happen for Bitcoin to reach everyone?
Matarazzo: More things like that (points at Bitcoin ATM). That one’s really simple to use, actually. I bought some before you got here, just to test it, and I got them on my phone instantly. I’m one of those people… I don’t really spend bitcoins. I just trade them. But immediately after I bought some and sat down, a couple people came in, looked at the Bitcoin ATM, went over to the baristas here and started talking about Bitcoin.
Braun: Have you ever made purchases with Bitcoin?
Matarazzo: Yeah, my first joy, my true world test of Bitcoin was to see if I could go buy a beer with it. And so, the first thing I bought with bitcoins was a beer at a bar called Old Man Hustle. This was a couple years back, so I hope it’s still open. So I asked them, “I can buy a beer with Bitcoin?” and they said yes. So I ended up getting drunk, and I paid for everything with Bitcoin.
Braun: My boyfriend and I used to go to this restaurant in Park Slope called Aperitivo, and we’d buy the whole meal with bitcoins. Appetizers, drinks, dessert… but it closed down a little while ago.
Matarazzo: I think that’s the thing, that even though Bitcoin went through this huge bubble, the universal mentality has become more negative. Early adaptors are suffering. But I think it’s going to come back.
Braun: Do you get a lot of people buying your artwork with Bitcoin?
Matarazzo: Yeah, a couple. I mean, I definitely give a discount. I’ve only sold a couple small things with Bitcoin, and I think that’s because I haven’t done that much to promote it. I list it on my website as a payment method, but surprisingly, no one has really asked about it. I haven’t really put it at the forefront.
Braun: What are your hopes for Bitcoin?
Matarazzo: It’s hard to say. I want more egalitarian distribution. I feel like we’re still in the distribution phase. I mean, I don’t really know what that will do for the price of it. I personally really love alt coins. I think one of the main problems that Bitcoin will have is early adaptors having a really big share, a really unfair advantage. And I don’t know how to mitigate that, but I think it’ll be fixed with time. So as far as hopes, I hope that the distribution becomes fair.
– Emily Braun