Sometimes, my Instagram browsing turns into something a little bit more productive, like when I happened upon the Bitcoin-related artwork of Emily Clanton. The particular painting that I found depicted the Trezor hardware wallet, and I was intrigued by the idea of painting innovative technology in such a traditional way. While today’s link between art and technology is undeniable, I’m used to seeing technological topics represented in equally technological ways, so Clanton’s still life of a cutting edge Bitcoin wallet stood out to me.
Clanton, who describes herself as an artist, book lover, and social media geek, recently decided to leave her full-time position with a startup publisher to devote all of her time to her art. “I was the Social Media Manager for Booktrope, and after three & a half years of promoting the creative projects of others, I decided it was time to put my full focus onto my own work,” she told me.
She’s working on several different projects, and each one has its own dedicated website – for example, on Ratios and Recipes, you can find her experiments with Japanese paintings and paint making. Colors of Bitcoin is home to her Bitcoin-focused artwork, including the painting that led me to discover her!
Emily Braun: What inspires your artwork? What themes do you explore?
Emily Clanton: Short answer? People! The long version? As an INFJ personality type, my inner circle is fairly small, but I’m hugely interested in human beings and how they work – from the micro level of individuals and relationships to macro-scale social movements, communities, and civilizations. When I make work, it tends to focus on individuals as pieces of a greater whole.
Braun: I saw that you’re interested in creating your own dyes and experimenting with materials. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Clanton: As I painter, I have worked in acrylics for as long as I can remember. I love the versatility of water-based media. After college, I worked in Japan for 3 years, and during this time, I became enamored of nihonga painting. Nihonga is made with water-based paints that use inorganic minerals as the colorants.
Over the past two years, I’ve been researching nihonga-style painting. One of the biggest challenges, however, has been the cost of more traditional materials. So I’ve developed a workaround where I use dyes made from organic plant material. It takes a few more steps to make stable dyes, but I believe it’s worth the effort. This form of watercolor painting is less forgiving than acrylics, but the work feels so much more meaningful when I have made my own paint.
Braun: Who are some of your favorite artists?
Clanton: I love Alice Neel and the portraiture of Alex Katz. I’m a fan of John Currin’s earlier work – word of caution: Currin’s newer paintings are very NSFW. My contemporary favs (in no particular order) include Hollis Dunlap, Tim Okamura, Junko Mizuno, Ikenaga Yasunari, and Takashi Murakami. Honorable mentions for Nan Golden, Cindy Sherman, John Waters, and Megumi Igarashi.
Braun: How did you get involved in Bitcoin? What inspired you to create Bitcoin-related artwork?
Clanton: I’m a big fan of alternative media. I abandoned cable news as an exclusive source a long time ago, so I’ve been following Bitcoin & cryptocurrency news in a general way for a few years. Over the past two years, my husband has gotten really involved in Bitcoin. He even started mining. Since then, not a day goes by that we don’t discuss some aspect of Bitcoin.
These conversations made me more interested in making art that features Bitcoin in different ways. I enjoy taking items that have been made to be smooth, flat, & purely functional and rendering them in a more textural way. To me, this reflects the humans who have developed, supported, and used the technology.
Braun: I love your painting of the Trezor hardware wallet (above). Do you own or use it? Why did it interest you as subject matter for a painting?
Clanton: My husband has a Trezor and was kind enough to let me borrow it. He carries it with him just as one would carry a physical wallet. He’s excited about having the freedom to be his own bank while combining this with the safety and ease of use that Trezor provides.
Conceptually, I find it interesting because it reminds me of an omamori – both in general shape and function. An omamori is a Japanese protection amulet. Usually, they take the form of a small embroidered pouch that has a blessed piece of paper or wood inside. It’s meant to extend a bubble of protection around the user. I like to think that a Trezor works in reverse; you can place the item that you wish to protect inside of the small case instead. It’s almost magical on that level.
Braun: I’m really interested in the integration of technology and artwork – and the changes that can potentially come with it. What do you think is the biggest technology-related issue artists face today?
Clanton: Technology has offered creatives of all types the chance to create opportunities that never existed in the past. The challenge in this is that you need to become your own gallery rep, PR agent, publisher, business manager, etc. (At least until you can grow your business.)
As always, the sale of art depends on building relationships and exposing people to your work. New media offers many free chances to connect; you need only invest your time. The drawback, of course, is handling potential copyright infringement by entities both large and small.
Braun: I was going to ask you if you’ve looked into ascribe, and then I saw your Tweet about it! Have you experienced copyright issues in the past, like someone claiming your work as their own? Have you tried out ascribe yet?
Clanton: Luckily, I have not experienced any copyright issues that I currently know of. But I’ve seen it happen at various levels to other artists I’m connected with through social media.
Initially, I was worried about ascribe. This summer, many creatives rallied to reject proposed changes in U.S. copyright law. These changes included vague language that seemed to benefit publishers over content creators. Specifically, it did not outline how creators could protect their work. One suggestion has been to upload work to a registry system. However, such a system could easily be gamed by large companies and entities operating outside of the United States. Individuals who have a hard time keeping up with fees inherent in such a registry might see their work “orphaned” by delayed payment, opening it to publishers who would gladly profit from such a situation.
After reading the whitepaper about ascribe, I was happy to see that it does not operate that way. Instead, ascribe uses blockchain and its terms of service to establish a legal connection between a creator and their artwork. Not only can this be helpful in establishing copyright, but I think ascribe could become a tool for certifying the authenticity of artwork.
Braun: Do you see any other potential ways that Bitcoin or the blockchain could benefit the art world?
Clanton: Creatives who are not yet aware will certainly appreciate the straightforward nature of P2P payment. (Especially when the fees are so low!) Bitcoin could also facilitate initiatives like Tip Your Artist. Well-placed QR codes could be used in tipping artists for staging enjoyable experiences.
Braun: There’s been some press this year about how the art world is generally uninterested in Bitcoin, notably an article titled Nobody Buys Art With Bitcoin. Have you encountered any such negativity?
Clanton: I love the phrasing of this question! It makes me think of The Internet from The IT Crowd. Only instead of a black box with a single red light, The Art World is a box covered in spray paint, doll hair, glitter, and nipples for days. “Oh no! The purple screen and white smoke have been activated. The Art World has rejected Bitcoin. Try again in 10 years.”
I think it’s more useful to view the art world as a huge, layered bean dip. When you seen an established publication quoting someone from a gallery or museum, it’s usually someone operating within the hardened top layer, where the most prestigious, blue-chip transactions take place. Below this, you’ll find more layers, pockets for various communities and niches, and even places where different strata mix with one another. I think a lot of the rejection is coming from the “But we’ve always done it this way!” crowd.
Another group that would probably reject Bitcoin are dealers who engage in more “creative” business practices. The transparency of transactions would make it very difficult for gallery owners to substantially delay or deny payment to artists for work sold. This isn’t to say that such things happen all the time, but it’s not a rare occurrence either. Ultimately, as with most constituencies which are (or could be) served by Bitcoin or the blockchain, adoption will be driven from the bottom up.
Braun: Have you ever bought something with Bitcoin? Have you made any Bitcoin sales?
Clanton: My husband and I have a joint account for Bitcoin. He tends to use the BTC to purchase various tech items. But we both love MeanBlackFox, licorice masterminds based in Germany. If you suffer from sinus problems during the fall and winter, it might be wise to stock up on some of their stronger salmiak licorice. It’ll open you right up! They will gladly take Bitcoin for international shipments.
So far, I have sold prints on Redbubble, but that was in Euros. I technically made a sale in Bitcoin when we launched this project, but there were problems with the Bitpay check out system. Based on my experience, I would urge small business owners to be mindful of potential limits when setting up a point of purchase through Bitpay, as currently, there are no pop-ups that remind you when creating invoices. After a very stressful experience, we moved payments over to Stripe. This way, potential buyers have the option of easily using credit cards or Bitcoin.
Braun: What are your goals for the future of your artwork?
Clanton: Short term? For Bitcoin art, I’ll make more art that features various aspects of the Bitcoin space, including portraiture of influencers and those who currently benefit from the technology. For dye painting, I’m currently planning a crowdfunding campaign in order to purchase nihonga supplies from Japan. The better I understand them, the more easily I can suggest cheaper substitutes for beginners. I will also apply funding to Japanese language course work. I can read and speak Japanese, but after eight years in the American Southeast, I need help rebuilding my technical correspondence ability. That way, I can make workable English translations of source materials and interviews with Japanese artists.
Long term, I plan on creating a book compiling information on making water-based paints and using natural pigments. My ultimate vision incorporates exposing a wider audience to nihonga, but it would also educate more people about natural dyes. Industrious readers could then grow or collect their own dye material. Or they could simply barter with other collectors. I also want to connect (and collaborate) with other creatives who support the vision of Bitcoin/the blockchain/cryptocurrency.
– Emily Braun