Beeple a.k.a. Mike Winkelmann is the de facto face of the NFT movement. Hot off the heels of another epic sale (his hybrid physical/digital generative sculpture, “Human One,” sold at Christie’s for $29 million USD on November 11, 2021), Winkelmann sat down with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show to break down how he went from creating digital artwork every day for 14 years to selling NFTs for millions of dollars.
What’s in a name? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of Beeple at this point - but where did that name come from? Winkelmann got his pseudonym from a 1980’s toy, called a Beeple. “It was an ewok-looking thing that beeps and lights up - it was never really that popular,” he clarifies.
Winkelmann has been creating digital art with Cinema 4D and growing his following over the last 20 years but, until the recent rise of NFT technology - or non-fungible tokens - there was no way for anyone to collect his work the way one might collect a Warhol or Rembrandt. When NFTs finally arrived in the mainstream (the first NFT project dates back to 2015), they enabled virtual ownership, so art collectors could begin purchasing Beeple’s work just as they do with physical pieces like paintings and sculptures. Things for Winkelmann quickly took off, and the rest is history.
Winkelmann famously sold his “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” the first NFT artwork to go up for auction at a major auction house, for a record $69 million USD back in March 2021. Before that? The most he had sold pieces for was about $100 USD here and there. The sale made Winkelmann one of the world’s top three most valuable living artists.
He explains, “I wasn’t trying to sell work like that - you could sell prints but generally artists didn’t do that too much. They just weren’t as excited about it, whereas NFTs being natively digital makes people very excited.”
Winkelmann’s latest sale, “Human One,” is a fascinating glimpse at what the future of art may hold. Part digital and part physical, the piece is a kinetic video sculpture with a corresponding dynamic NFT. It is designed to continuously display artwork that will evolve over time at the hands of Beeple himself; he will have remote access to the artwork and creative control over its content forever.
“I think what’s exciting about this piece is that it’s more analogous to the future of art in that we’ll have pieces in our homes that continue to change. It’s not just a static painting that exists and it is what it is - I think we’re going to have more things like this,” says Winkelmann on The Tonight Show.
For anyone looking to break into the digital art scene and become a creator themselves, Winkelmann adds, “There are a ton of tutorials and free software out there; it’s something that takes a lot of work and practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. I think we’re going to see a lot more artists take this approach as a way to monetize their work and earn a living.”
Watch Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann’s full conversation with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show here.