Before becoming an NFT art pioneer, Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, had never even considered himself an artist. But all of that changed when he famously sold the third most expensive artwork in the world. Let’s look at who exactly Beeple is and how he became an overnight sensation.
Who is Beeple?
In the very oversaturated NFT market, Beeple is by far the most prestigious and famous NFT artist in the world. Aside from being the third most valuable living artist alive, he is also the first person to feature purely digital artwork at a major auction house. The legendary NFT sale of $69.34 million put him on the map and essentially turned an unknown creator into an overnight success story.
Beeple Before NFTs
Born in 1981, Michael Winkelmann began his career as a humble computer science graduate from Wisconsin. A graphic designer who designed corporate websites on freelance projects. Before Beeple entered the mainstream art circuit, he worked on a number of projects for some of the most renowned companies and events such as the MTV VMAs, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Apple, or the Super Bowl. He has also worked on short films and concert visuals for performing artists such as Childish Gambino, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Shakira and Justin Bieber.
Beeple’s first solo project began in 2007 when he created and posted a piece of digital art every day. With a wide range of themes, his artwork includes political impressions as well as abstracts and satires. He began with drawings but changed to digital art using programs such as Octane and Cinema 4D. He has been committed to this project ever since. Posting an image every day online for over ten years without missing a single day, including his wedding and the birth of his two sons.
When did Beeple first enter the spotlight?
In 2020, Beeple first learned about NFTs and started exploring the potential of the blockchain. His initial NFT images sold for only $100 at most. However, as recognition for his art increased, his NFT collection began to be auctioned off at an astounding rate. In a span of a few months, Beeple’s digital drawings started selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The buzz around Beeple caught the attention of even the classical fine art world, namely Christie’s, the world-renowned private auction house.
As the first-ever piece of fully digital art featured on a major auction house, Beeple marked this significant milestone for digital art history. During this auction, Beeple provided his pièce de résistance, “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” NFT. – a collage of 5000 images from the before mentioned passion project of 13 years. Much to everyone’s surprise, Beeples collage sold for a final eye-catching price of $69.34 million during the 2-week long auction. Since then, the digital artist has become an overnight sensation, breaking headlines and landing interviews at some of the most famous talk shows such as Jimmy Fallon or Joe Rogan podcast.
His most recent auction, also at Christie’s, featured a physical seven-foot-tall sculpture made of 4 LED screens called the “Human One”. On the screens, there are dystopian landscapes and a person wearing an astronaut suit going places no human has gone before (much like Beeple). An all-out bidding war ensued over the NFT, earning Beeple close to $29 million dollars.
Digital Breakthrough In The Art World
Beeple’s story illustrates quite well how digital artists and artists in general can monetize their passion sustainably. Art flipping (the process in which a collector purchases a piece of work and immediately resells it) is typically despised in the traditional art world. NFTs, however, differ from the traditional art market. Through the use of smart contracts, the blockchain can create a set of rules that govern the future use of the token. Flipping is therefore encouraged instead of frowned upon.
In Beeple’s case, the contract will allow him to earn money while others speculate on his work. Ten percent of every sale made on the secondary market goes to him (a standard in the NFT industry). Hence, NFTs allow artists to be rewarded as their work grows for eternity and potentially generations.