Most Influential Artist: Federico Solmi

The Italian artist, a resident of New York City, created a 3D image of Vitalik Buterin and the Ethereum developers for their role orchestrating The Merge, the most consequential upgrade in blockchain history.

AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 2:58 p.m. UTC
Updated Dec 6, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 2:58 p.m. UTC
Updated Dec 6, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. UTC

Before the coronavirus pandemic, before non-fungible tokens picked up speed, Federico, 49, had a collector who’d come by his studio to discuss his work. “In 2019, he told me my work would be great as crypto art and I should consider NFTs,” Federico says. “I said, ‘What is crypto art?’”

This collector turned out to be one of the most influential in the crypto space (Federico didn’t say who), but he’d picked on something in Federico’s work that would lend itself to the NFT sphere.

“Since 2003, I was combining digital and gaming technology with drawings and paintings,” Federico, who’s Italian but has been based in New York City since 1999, says. “It was a natural transition for me to start developing work for the crypto space.”

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"The V God" (Federico Solmi/CoinDesk)

What was the first ever piece of NFT art that you made, and why did you decide to make it an NFT?

My first NFT series was called “The Smokers,” a collection of five NFTs connected to my political body of work. It includes leaders like Donald Trump smoking cigars, wearing all their fake gold medals from the battlefield – it’s a satirical piece.

I fell in love with NFTs because you have 15, 20 seconds to tell a story. You have to be very direct and immediately capture viewers’ attention. When I do work for the gallery, my videos usually last five to ten minutes, so it’s much easier to build a compelling story. NFTs were a great growth for me, to see art that could be much more direct and less narrative.

What were some of your main considerations when creating your “Most Influential” portrait of Vitalik Buterin and the ETH developers working on the merge?

A lot of my work tries to investigate political leaders. With the Vitalik Buterin piece, I wanted to create a huge monument, like how the Romans created monuments of their gods, in which Vitalik is a hero for the new order of finance and the future world. It’s a tribute to a normal person that, through mass media, was elevated to the stature of a gigantic meme.

What were some of the artistic decisions you made to convey that in your piece?

I wanted to make something that was completely unexpected, with Vitalik becoming a statue like the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” It uses ambiguous images to make it grotesque and funny, to show the ridiculous aspect of elevating a 30-year-old to the status of a god. It’s a very theatrical tribute to a contemporary god.

I treat a contemporary myth like an ancient myth. In a way, I collapse the idea of time, so we live in an imaginary time. The atmosphere of the piece belongs to a post-physical world, so we feel that this sculpture is in a pixelized world.

Who/what are your main artistic influences?

Most of my inspirations are writers. Over the past few years, I was very influenced by Howard Zinn, an American historian, and Noam Chomsky. My goal was always to use art as a vehicle for social commentary. I always found the art world very polite, very careful, and I was looking at how to counter-attack the madness of society, so these writers were always a big part of my inspiration.

Where do you see yourself in the NFT art world moving forward?

In the past few years, I've been very active. I take the work extremely seriously. NFTs were an incredible new challenge, and I see myself continuing to explore this media. This world is in the making, and we don't know exactly how it's going to evolve. But I’m confident that the artists creating here have a lot of talent. And [the format] speaks to the younger generation. They recognize themselves in NFTs more than gallery artwork.


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Jessica Klein is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Fortune, The New York Times, and other publications. She is currently a contributing reporter at The Fuller Project, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to reporting on issues that affect women.

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