Most Influential Artist: Trevor and Violet Jones

The artist couple collaborated for the first time ever on their painting of Alexey Pertsev, the developer arrested for his role in creating Tornado Cash.

AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 1:41 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 28, 2023 at 2:22 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 1:41 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 28, 2023 at 2:22 p.m. UTC
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Trevor and Violet Jones have been together for eight years. They work out of the same studio in Edinburgh, Scotland, and learned about crypto art at the same time – early.

“I had my Crypto Disruption exhibition in 2018,” Trevor says, a collection of oil paintings with subjects like John McAfee that featured augmented reality. Some people bought the works online directly from Trevor, which surprised him. He was used to buyers entrusting commercial galleries with their transactions, not individual painters.

Still, he didn’t hear about non-fungible tokens until Manchester’s CoinFest conference in April 2019. “Everything he learns, I learn,” says Violet. Trevor dropped his first NFT in 2019, and she followed shortly after in January 2020.

"#Free Alexey" (Trevor Jones and Violet Jones/CoinDesk)
"#Free Alexey" (Trevor Jones and Violet Jones/CoinDesk)

More: An NFT of this work was sold at auction on Coinbase NFT. A percentage of the sale went to oneearth.org.

This “Most Influential” piece is their first collaboration, and it went … OK? The couple tells CoinDesk how they managed to compromise and tackle such a serious subject as Alexey Pertsev, the developer arrested for his role in creating the sanctioned crypto “mixer,” Tornado Cash. “We’re not making a statement,” Violet says of their piece. “We’re just putting it out there for interpretation.”

What was your first piece of NFT art, and why did you make it an NFT?

Violet: I'm an oil painter now, but my background is in film. I thought in a digital space, maybe I should start with a film. Everybody was trying to find their feet back then. There wasn't an obvious recipe for how to make NFTs. When I decided to start with film, it was a huge challenge, because back then there was no sound. It was only GIF format, which was about 10 megabytes. I got inspired by Hemingway’s story in a sentence. I thought, I bet I can make a sentence of a film with a gif.

Trevor: Hers was probably the very first NFT film.

V: The challenge was how to tell a story in a loop that is going to have the beginning, middle and end. It’s called “Master Chef,” a horror-type film, and I sold it.

T: Mine was “ETH Girl” with Alotta Money. I’d been working on a series of Picasso-inspired paintings infused with crypto themes and iconography. I still wasn’t thinking about NFTs, but by the end of 2018, I started talking to Alotta, and he asked if I wanted to collaborate. He animated the painting, which we dropped in December. That was a record-making NFT sale at the time, for 70 ETH, or about $10,000. That really opened the eyes of artists in the space who realized there is an opportunity to make a living from selling NFTs.

How did you two decide to collaborate on this “Most Influential” piece?

V: To my surprise – because Trevor’s done collaborations with everybody apart from me – Trevor suggested it. He's been enjoying my recent series of paintings.

T: I thought it was a good opportunity because we’ve never collaborated on a painting.

V: We criticize each other's paintings constantly.

T: I know there's a lot of collectors out there who will be intrigued by this, because we have different collectors and some who buy both our works. I just thought it would be a good idea, and now I’m regretting every minute of it. [They laugh.]

V: There were some disagreements.

What disagreements?

V: I’m a portrait painter.

T: But CoinDesk said they didn’t just want a portrait painting. I started thinking about how we could make an abstract painting with symbolic references to tell Alexey’s story.

V: I was like, I want a face, I need a face.

T: We fought a lot about that.

V: Then we compromised. Now there’s half a face.

T: I didn't have a choice. I either had to agree or get divorced.

How did you decide on the composition?

V: We read Alexey’s story and wrote down all the important elements.

T: Then we used an artificial intelligence program called DALL-E to help with the composition. The text prompts that we punched into DALL-E were “young man with glasses, portrait, 3-D rendered, abstract, chaos, prison, tornado, handcuffs, North Korean flag, Russian flag, Web3, red, white, and blue” (because the Netherlands is where he was arrested). DALL-E generated more than 110 images.

Is there anything about Alexey’s work or experience in the crypto/blockchain industry that you can relate to?

V: The moment open-source coding becomes a threat to any countries or establishments means there is some control taken away and given to the people. I'm not sure if it translates, but bypassing the traditional institutions and doing NFTs would be for us something like that – taking control over our work and skipping the middlemen. That’s a stretch, because nobody's going to arrest us for our art.

T: Another very far-reaching link is when I introduced technology into my paintings, like QR codes and augmented reality in 2013. The more I became fascinated with technology, the more the legacy art world rejected me. When you're innovating, there’s always the potential of pissing somebody off.

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

T: We're not going anywhere.

V: Definitely. We see ourselves staying in the space, building, contributing. We’d both like to have a show with Christie's, but there might be something bigger, better, because this space changes so fast. All we can say for sure is we're staying, and we'll keep creating.

T: An artist who is worried about the ups and downs of the market and uses that as an excuse to affect their work or leave this space, they’re not really in this space. When I got in at the end of 2017, it was the last crypto crash bloodbath. I didn't even realize what a bloodbath it was – I just kept working through it, hoping to sell something, and I was very happy with how things turned out. Now we're back in a shitty market, but there's still so much happening and so many great artists to work with. There’s no reason to be anywhere else but here.

Do you think you'll collaborate again on a painting?

V: Oh definitely!

T: No way!

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Jessica  Klein

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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