An illustrator turned digital painter, goldcat is passionate about the unequaled opportunities that digital ownership has given artists. The Christie’s artist tells Ola Kalejaye what she loves about Tezos and the importance of making art for its own sake.
When produced by goldcat, figurative art has the unmistakable rawness of her signature “melancholic essence.” The illustrator turned digital painter says she takes an improvisational approach when it comes to creating her images, despite an output that never fails to feel perfectly composed. Ultimately, what matters is ensuring that the emotions and energy of her initial sketches carry through to the final image. “I never know how a painting will end up looking and that’s what excites me,” she says. “The first marks are instinctive, the rest is discovery.”
While much of her work has evolved from her self-taught lessons as a freelance illustrator, she attributes a non-negligible portion of her style to portraiture, and an instructor who encouraged her to take more risks. “My art is a constant balance of the sensitive and the bold,” she explains. “Erratic, passionate brushstrokes next to the gentlest and most honest lines.”
Now one of the few artists who can say she has auctioned work at the legendary Christie's auction house, goldcat found her first artistic influences dotted around her grandmother’s apartment. Her grandmother was married first to an artist, then to an art collector, meaning that the space was invariably filled with various paintings and sculptures. Although she never quite understood them, the works left an indelible mark on goldcat who, though born in Germany, was raised in Kenya.
goldcat remembers creating art without intentionality early on. Indeed, she recalls travelling to university one day and realising she had lost her entire art portfolio. A bad omen, she thought at the time. University was followed by “a few years of business classes and depressing jobs,” which eventually saw her discover fantasy illustration. She was 27 at the time, and decided to swap the boardroom for the stylus. Well, not quite. She wrote a business plan for herself, and never looked back. Omen overcome.
goldcat’s interest in digital painting was born partly out of necessity. Working from the tiny desk in her bedroom, the medium was the only artistic outlet that did not require more space, time, or money than she had available. It was certainly enough for her to begin her career as a illustrator.
“I cherish those who focus on what can’t be taken away.”
goldcat cut her teeth as a freelancer for just shy of half a decade, illustrating game assets and book covers. It was good work that allowed her to refine her craft, but soon grew stale. “I loved the freelance life, but the jobs increasingly bored me,” she notes, recalling the signal to switch pursuits. Resolving to find more creative fulfillment, goldcat decided to dive headfirst into the ultra-competitive, but closely-related, world of concept art. Soon after, in February 2021, she discovered NFTs.
Having seen a couple of her illustrator friends use the hashtag #nft on Instagram, goldcat became curious about the new subculture she saw emerging on social media. Like most, she was initially confused by this niche art movement, though that confusion quickly gave way to intrigue.
There was one minor complication however. A staunch environmentalist, the Ethereum network that hosted, and continues to host, the lion's share of NFTs was too energy intensive in 2021 for goldcat's liking. Those concerns, alongside Ethereum's high transaction costs at the time, drove goldcat to an alternative smart contract blockchain in Tezos, which had used an energy-efficient proof-of-stake mechanism since launching in 2018.
By the time that she was minting art on the Tezos blockchain, goldcat had found many more reasons to stay than just its higher energy efficiency. “I really enjoyed the vibe among Tezos artists too,” she explains. “It wasn't collector-focused but artist-focused, so the culture was very chill and experimentative, which, in my eyes, is perfect for art to thrive.”
Since then, of course, Ethereum has adopted a similar proof-of-stake mechanism, taking its energy consumption to less than that of a typical global corporation, like PayPal. That makes Ethereum justifiable in goldcat's mind, though for now she admits that the Tezos art scene has captured her heart.
Due to the timing of her entrance into web3, goldcat has held a front-row seat to both the breathless euphoria of the 2021 bull market, which saw art sales flying largely off the strength of speculative trading, and the despair of the following year's bear market, when that came to a dramatic halt. It has been a particular challenge for the artistic community, many of whom have been forced to return to the types of salaried jobs they had hoped to leave behind.
That is not to say that the bear market was all bad, mind. Aside from some personal, professional milestones, goldcat has seen those who have remained in the space coalesce around a more authentic and sustainable mindset, freed of the speculative pressure that left the web3 space quicker than anything else. As she explains, “The Wagmi culture has disappeared. There are fewer get-rich-quick projects and founders, and we can all now tell who is genuine.”
“I am absolutely convinced that digital ownership is a huge deal and an unequaled opportunity for artists.”
Still, goldcat suggests that the material pressure of lower sales and interest across the market has made artistic camaraderie a rarer sight. “So much hope died along with the bull market, and the bitterness can be draining at times,” she laments. “I cherish those who focus on what can't be taken away: the love for art, the exchange of it, and personal as well as artistic growth.” goldcat hopes that artists take heed of their bear market lessons, and put them into practice during the next bull cycle.
There are other things that she hopes for moving forward: that the NFT art market can separate itself from the cryptocurrency price action; that artists take a longer-term approach to their work rather than worrying about individual drops; and that artists band together to create the things they want to see in the space rather than, in her words, “wishing for them to appear magically.”
No matter the challenges that NFT artists are facing at the moment, goldcat urges a focus on the fundamentals that drew artists to the space in droves in the first place. “I was and still am absolutely convinced that digital ownership is a huge deal and an unequaled opportunity for artists like me.”
Ola is a US–based writer and digital nomad. He loves thinking, learning, and writing about all things web3, particularly its impact on major creative industries like film and art.
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