Fine Art Meets Bitcoin: The Rise of the Aesthetic Paper Wallet
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Fine art meets bitcoin cold storage in Troy Fearow’s “labour of love”, CryptoArt, a project that took the fine art dealer 8 months to construct and launch.
Troy searches for and commissions high level artists, starting with Alexander Fedosov of the Ukraine, to produce fine art paper wallets in limited editions. These prints are meant for bitcoiners who wish to store their bitcoin safely and show them off in a beautiful way. And these prints are going fast.
Troy refers to these 8.15 x 11 printed art pieces as “Crypto Certificates” and are the size of traditional stock certificates – a beautiful juxtaposition of old meeting new investing. They can be framed and hung on walls, or stood up on tables. Currently, four hypersurreal prints are available, in ‘Patriot’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Bobby’ and ‘Chinese Girl’ style.
Every piece of art showcases a public key in a QR code form, which you can send bitcoin to. On the back of every piece of artwork is the private key. Every piece can be loaded with currency, unloaded, collected or traded, or kept for one’s enjoyment.
Troy has been a fine art dealer for over 15 years, and has a background in investments. He discovered bitcoin a few years ago through a friend, and has since been encouraging his group of friends and people he meets to look into the technology. He, like many bitcoiners, gives bitcoin away for free just to encourage adoption. I spoke with Troy over Skype to uncover the purpose for this project and learn about his intentions with this business.
Victoria: Troy, what is the impetus behind this project?
Troy: The idea is to find really talented artists who can comment on the crypto movement and create fine paper wallets. My vision is to create another physical form of bitcoin; with any luck, the wallets themselves will increase in value along with the bitcoin they store. I want people to be able to view their bitcoins, know that they’re safe.
Victoria: So it’s a win-win, a double-investment, if you will. Investing in art and in bitcoin at the same time. Tell me, how did you find the first artist you feature, Alexander Fedosov?
Troy: I own fine-art.com and have a database of thousands of artists. I actually don’t remember how I found Alexander; I literally searched thousands of websites trying to find the right one. Someone appealing. I wanted the art to be… a little anti-establishment, but not offensive. I am a big fan of hyperrealism. When I see people illustrate something that… looks so real, that speaks as fine art to me. I am very selective of the artists who will contribute to this project, and I prefer realism. This project is really a labour of love for me. I don’t want to churn out art, and I have turned some submissions down, unfortunately. But it’s time to give the bitcoin community some artistic attention.
Victoria: Tell me about the process. When I purchase a piece of art from your site, what can I expect?
Troy: First of all, currently, I ship everywhere I possibly can. So, after you visit www.cryptoart.com and of course fill in your details and pay (the site now accepts bitcoin), I send it to you. When you receive it, you’ll see on the front of the art piece a QR code. This is simply your public bitcoin address. You can scan this with your phone and even transfer bitcoin from your phone to the piece. At anytime, you can scan your art to find out your current balance using an application like www.bitcoinbalance.com. It takes you to blockchain.info and tells you how many bitcoins are on it. On the back, if you turn it over, you’ll see a security stick that is on some media. The private key is under that.
Victoria: Is that safe?
Troy: I wanted the art to be trustless. I suggest people remove the security sticker and put another private key on the back; you can do this without damaging the art print. Take the sercurity sticker off, go to bitaddress.org and print off a new private key. I actually went through quite a bit of trial and error with this, going through many publishers, printers, and had a project engineer. There are many things I had to worry about: acidity levels, media types, copper at one point… It was quote a process to get this working perfectly without damaging the art piece! Even the pixels for the public QR code match the print off you get from websites.
Victoria: It sounds like you put a lot of thought into making sure this was done properly.
Troy: Yes, I want it to be beautiful, but I also wanted to make sure the utility was there. The art piece itself is a standard 8.5 x 11, so you can easily frame it. You could even keep all your different art pieces in a binder and show everyone your bitcoin! I am working on producing larger pieces as well, which will also follow standard sizing.
Victoria: These would make for great gifts. I already want to gift some to my cousins to get them into bitcoin. It seems like a way to make bitcoin more accessible, for people to actually touch and feel their holdings.
Troy: You can definitely gift them. It’s a beautiful gift idea. You will also notice that each piece has a suggested denomination of bitcoin ranging from 10 millibits for the Patriot [and] up to 1 bitcoin for the Chinese Girl. You could even preload these and gift them. Eventually, I will create larger paper wallets that will say ‘infinity bitcoin’ on them. That’s more of a piece you would frame. And, of course, you can overload any one of these pieces; those denominations are simply suggestions.
Victoria: I love the idea of this. The combination of art and bitcoin, of making bitcoin more tangible for people and increasing the adoption of the technology through this medium. What does bitcoin mean to you?
Troy: Bitcoin is open for interpretation. As far as my personal opinion, coming from a finance background, I am a huge believer. There’s so much infrastructure [being created], so much professional institutional interest… it’s going to catch up with the early adopters. I’ve been watching it for a while. I saw the first run up to $30, then saw the crash. Then I saw the run up to $260, then saw the crash. Every crash is followed by a lull, and we kind of seem to be in that lull again. At the same time, we have really sophisticated infrastructure being built, and of course you have a lot of the space developing with alt-currencies happening; it’s all very interesting. I personally haven’t seen anything that could replace bitcoin. [But] expect to see alt-currency cryptoart, as well.
Troy and Alexander’s beautiful artwork paper wallets have been a hit in person, garnering him attention and lots of positive feedback at meetup groups and fairs. Even without the prints on display, just the idea of bitcoin on artwork struck a chord with the bitcoiners he interacted with. Several people came up with the idea of the huge potential of social tipping: where the public can ‘tip’ micropayments for artwork they enjoy. These ‘tips’ could go to the artist or even to the institution that displays the art.
Troy is releasing limited edition runs at 200 prints maximum per design. He plans on taking his time to acquire really great artists, develop a strong following and ensure the “quality is there.” Bitcoin is on speed, but for Troy and his beautiful art, it’s lovely knowing that someone is taking their time and doing it right.
For now, Troy is thrilled to have launched his “labour of love” and is encouraged by the positive response cryptoart has received so far. “It’s so wonderful to meet other bitcoiners,” he laughs. “I introduced bitcoin to a lot of my friends and circles. To go to a conference and all of a sudden be in a room with hundreds of bitcoiners… it’s nice to know I’m not crazy.”
I now have the Army girl hanging in my office for every visitor to see. The art arrived well packed, in layers of bubble wrap and foam peanuts and was just a thrill to open and admire. Having cryptoart not only allows me to admire my bitcoin, but acts as a point of discussion for anyone who visits. Visit www.cryptoart.com to purchase your own paper wallet.
Hint: Stay tuned for more articles on the power of social tipping + art.