Seth Tillett • Artist Spotlight

Seth Tillett is a digital artist, theater and film-maker with deep roots in NYC's cultural scene. His friendships with JM Basquiat, Rammellzee, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Grand Master Flash and many others resulted in a trove of rare photos, videos and recordings which together form a hitherto unpublished history of New York's creative worlds.

What got you in to Crypto art?

I've always made intangible, fleeting artworks, including a lot of theater that, once the curtain falls, no one sees again. I’ve also created a lot of fugitive digital art in AR and VR spaces, most recently with the David Bowie archives. But the blockchain gives me a way to seize these kind of works and trade them, so that I can sustain and develop my practice and focus on it fully. The crypto art world is also decentralized in that it bypasses museums, galleries, critics and the many gatekeepers of the established art world. At least for now. Power is starting to aggregate, as it always does. But people are on to it. And I’m still thrilled by direct contact with collectors, however hard it is to reach them. That struggle is worth it. So far.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Everywhere. In the streets and the museums, online and in daily experience. In the works and above all the music made by artists I admire. I’m also fascinated by the physics of the natural world at every scale. Quantum mechanics is more mysterious and inspiring than anything humanity can dream up. Meanwhile I’ve documented much of what I’ve encountered for my own archives and inspiration. I’m organizing and minting these artifacts now because I see that they have the capacity to inspire others as well.

What do you think of traditional artwork?

There's no such thing as traditional art. Each generation breaks the tradition of the previous generation. That’s the one tradition in art since the cave painters. Art history is a series of thrilling leaps. So there is no uninteresting period and no tradition that doesn’t interest me. Look at Basquiat. He quoted every art movement back to the Mesopotamians. His floor was covered with open encyclopedias and art books. He was always studying, growing his vocabulary. The better to aim his wrecking ball. But if you don’t know the past you can’t break it, or even pass it. You're doomed to repeat it. And that’s how boring art gets made, in the ignorance of what came before.

Do you think your art is fulfilling a purpose?

Many purposes. Sometimes personal, if my work helps me see the world in a new way. Sometimes social, if I can share what I see. Often political, if I depict things as I encounter them, for example here in the South Bronx, or if I layer them, through various pictorial technologies, with dreams of something better, or maybe nightmares. That serves a purpose. At least I tell myself that. Building beauty alone serves a purpose because evolving what is beautiful is a part of how we evolve our world.

How did you start out as an artist?

I've been drawing since my earliest memory. I grew up in a household of driven creative people and left school as soon as it was legal. I’ve always been making art of one kind or another, first drawing & painting, then theater, music and film, then digital and virtual works. All of it lead me directly to what I’m doing now.

Who or what inspires your work?

I’m born and raised in New York, so again, streets and whatever moves on them. The sublime and chaotic, the gritty and ecstatic, the impure and marginal, the accidental and untamable. I’m drawn to anything that defies my control as an artist. I’m fascinated by technical errors and what they reveal about us and our machines. I love ruins, risks, the unreasonable. As soon as I know what I’m doing I move on. I avoid mastery, glitz, skulls, spacemen, prettiness, and explanations. But I study constantly. Especially others. My work is about the people I love (and hate), the books I read, the art I see and the artists I know. I’ve always sought the company of artists because they need to be continually astonished. So the stakes are high. But I’m most inspired by musicians because theirs is the most mysterious and moving expression, the art that needs the least commentary.

Which other artist(s) so you admire?

RAMMELZEE, Miles Davis, Iskra Velitchkova, ARCA, Duchamp, Sly Stone, Basquiat, Eggleston, Goya, DEAFBEEF, Lautreamont, Gordon Matta Clark, Arto Lindsay, Charlie Parker… it’s endless. I’ve been lucky enough to have known a few of those. There is nothing better for your own growth than to hang with the artists you admire. Also nothing scarier.

Final question, what is next for you as an artist?

Besides minting more documentary artifacts, I’m building a new suite of audio/visual works coupled with a virtual gallery where I can show artists I care about who have yet to brave this space -plus a few who can’t, ever. NFTs can provide a mechanism for trading major works from all eras, not just from living artists. Imagine kicking back royalties from ongoing sales to an artist’s estate. It never happens. But now it can. Besides, we have daring new collectors with the courage and the means to make this fly. And I’m throwing down. I’m about to mint an NFT + physical of a fully authenticated hand torn Xerox collage by Jean Michel Basquiat, one with a fascinating context and backstory. So stay tuned for that!

We would like to thank Seth Tillett for giving up their time to collaborate on this with us.