A simple question about Bitcoin
Illustrator and artist Andy Khun embarks on a year-long Bitcoin drawing series
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임준혁 2022년 3월5일 08:00
Illustrator and artist Andy Khun. Source: CoinDesk Korea
Illustrator and artist Andy Khun. Source: CoinDesk Korea

Andy Khun describes himself as a "part-time artist and illustrator." The self-designation is partially a sarcastic take on the snobbery of the art world, which insists on differentiating between "pure" and commercial art. This is why he goes out of his way to distinguish "illustrations" and "art."

"At the end of the day, if you're a professional artist, you create work with the intention of selling it. In that respect, all art is commercial."

But part of his title comes from a genuine desire to only do art part time, whether it's because he wants to do other things or he simply wants to take a creative break.

Khun recently embarked upon an ambitious project: a year-long series of drawings tied together by the theme of Bitcoin. The series began on Jan. 3, 2022. One drawing for every day of the year, every drawing minted as an NFT on SuperRare, a platform that distinguishes itself from giants like OpenSea by offering curated collections and a more thoughtful selection process. Not everybody who wants to can list their work on SuperRare. You have to prove that you're serious about your art.

A Bitcoin drawing in Khun's series "How to buy cheap Bitcoin with Ethereum." Provided by Khun
A Bitcoin drawing in Khun's series "How to buy cheap Bitcoin with Ethereum." Provided by Khun

"When it comes down to it, I'm all about the art," SuperRare founder co-founder and CEO John Crain once told me on a beach in Miami.

The inspiration for Khun's Bitcoin drawing series, officially titled "How to buy cheap Bitcoin with Ethereum," came from a solo exhibition Khun was holding in Taipei in the spring of 2018. The series' title derives from the ironic situation of buyers paying for drawings of Bitcoin in Ethereum.

Khun was first drawn to Bitcoin in 2017, not as an investor by simply by the volume of media attention devoted to its price surges and fluctuations.

"So I thought: Why not do some drawings on the variety of themes Bitcoin offers? The meaning of value. Authenticity versus scams. I wondered if a Bitcoin drawing could become as valuable as Bitcoin itself. It really just started as a thought experiment. A type of performance art, you could say."

I'm talking to Khun in a cafe inside Seoul's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, a short walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace and the bustling streets of Gwanghwamun Square. Khun is dressed in all black and speaks quietly. He considers his answers carefully, often pausing between sentences. He admits that he has an anti-social streak. He tends to become a shut-in when consumed by work or stress.

"I try to go running as often as possible, but haven't been too good at maintaining that habit lately." He smiles.

He says that working on a year-long drawing series requires as much physical stamina as it does mental determination and creativity. He likens the process to running a marathon. Maintaining a certain pace and mindset is important.

“Even if your leg cramps up, you keep going. Otherwise, you won’t make it.”

Khun clarifies that he still approaches Bitcoin and cryptocurrency not as an investor, but as an artist. He’s more interested in the narratives and cultural images that sprout out of Bitcoin.

"I ended up spending a lot of money out of my pocket to hold that exhibition in Taipei, which didn't produce much profit for me. Nowadays, I can't help but think: What if I'd taken that money and just bought some Bitcoin instead?" (laughs)

After NFTs burst into the mainstream in 2021, Khun got the idea of taking his Bitcoin drawings and minting them as NFTs -- perhaps even expanding it into a series. Turns out he'd become sick of holding traditional exhibitions, and NFTs offered a fresh medium.

Flower drawings Khun created as a form of protest against the Park Geun-hye government in 2017. Provided by Andy Khun
Flower drawings Khun created as a form of protest against the Park Geun-hye government in 2017. Provided by Andy Khun

I ask him why he was getting sick of exhibitions, and he says he's never been fond of standing in front of people and talking about his work. "Jesus, I really AM anti-social!" (laughs)

It took Khun a while to warm up to NFTs. He admits that when Beeple sold "Everydays: the First 5000 Days" for over $69 million, he was still skeptical.

"I'm a natural-born skeptic. I just thought it was people trying to make a quick buck through substandard art. I even got a couple offers from a few platforms, but I turned them down. I soon realized, however, that NFTs are here to stay."

Khun has since acknowledged that NFTs have provided a doorway for people who would never be accepted by the gatekeepers of the traditional art world.

"That alone is a monumental change."

He also welcomes the transparency of art trading that NFTs bring. Up until now, there was no way for the public to know how art deals were made behind closed doors. Also, sellers had to rely exclusively on dealers and galleries.

"NFTs compensate artists via royalties that apply to every single transaction. From an artist's standpoint, that's nothing short of revolutionary."

2월12일 발행된 41번째 작품 'BARTB'. 출처=이강훈 제공
The 41st piece in Khun's Bitcoin drawing series, titled "BARTB." Provided by Khun.

When Khun first started the series, he figured he'd just whip up something day to day. Easier said than done. Quality maintenance is difficult when you're constantly racing the clock. He now realizes the importance of planning ahead, of striking when the iron is hot and producing as much as possible when the creative juices flow.

"You need a couple days off here and there to keep going. So when I do work, I try to fill my reserves with as much work as possible, so I can draw from them in the future. Obviously, I'll make changes later on, but it's good to have a stash to draw from instead of just starting from scratch every single day."

All auctions for "How to buy cheap Bitcoin with Ethereum" start with a default price of 1ETH. Khun says there was no particular reasoning behind this decision outside the symbolic significance of the number "1."

"It's a nice tidy number. Simple and intuitive. 0.85ETH doesn't quite have the same effect."

In addition to his Bitcoin drawing series, Khun is also working on a generative art series with Angel League, an unlisted stock trading platform that has since branched out into art and NFTs. Khun likens generative art to printmaking, which allows you to create several pieces from an original matrix. His NFTs, he says, are more akin to painting or illustrating, as each piece is created anew from scratch as an original.

With NFTs, community is key. In order for a work to rise in recognition and value, it needs to become the subject of active discussion in the community. As of now, Khun isn't sure whether he needs to proactively insert himself into the community discussion or safetly engage from afar.

"As a natural introvert, I admit that too much community interaction wears me out. My phone keeps sending me Discord alerts, and it sorta stresses me out." (laughs)

"The basic premise behind this series is quite simple. It started with a simple question: How much will people value Bitcoin-related art compared to Bitcoin itself? At the time, I wasn't planning on expanding that question into a year-long NFT series, but these unexpected turns are what interest me."

1월28일 발행된 26번째 작품 'Full of Luck'. 경매에서 1이더에 낙찰됐다. 출처=이강훈 제공
The 26th piece in Khun's Bitcoin drawing series, titled "Full of Luck." Provided by Khun

I ask him if the shifts in the crypto market influence his day-to-day operations. He says he keeps an eye on things, but doesn't get too caught up in everyday fluctuations and details.

"It's a marathon, and I can barely catch my breath as it is. I don't have time to stop and observe the sky and trees."

Khun says his approach has slowly changed as the series progresses. At first, he focused solely on Bitcoin itself. Bitcoin was always the protagonist of the story, the main object of attention. Now, however, it's a character in a much larger narrative. Sometimes, Bitcoin isn't even directly pictured, only hinted at or alluded to.

"I'm more open to variation now. I have a stockpile of work I've done throughout the past decade that's unrelated to my exhibitions or professional career. I look at some of those pieces now and think, 'What was I thinking when I drew this?' I'd like to incorporate some of those pieces into this series, give them new life."

In a sense, Khun's Bitcoin drawing series has given him an opportunity to reflect on and re-engage with past work.

"This series has been a lot of work, but it's also made my life very simple for the next year."

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