Painting, fashion and NFTs - this window exhibit in Fort Worth's Sundance Square does it all
And so does Sunflowerman, the artist behind the public art exhibition called "Fashion World." Like many artists today, if it will showcase his work, he'll try it.
Fort Worth's Sunflowerman makes use of every method he can to show his art to the public.
The artist, real name Matthew Miller, is a 33-year-old fashion illustrator and a recent Cowtown transplant. He moved to Fort Worth a little over four years ago.
But like many artists today, he uses everything at his disposal, from social media to public art to NFTs to apparel, to make a name for himself in a hypercompetitive media landscape where alternate streams of entertainment are only a click away.
Miller's new public artwork, "Fashion World," is a multimedia exhibition displayed on the façade of the former H&M storefront on 3rd and Commerce Streets. "Fashion World" synthesizes the artist’s interest in fashion and technology with a style that is uniquely Fort Worth. It also combines the old with the new – physical art with digital art.
On the second story of the building's facade, Miller used LED lights in vinyl to make winged longhorns dance across the windows, the faux-neon lights blinking to evoke the illusion of motion.
At ground level, the backdrop inside the store's window display glows like a perpetual sunset. Watercolor paintings hang side-by-side, each portraying two floating figures reaching out towards one another. A "Fashion World" branded denim jacket hangs in the display, hand-painted by the artist.
A screen to the side of the physical paintings links viewers to the artist’s digital storefront, where one can purchase non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of the exhibition’s art.
NFTs are essentially proof that someone owns a digital, unique image or video. NFTs are bought, sold, and use the same blockchain (a digital public list of all the transactions made) as cryptocurrencies. A more thorough explanation of the NFT phenomenon can be found here.
Like any other asset, NFTs hold value, which can go up or down depending on the market. So, why do a project like this now, when the market for NFTs and cryptocurrency is in freefall?
“It’s a terrible answer, [but] why not now?” said Miller.
“We've had the big crash, but the technology has already influenced so much of society. I think to imagine that. . . crypto and NFTs. . . aren’t going to affect our lives is crazy. So, to not try to understand it seems like poor planning. We’re still so early in society’s understanding of what blockchain technologies can do for us.”
Like cryptocurrency, NFTs are criticized for the amount of energy they require. Ethereum, the most popular cryptocurrency/blockchain for NFTs, is notorious for the sheer amount of power it takes to finalize a single transaction.
Miller wanted to address that concern with his line of NFTs.
“The fear of excess energy use is concerning across everything in society, and to have it exacerbated by blockchain technologies is very concerning," he said. "It’s why I’m staying away from Ethereum.”
The NFTs for "Fashion World" operate on the Tezos blockchain, which uses “by some estimates, 99.9 percent less energy to actually run the programs,” said Miller.
Many see artists using NFTs as an easy cash grab and their work as just another way for the uber-wealthy to store value.
“It’s not unlike the actual established art world we have today, where artists establish galleries that buy their work at exorbitant prices to increase the value of their work,” Miller mused.
“It’s analogous to the real-world system we already have. It’s just that it’s now on the Internet and done with new money rather than old money.
As much as I despise some of the practices in the modern art world, I still love art. I still create it and try to make my own living. There’s value in art beyond the outrageous stored value people try to use to manipulate their own wealth and taxes.”
Miller’s true love for art shows in all his projects. He used his art to promote mask wearing during the depths of the pandemic. His mask-positive artwork was posted all around Sundance Square.
He paints photorealistic representations of watches, commissioned by watch enthusiasts around the world. He has a robust Instagram presence, offering a behind-the-scenes look at his artistic process.
Miller is also starting a line of Sunflowerman coffee beans, a passion project for a man with a deep appreciation for fine coffee. (His collection of intricately designed espresso cups from his travels around the world lives at his studio in downtown Fort Worth.)
Keeping up with the latest technologies can help artists pierce public consciousness. While that's always been true, today it can be a huge challenge. And not every artist has to do it.
"Maintaining an understanding of developing technologies and cultural trends is going to provide any artist with the best chance of having a long career but the opportunities in the arts are vast," said the artist following the interview, adding that "there's no one way to make it."
Ultimately, Miller is undeterred by the challenges today's artists face. He knows what matters most: the art itself.
“I want it to be beautiful, first of all. The concept is for me.”