[NFT.NYC] NFT artist NY_ combines ink and CG

NY_’s works are being showcased at the NFT.NYC 2022 Diversity of NFTs in New York.

Japanese NFT artist NY_ explores the possibility of digital art by blending the traditional sumi ink with 3DCG. 

Previously a video creator, NY_ quit that job to concentrate on new media art. He is among 221 NFT artists who are showcasing their works during the Diversity of NFTs exhibition as part of NFT.NYC 2022 held in New York. 

NY_ talks to Metaverse Style about his creative journey, his first encounter with NFT, his exhibition at NFT.NYC, as well as his thoughts on his future. 

A full pursuit of art following illness

– How did you feel when you learnt that you had been selected for NFT.NYC?

One of my goals was to do art in New York. As such, I am very happy to have been selected, and I feel that I have finally found a clue to my career. My old acquaintances told me that I had finally come this far. These were words of both joy and encouragement from someone who knew about my past unrewarded activities. These words carried much weight.

-What kind of work will you be showing at NFT.NYC?

I am showing a new piece of work this time, one based on the motif of a dragon. This is the only occasion in New York at the moment where my works are exhibited. I thought that what I needed there was not something esoteric, but a work that was easy to understand and had a distinctly Oriental and Japanese impact. This work is packed with Japanese-ness and rough but delicate expressions using sumi ink. I would be happy if people abroad could feel that.

NY_’s work “light_005” on display at NFT.NYC.

Can you tell us more about what you did in the past?

I originally worked in special effects and compositing in the field of film, and from there I started doing CG. I have also directed animated films, etc. It is probably unusual in the film industry to do everything from 3DCG to editing and directing. I think this is because I have a fundamental desire to create what I like with my own hands. This later led me to new media art.

One of the turning points for me was about 10 years ago when I was stuck in bed for a long time due to a severe illness. At the time I had a clear vision for art, but I thought it would be difficult to make a living from art, so I concentrated my efforts on directing and film. That stress built up too much, and that was the cause of my illness.

I thought, ‘This is not good enough. I can’t keep things moving,” and that’s when I started doing new media art. Then I created a piece of work in which pictures made with ink and 3DCG moved endlessly in a frame. I still keep the same style today, but I think it was the first of its kind in the world, because no one else was doing it.

When I presented it to others, I was invited to have it on display at the Japanese Embassy in Singapore. As a result of having more opportunities to be seen abroad, I started to have opportunities to sell my work in department stores.

However, it wasn’t as if the artwork sold very well. Customers were concerned that digital art could be copied. I once went to a famous gallery in Singapore, and one media art piece on display was a projection piece. I asked, “How do you sell this?”, and they showed me a nice box. When I opened it, there was a USB memory stick in it.

I thought: this is not it. But at the same time, I thought the style of putting the video in a frame was right. That was a way of treating something as shapeless as a video and giving it a shape and situation that can last forever. It created a permanent value of existence and everyone can recognise it. That is the challenge. However, from that point on, for seven or eight years, I didn’t make any noise, and I started to focus on my work as an animation director.

However, in the autumn of 2020, I decided to quit the company I was working for at the time. I intended to make a living solely from art. I decided to do what I loved, even if I might go into debt at first. At that time, I did not know about NFT, which was not widely known in Japan yet. I decided to go into new media art, even at the risk of my work being copied.

At the time, Clubhouse was booming. There, I met people who were trying to promote NFT projects. I spoke with them and found that with NFT, we could solve the problems related to the ‘proof’ of a media artwork. So in April of the same year, we started doing NFT. The sales of our artworks grew steadily.

Can you elaborate on the characteristics of NY_’s works, which are created in sumi ink and 3DCG?

There are many kinds of works, but one consistent concept is to show the invisible. For example, in one piece, I demonstrate the energy that flows within human beings. It is a depiction of the dragon, and I did not draw any scales or claws. If you look closely, you can see streams of aura flowing over the dragon’s body, like a high-energy body. I intend the dragon to be felt, rather than be seen.

The work ‘hope_I’ is based on a vision that came to me when I was ill. Beyond the darkness, which I drew in black ink, a sparkling thing is shining. The light is hope. Even when I was ill, I found myself thinking about what I would do when I recovered, and I created this work because I thought that people can live by having hope, and that is what hope means.

What techniques do you use to create ‘hope_I’?

First, I draw on Japanese paper with sumi ink, and then I create 3DCG. Depending on the work, the order may change, and sometimes I make 3DCG first and then the sumi ink. I particularly care about the ink part. I learnt from the contemporary calligrapher Nagata Fumimasa, whom I regard as my ink master. He is a world-renowned teacher whose works are in the collections of the Bulgarian National Art Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago and other foreign museums. I was able to meet him because we had a mutual acquaintance.

People ask me “Can you move away the ink parts?” But I stick to hand-drawing. As a 3D creator, I can move away the ink trails, but that will be only CG, not ink drawings.

So NY_, do you have clear definitions of hand-drawn art and CG, respectively?

Yes, I do. Think about how to make “unmoving ink” and “moving parts in 3D” coexist. If you deal with the latest technology, effects, modelling data, compositing methods and such things all the time, you will find that you can’t move everything.

First NFT exhibition opened doors of opportunity

Returning to NFT, what was the first work you did for NFT?

It was a piece called ‘gate’, which was an experimental approach in my mind. I made it using only 3D… Making a new NFT is called ‘minting’. I remember that when I minted a NFT for the first time, I had no support from anyone. I did all my research via the internet. I was very nervous, even though I had got everything ready. I couldn’t help thinking ‘what if I fail’ or ‘I will lose my work’.

At first I put it on a marketplace called OpenSea, and then on Rarible, which deals with art. Eventually, I started putting my work on a juried marketplace with a curator. At first, I felt like I was doing it with a lot of trepidation.

What was your path from there to being selected for NFT.NYC?

In July 2021, I held a solo exhibition of NFT art in frames. Someone from the Daimaru Matsuzakaya department stores came to the exhibition and asked me if I would like to exhibit my works at their place. “By all means!” I thought. So in November of that year, I had an exhibition at the Future Standard Institute in Tokyo.

This exhibition was a major turning point. People who had previously expressed concerns such as “I understand NFT, but it was not a thing,” started to say “I want to buy this” and “I want this” when they saw my framed video work. I’ve seen this happen many times, where customers decided to buy right in front of me – I call this ‘switched on.” That’s what happened here too. I realised that the human desire to own things is really strong.

From there, many fans have followed me, and the existing pieces sold out so quickly that prospective buyers now have to wait for about a year. I am really grateful for that.

So you’ve had a big breakthrough after a period of disappointment. It’s amazing how much momentum you have. By the way, can you tell us why NY_ is so concerned about the physical ‘frame’?

The work is complete when it is in a frame. I think it’s very important that the artist and the customer are connected through the artwork, which is the state of being ‘out of the PC browser’. The most expensive works sell for several million Japanese yen. As an artist, I think you have to be serious about the value of your work.

That is why I thought that I should not say to those who enjoy my works, “Please use your browser” or “You can see it in your browser”. A more sincere way of dealing with my work is to put it in a frame.

A drive to promote digital-analogue art

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

I am interested in programmable art (artworks generated by computer programmes) and would like to try it eventually. I also aim for my current works to exist permanently. Some people are not very good at using the internet, so we are trying to make these works work offline.

On the other hand, we also want to focus on works that are online and fully utilise the characteristics of NFT. We would like to work on something that is framed while at the same time connected to the internet, so that the colour of the work changes depending on the day’s temperature and weather conditions.

But I think that’s the next phase. I need to improve my own artwork and hone my skills as an artist.

What do you want to achieve in the future? What exactly do you mean by ‘enhancing your artwork’ and how do you want it to evolve?

I think of my work as being between digital and analogue art. So I would like to meet people who are suited to the space between digital and analogue. I feel that there is a limit to what one artist can do to promote the values between digital and analogue, and I need someone who can take on challenges with me together, like a partner who is familiar with the economy.

I would also like to have a base abroad and hold exhibitions abroad. I would like to take a Japanese approach and showcase the Japanese people’s finesse. I also want to contribute to creating an environment in which talented Japanese creators can make good money.

So you are already looking at the global market? Finally, could you give some suggestions to those who are interested in NFT art?

I think many people have the impression that everything will become digital as the digitisation process goes on. But I don’t have such an impression as I have been working with digital technology. As long as there are living humans, I think it is inevitable that some link has to be established to them. That is why I am working on this kind of work.

I am taking on new challenges, and if you are interested in NFT and see anyone taking on such challenges, I hope you will support them.

(The original article is written in Japanese by Hidenobu Mori. Its English translation is complied and edited by Kit Lai.)