Roman poet Ovid once quipped in the elegy series Ars Amatoria (the Art of Love) a proverb about the Roman goddess of love and beauty — "Venus, like Fortune, favors the bold." The same could be said of US-based multi-disciplinary artist Erica Reiling’s life thus far.
Born in Palo Alto and raised on a suburban island in Seattle, Reiling dabbled in arts during her childhood and youth — from picking up painting at the age of three and playing with MS Paint on her father’s computer around the same age, to winning awards and exhibiting her works during her high school years at the Seattle Art Museum. By the end of high school, Reiling, like many aspiring artists, was approaching a fork in the road between making a conventional living and making it as an artist. She picked the former, earning a bachelor degree in psychology, and, in the 14 years following her high school graduation, she never again picked up a paintbrush.
The story of Reiling as an artist could have ended here, except that there is much more to tell.
Having gone through what Reiling describes as a personal Renaissance — sparked by an art therapy session she participated in during the quarantine period in 2020, the artist decided to throw her hat in the ring once again, moving to New York to pursue a full-time artist career. In the Big Apple, a city filled with people from all walks of life, Reiling met a group of “crypto-evangelists” in the city — an experience that marked the beginning of her journey in the NFT space — alongside important individuals who would later become the core team members of her genesis NFT collection “CryptoVenus”, a collection of 10,000 hand-painted PFPs inspired by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli’s iconic artwork – The Birth of Venus (ca.1484–1486).
In our recent interview with Reiling, we spoke to the artist on journey in the NFT realm, the inspiration and significance of her “CryptoVenus” series, the value of NFTs, and more.
Artazine: During the quarantine period in 2020 as you decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist and moved to New York, what went through your mind? Was that a difficult choice?
Reiling: 2019 had been a year of extreme personal growth and upheaval for me and was sort of hellish already, so when 2020 began to unravel it really felt like it was par for the course and that I was meant to be going through something bigger during that time. By March of 2020 I had learned to go with the flow, so by September (when I moved from Los Angeles to New York) it felt like a natural progression of the deep self-work and self-discovery I had been entrenched in over the past two years. New York was a really interesting place to be during the autumn of 2020 because the city was empty, no tourists and high-vacancy - very much a ghost town - so I was able to experience Manhattan in a way that I never could have or ever will be able to again. It was beyond inspiring for me... To experience The Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian exhibit in complete solitude is something that I will never forget.
A: What drew you to the NFT space in 2021?
R: One of the habits of highly successful people is that they evolve with the times. After moving to New York, I met a group of crypto-evangelists who were able to explain NFT‘s to me in a way that resonated. I had seen Punks, Kitties, and Apes, and was puzzled… but once I was introduced to ArtBlocks and the type of digital works that those artists were able to create using code, I realized that there were people out there creating really beautiful things that had not yet hit the mainstream. I also met non-artists who were creating projects in the NFT space and I realized instantly that I was capable of doing the same thing - it would be a fun way to expand my repertoire, meet new people, and hopefully find some new collectors that resonated with me and my story.
A: How did the supporting team behind CryptoVenus come together? Are they people you already know from the traditional art realm?
R: Everyone on the CryptoVenus Team is someone that I met in the last year - what’s fun and addicting about the crypto space is that baseline, you know that everyone you meet is of intrepid character. I met Caroline Geraghty at NFTNYC in November 2021 and Illy Oknin was an early ardent supporter of CryptoVenus who I quickly realized would be an asset to our team. Our blockchain developer, Jack Beoris, is my next-door neighbor!
A: What is the story behind the birth of CryptoVenus? Did you begin with the concept of portraying Venus to epitomize the ideal womanhood, or was the idea first inspired by Botticelli’s Venus painting?
A: In creating a collection of 10,000 Crypto Venus, how did you design the 350 attributes? Do they pertain to a certain demographic, or attitudes, in real life?
R: During the artistic gestation period, I started to think about what it could look like if the Goddess of Love and Femininity was represented with more Asian, African, or Middle Eastern features, and felt it would be beautiful to recreate Boticelli’s masterpiece in a way that nearly every woman could see herself in the image of the goddess as she experiences her own rebirth of self. To that end, I painted many different hair styles, clothing options, and accessories, trying to encapsulate as many moods as possible. The backgrounds are all derived from the oversized 1/1 physical paintings that I created over the past two years during my own personal Renaissance, so the project is supercharged with that energy.
A: Out of the 103 background attributes, are they all derived from existing physical artworks? Is there a particular artwork, from which a CryptoVenus background was derived, that bears significance to you?
R: Yes, they are all derived from existing physical work, and all of them are significant to me and hold great meaning - it would be difficult to single one out as they are each a moment that my heart spilled onto canvas. There are also a handful of backgrounds that are digitally-manipulated versions of photographs I took in places that were significant to me along this spiritual journey. When you count the backgrounds, the work on CryptoVenus began in April of 2020.
A: Surprise often exists when it comes to algorithmically generated works – is there any Crypto Venus you find particularly amusing, where the attributes fit perfectly with the background layers, as if you would’ve painted the same had you created the work from scratch?
R: So many surprises! If anything, it opened my mind to a whole new world of possibilities, color palettes, and amalgamations that I never could have dreamed up on my own. The generative process really is a marriage of man and machine and it allowed me to be inspired by my own work — which was, in many ways, a total trip.
A: At this stage, some people might still feel aversive towards NFT art or how iconic art pieces are appropriated in NFTs. To you, what is the value of NFTs in art?
R: There is no refuting the value of NFTs. We have seen, globally, artists being not only recognized and paid for their work, but able to retain ownership and receive royalties in perpetuity. This has never been done before on this scale and there’s no going back from here - this is an artist’s revolution. It may serve the movement to stop using the term “NFT” and instead use the term “digital asset”, because anything can be a digital asset. The NFT is not the medium - it is simply a blockchain delivery system - and can encompass many different kinds of digital goods. The blockchain also creates a digital certificate of authenticity, and a digital public ledger to create and protect transparency (which is something that the world is so hungry for right now, and which the traditional art world notoriously lacks.)
A: Or, as evident in the reactions of Jason Allen’s MidJourney-generated winning entry in the Colorado State Fair art prize, many think works generated or assisted by AI should not be considered as “art” at all. What’s your take?
R: “Art” created by artificial intelligence is a tricky subject. It can be an aid to non-artists who need an inexpensive solution to create imagery and design for their business - in that way I think it’s an excellent new tool. However, in terms of Art with a capital-A (which only exists as a means for humans to relate to each other and share their experiences), I’m not sure that this fits the definition. I think of it as the fast-food of artistic endeavor — it may appear enticing, but it’s not going to nourish you the same way as a home-cooked meal.
A: What inspired the collaboration with Upbring Innovation Labs?
R: When I began to explore the charitable aspect of the project in August 2021, the first Roe v. Wade upheaval had begun in Texas and I knew that I wanted to support an organization that was giving aid to women and girls. I put out an APB on my Instagram story asking friends to recommend charitable organizations that they had personal experience with and could vouch for. An old friend, Ryan Park, reached out to tell me about the organization that he works for, Upbring, who were doing amazing things for the women, children, and foster families of Texas. I knew immediately that I wanted them to be a part of this journey.
A: What does the recent Ethereum Merge mean to CryptoVenus and The Venus Fund? Is there any change in terms of operation and plans for the future?
R: The Ethereum merge is so, so beautiful. I no longer have to have the conversation with people about how NFTs are ruining the environment. Having a carbon-neutral project has always been a goal for me, and we plan to make that a reality by offsetting the carbon created by our initial mint. Two things that are not carbon neutral, fashion design and business travel, can see their footprint drastically mitigated by VR, AR, and the metaverse - that’s the future. I see the merge as one less reason for people to have a distaste for an ecosystem that has brought me so much joy and has infinite potential.
A: For traditional artists who hope to promote and distribute their works on the blockchain, what advice would you offer them?
R: I spent six months learning about the NFT and crypto space before I released CryptoVenus. I wanted to have an understanding of the customs, the players, best practices, and how to respect an ecosystem that many people have been building for many years. Not everyone has taken the same approach, and there are many bad actors, scammers, and “rug-pulls” (sorry for the jargon) in NFTs. I think the most important thing an artist can do when attempting to sell on the blockchain is to figure out a way to authentically add value instead of simply extracting from the ecosystem. On the flipside of the coin, be prepared to meet some of the most brilliant, hard-working, and optimistic people you’ve ever met in your life. I have never had more friends and more support than I do after my year in Web3.