Are NFTs turning a new leaf for the art community?

Visual artist Heidi Taillefer experiments with NFTs and oil painting with new series of work ‘Frogs’

Heidi Taillefer explores cryptocurrency in her latest oil paintings and their NFT counterparts. Photo Stella Mazurek

Wednesday Sept. 29, the Galerie Jano Lapin et Studios hosted visual artist Heidi Taillefer and her newest exhibit Frogs. It was a one night event showcasing the artist’s work, which merged the art of oil painting to that of artwork digitalization.  

The series of eight biomechanical oil painted frogs was born out of Taillefer’s own curiosity towards non-fungible tokens, most commonly referred to as NFTs. The digital frog paintings—which are the NFT counterpart to the original paintings—are available in a Polaroid format with accompanying quotes.  

NFTs are an emerging form of cryptocurrency that can be exchanged.  Non-fungible tokens can take various forms, Bitcoin, Digital clothing—and even scanned oil paintings of frogs. 

Anne Jano, founder and director of the Galerie Jano Lapin, explained how the idea of working with NFTs had been on her mind for some time. For this project, Jano mentioned being in collaboration with the gems NFT Studio, a blockchain that uses wax for their NFTs.

“I was in touch with [them] for other things, and [Taillefer] was in touch with them for this, and when we found out that we were both doing this, I said ‘let’s do it together.’  It was organic, [...] it was the perfect opportunity to bring it together,” Jano said.

Taillefer mentioned how the series was created as a reaction and commentary to the emerging popularity of NFTs and the bad reputation that precedes them due to their harmful environmental effect.  

“I kept reading up on [NFTs] and I saw statistics of how bad it could be for the environment.  But it's not that making and minting an NFT is bad, it's the technology using proof of work,” explained the artist. “It's the same type of problem of using energy to create a currency of some type or to mint [...] something on the blockchain.”

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Visual artist Heidi Taillefer and gallery owner Anne Jano in their latest exhibit ‘Frogs.’ Photo Stella Mazurek

Where regular NFTs and Taillefer’s Frogs differ is in the way they are produced.

Taillefer precised how she found out “about another technology called proof of stake technology, which [...] uses a minimal, minuscule fraction of energy to produce an NFT.”

As the visual artist approached the subject of everybody rushing to create this new technology—without really caring about its environmental impact, and more specifically its carbon footprint—it makes sense that the project found its final form in the shape of amphibians.

“Frogs are biomarkers in nature and that’s the first creature—first animal—that shows signs of environmental stress,” said the artist.  “What I was doing is anticipating what our future holds if we continue with a disregard for a proper husbandry of the natural world that surrounds us.”

“I was just like, I'm going to make surrogate frogs that are a cynical commentary on the extinction of animal species, because of the impact of human activity on the environment. So, these surrogates would replace natural frog[s] living in the wild,” said Taillefer.

She explained that the environment is critical to our survival. Taillefer said “We keep evolving and technology keeps evolving, but nature, you know, isn't evolving to accommodate us, instead it's reacting to us.”

The visual artist is no stranger to exploring human nature through the use of robotics as an artistic centerpoint. She expressed how she could paint a robot, and how such a creation might be grappling with the inevitable human condition of greed, no matter the consequences.

“We keep evolving and technology keeps evolving, but nature, you know, isn’t evolving to accommodate us, instead it’s reacting to us.” — Heidi Taillefer

“I started painting robots and my style started off with an original robotic frog, [it] was totally mechanical. [...] Whereas what I'm doing now is kind of merging a biomechanical effect. So, I have part organic and part mechanical in there, and from that it sort of evolved into more symbolism,” explained the artist. 

Taillefer’s work is available in two different formats, the oil paintings—which each retail for $600—and their NFT counterparts which are more accessible to the general buyer. 

The artist shared that some clients bought both versions of the frogs.

“I like it when they have both. I know some people that bought the NFTs as well as the original Frogs and they plan on showing the NFT beside the original. I love that,”  said Taillefer.  “It's perfect because it's the complete package.”

When asked about the metaphysicality of ownership—for either the physical or digital version—Taillefer expressed no matter their format, both versions are originals. They each bear her artistic signature.

Taillefer is still exploring the vast world that is the metaverse and its online existence. “It's interesting as a phenomenon. I don't know if it's healthy, it could just be an escapist reality for people—which is what I think it is—or it is just a way for somebody to channel their resources, she said. “They want to build something for themselves and give themselves a sense of purpose.”

As NFTs continue to rise in popularity, it begs the question of their evolution in an artistic environment—and what it could mean for artists, gallery owners, and art collectors alike.  

“I am intrigued by the possibility of selling NFTs for my gallery.  It’s something that I’m questioning, like a lot of other people in the milieu are doing as well,” said Jano. “What NFTs represent versus what they are kind of currently being looked at are not necessarily the same thing. I think our society is going to evolve with blockchains, so we can’t really ignore that.”