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by Matt Kane
The past year, I’ve been exploring historical aesthetics of fiat currency, joining back up with a series I originally created in 2006. A question my work has asked is what it could mean to shape society’s values if the paper money we transact with carried messages from leaders who are concerned with reshaping present systems in order to construct a better future for the many. In creating these portraits, I sought to discover how I could treat this as a legitimate part of my larger series and not just an outlier piece done for CoinDesk Most Influential 2020.
As an artist especially interested in innovative models for artist advocacy and patronage, I was very moved by what Jesse founded for his local Sacramento community. It began as a contemporary art space which grew to provide low or no cost artist workspace, residencies, and educational programming. In my opinion, this is especially visionary and provides a model for the sort of art center which is desperately needed in every locality.
I initially researched older currency designs to base Jesse’s portrait on because Kraken was one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges. The U.S. fractional currency during the time of reconstruction, post civil war, feature bold designs with prominent seals. Part of my artistic practice includes daily afternoon meditation. With my research on both Jesse and earlier currencies in mind, I was able to emerge from a meditation knowing precisely how the design would shake out. It felt appropriate to represent both Verge Center for the Arts and Kraken as intersecting stylized seals, accompanied nearby with the years they were each founded by Jesse.
The swords flanking “Visionary Founder” is a reference to the “T” in the Lewt.com logo. Lewt was an early pre-blockchain company Jesse founded, which acted as a broker for virtual items and currencies in online games. Because Lewt.com now redirects to Kraken, I thought a more subtle reference was in order. Our NFT community with its concern for securing ownership and trading of virtual items for the metaverse should appreciate how early Lewt was to what we’re all doing together today.
“Taking your losses is the only way to enlightenment.” Here, I riffed on the idea of holographic foils used in contemporary paper money. This visual interference causes the reader to read these words slower, word by word, and perhaps consider their meaning deeper. While Jesse’s message was directed toward unaudited DeFi, this is one of these universal truths which can apply to so much more. Aside from resonating with me in terms of regret I once felt over a poor investment choice, it also resonated as I’d spent many recent years feeling emotionally stuck and unable to move on after the unexpected passing of a friend. Until I’d confronted and accepted my losses, the burden I carried was heavy. Enlightenment can literally mean lightening your load. I can speak firsthand for the positive changes one can create for themselves and others around them by doing the internal work required to accept what’s out of our control, gone, and get on with getting over it. My activity in the NFT and cryptoart communities is a direct result of my own enlightenment.
Jesse has a reputation for not mincing words. He told the state of New York to “#GetOverIt” after they suggested Kraken and other exchanges might be operating in the state unlawfully.
My subconscious attached to the unifying theme that “get over it” and “taking your losses is the only way to enlightenment” created. These messages, though years apart and in two separate contexts, felt as though they should be united.
Jesse’s portrait was a pleasure for me because through my research I found points of agreement and relation between values that Jesse and I both seem to share, beyond our affection for Bitcoin. One of the things I love most about art is that everyone can approach it and come away with different meanings given their unique experiences. I wished to craft this in a way that would simultaneously honor and resonate with Jesse’s biography, while creating an opportunity for others to interpret these messages in ways that could be personally meaningful to them, as it was for me.
This NFT is part of SuperRare’s Auction Week, finishing the early afternoon of Friday, December 11th. Please consider bidding on the work here: https://superrare.co/artwork-v2/visionary-founder—jesse-powell-17044
The CoinDesk Most Influential 2020 story on Jesse can be read here: https://www.coindesk.com/jesse-powell-most-influential-2020