Explore Surreal Cities with Swopes

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By Lorena Cupcake

As one of the original Instagram artists, Elise Swopes learned to connect with a worldwide audience of millions by melding art with a message. Since then, the Brooklyn-based iPhone creator has worked on countless ideas showcasing her surreal cityscapes and streetwise style.

As a young college dropout, Elise Swopes glimpsed her future in the cracked screen of an iPhone 4. Where most people saw an ordinary phone, she saw a powerful tool; one that allowed her to take photos and edit them into something extraordinary. In the decade since then, she’s been tapped by Adobe, Adidas and Apple to help spread innovative messaging through multimedia digital content.

Believing that digital art can engage the imagination just like a page-turning novel, she utilizes sound, movement and lush visuals to create an immersive, meditative space. Like Alice tumbling through the looking glass, your phone becomes a portal to a whole new world. Over your head, buildings waver and warp. Redwood trees, snow-capped mountains and blood-red moons loom behind skylines. Water, mist and animals move freely through three-dimensional space.

In some pieces, the glittering, liquid gold lights of city landscapes — most often her adopted hometowns of Chicago and New York City — meet the serene calm of reflective water. In others, the elements threaten to overwhelm the human-made infrastructure, like kudzu vine swallowing a house whole. Viewing the taut balance between urban jungle and literal jungle makes us aware of our own relationship with technology and nature.

After creating an app, giving a TED Talk and self-publishing a free 3-Week Online Presence Challenge, her newest playground is the world of cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Having first established herself as a collector, she’s launching the first unique, original Swopes digital collectible to a waiting audience. 

The Brooklyn-based mobile photographer answered a few questions about her first artwork for sale on SuperRare below. To keep up with Elise, follow her Instagram account @swopes, or check out her website, Youtube channel, podcast, and social media channels.

Tell me a little bit about your first artwork for sale on SuperRare.
Where Focus Goes, Energy Flows
Edition 1 of 1

The first piece of artwork is an ode to my most famous pieces of art, me combining a cityscape with Niagara Falls. With this piece, I’m using New York, which is my new home since COVID hit in 2020. I’ve been quite inspired by being here. 

I think what people get out of it is what it means to me. I don’t mean for my art to seem destructive or scary. I imagine that it’s just a regular day and people should bring their umbrellas, or people should take boats to certain floors of their building. 

At the same time, I think that there is a lot to be said, maybe subconsciously, about the environment and the way that the world is. The destruction of the human race, and how they’re destroying nature and how nature is somewhat fighting back.

For those who haven’t watched your extensive tutorial videos, describe your creative process. 

I’ve been using my iPhone since 2011 to edit my art, and I use multiple different apps. This photo, specifically, the base photo of New York, I actually shot from a helicopter ride a few months back. Normally what I like to do whenever I visit a city is get a helicopter tour because I feel like that’s some of the best views you can get in the city. While I’m terrified of heights, I still think it’s such a great opportunity to play with perspective and see the city from a different view.

Normally, I make still images, but I dabble in video and making still images move. What I’ve noticed are successful, a little bit more than average, are moving images or video. I wanted to make sure that I capitalized on that, but also make sure that I was adding my own elements.

How did you first become interested in crypto art?

I’ve been interested in crypto for years now. I’ve been investing, and I believe in the future of it. 

I really like Beeple. I definitely want to get some Mad Dog work. I like to listen to a lot of the NFT conversations on Clubhouse. I learned about this artist named Blake Kathryn who is unbelievable with 3D design. One of my friends Muartive, his work is unbelievable. He just got a DM from Rihanna, actually. She’s like, “I need this piece.” It’s interesting — Rihanna’s even in on the NFT game.

How did the process of creating a unique asset for the cryptocurrency market differ from making artwork for a big client like Apple?

Man, well, I’ll tell you this. There’s a lot of limitations with client work. A lot of expectations and a lot of deliverables. But with crypto, it feels limitless. There’s so much room to be yourself. It doesn’t feel like there’s any rules at all.

By using the blockchain, artists and collectors can authenticate artwork, track sales and collect royalties. As someone who has experienced threats to your intellectual property — like people making artwork in your distinctive style without crediting you — do you think these features are valuable to creators?

I think there’s a lot of intelligence in the crypto community, and I think that that dictates how people interact with original and unoriginal art. With crypto art and NFTs, it’s really just about authenticity. It’s blowing up right now of course, and I think you can definitely weed out who’s doing it for the money and who’s doing it for the art. 

You’re definitely not camera shy, having starred in social media campaigns for luxury brands like Coach and Moncler. Would you ever incorporate a self-portrait in a crypto artwork?

I don’t know why, but self-portraits in crypto artwork make me nervous. The fact that someone could possibly have control over my face does not excite me. (laughs)

With Christie’s becoming the first major auction house to sell a tokenized digital artwork, NFTs are going mainstream. Do you have any lofty future goals for your crypto artwork, like being part of a real museum exhibit?

Ever since I’ve been creating art, I’ve been like, “How can I get it in a museum? How can I get people to see it?”

Right when I heard about crypto art being a thing, I felt like in my gut, in my heart, that this was the time for me. It finally made sense. It was like, “Okay, now the museum is going to be virtual.”

You mentioned earlier that that video can be more successful than still photos. Do you think there’s a difference in how the user engages with a still photo versus a video?

People are really interested in hitting those senses. They want to hear things. They want to see things move. They want to interact with it in some way. Video can be more intriguing, especially when people’s attention spans these days are so short. As a content creator, I’m being asked to create 15 second videos instead of one minute videos these days. There’s a fun challenge there for me.

Do you have any advice for young artists on how to build a stable career based on creativity?

Be consistent, and not just in what you do, but how you do it. Trust yourself. Read books about everything and anything you need to learn. Ask as many questions as you want. Be a sponge to knowledge. 

Be kind to yourself; forgive yourself for messing up, for feeling any kind of way. We’re human and the biggest thing we can do is learn how to self-reflect and love ourselves. Enjoy the process and have fun.

After this first, much-anticipated drop on SuperRare, what’s next for you? What upcoming plans should collectors keep an eye out for?

I’m a surrealist at heart. I like looking at reality and adding my magic to it. I do video, I do graphic design, I do photography, I do illustrations, I do 3D design and so much more. I guess the real question is what isn’t next.

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SuperRare is a marketplace to collect and trade unique, single-edition digital artworks.

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