Maria Gracia Santillana | May 19, 2021 | Lifestyle
Artist ThankYouX challenges our divisions of art in his use of NFTs, blending the physical and the digital.
Before he was ThankYouX, he was simply Ryan Wilson, a kid living in a California suburb who’d sneak out and tag walls with graffiti.
“My mom would see what I was drawing [at home],” he says, “and immediately know it was me.”
Known for his geometric cube paintings and large-scale abstract work, ThankYouX has risen to the top of the buzzy NFT space with a style that blends the physical realm of paint with digital construction—but before he was disrupting the status quo, he was a part of it.
Wilson started his artistic career in the corporate world, working as a graphic artist and art director by day while gaining fame for his Andy Warhol tribute graffiti by night.
“Instead of copying his style, I just started copying almost, like, his brain,” Wilson says. Repeating Warhol’s face across the city, he would go out in the middle of the night and paint colorful tags of the ’60s pop artist. Leaning on Warhol’s bright colors, he meshed them with the “New York graffiti vibe.” He’d sign each piece with an anonymous “Thank You, X.”
“I was obsessed! It got to the point where I was going out every night,” he says. “You couldn’t be in L.A. without seeing my art.”
Local art blogs covered his work, and with no proper tag, Instagram or website, he was referred to as “ThankYouX.”
“The best nicknames are the ones you don’t come up with yourself,” he says.
The artist thrived in relative anonymity, still working his corporate job. As the ThankYouX moniker became more recognizable across the art world, he shifted from street art to large-scale murals. It was then that he started his signature cubes. Painted in bright colors, the geometric patterns played with negative space and took over walls across L.A. Still, he wanted more.
“I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as one artist who just makes stencils,” he says, “or be caught into a fad of street art.”
Transitioning into more abstract paintings, ThankYouX entered the world of fine art. He counts music headliners like Paul McCartney and Zedd as collectors. With showings in galleries across New York and L.A., he quickly became an established name.
Technology was another passion, and the artist was constantly trying to incorporate the art and tech world together. To him, the intersection was an opportunity for collaboration. “I’m always pushing myself to never be comfortable,” he says. “I always consider [people in the tech industry] to be artists as well because they are creating something from nothing.”
With limited knowledge of code, his incorporation of the two remained in the VR space.
“The closest I came to that was virtual reality, working in and designing 360-degree spaces,” he says, “but it never went the distance I wanted it to.”
By September 2020, the NFT community was still relatively small. ThankYouX’s friends started sending him works by some of the earliest NFT pioneers, most notably DJ-producer 3LAU. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, allow artists to mint works though blockchain technology, which can certify digital ownership.
The aha! moment came when he met “the godfather himself.” After connecting on Instagram, 3LAU contacted ThankYouX looking to buy one of his artworks. More than flattered, ThankYouX wanted to talk about NFTs.
“You could tell he was excited because not a lot of people were doing it around him,” he says, noting the lack of musicians in the NFT space. “We were both talking about a new shiny object.”
His passion only grew, but as with his previous medium shifts, succeeding in the NFT space was not a given.
Partnering with photographer J.N. Silva, ThankYouX saw an opportunity to bring a new perspective to the NFT world, incorporating the chaos of street art and street photography. With the rise of the digital economy and work-for-hire contracts for digital artists, ThankYouX wanted to challenge the line between physical and digital, to explore the fine art and street art divide.
“I’ve always been an advocate for the term ‘art,’” he says. “What if we, as two people who don’t belong in this space according to what’s in the market right now, come together to make something?”
The result was “Thank You Miami” and “Thank You New York,” pieces that blended ThankYouX’s cubic pattern with Silva’s photography. Each is an homage to their respective cities featuring animated cubes that bounce through each city’s iconography.
For his latest and first solo drop, Convergence, ThankYouX created a virtual museum and event space. While the technology may not quite be there yet, he envisions the space being used in the future as a gallery, where different artists can display their works, allowing collectors to move freely in the space.
ThankYouX took this collection to fully explore the integration of physical and digital art. The five auction pieces in his newest drop featured both canvases with integrated NFTs. Embedded at the bottom left corner of each canvas, an Infinity Objects screen displays a rotating cube painted with designs made in physical paintings. The result is both digital and physical art, a marriage of ThankYouX’s limitless passions.
The open edition collection takes this marriage more literally. It features a rock with a plug that powers a rotating cube inside the Convergence museum. Each panel of the cube was painted physically before being rendered into the digital cube.
From the art itself to the structure of the release, Convergence aims to redefine what fine art can be in the digital world. Pieces do not have to be one or the other. They can be both.
His favorite piece to date, Convergence represents his future.
“I can push the needle forward,” he says. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten to marry my art to technology in a way that truly just explains who I am.”
While his solo drop showed what his aesthetic “was going to be,” he still considers all his artworks to be collaborations with his collectors, because in his own words, “paintings aren’t complete until they’re hung in their final destination.”
Photography by: PORTRAIT BY RONY ALWIN; PHOTOS COURTESY OF THANKYOUX