Transcript: E12 Eric P. Rhodes — Art as Therapy, AltPunks, Trash Art, & Diamond Hearts 

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The article “Unleashing Your Inner Healer: How to Use Art Therapy in Your Own Life” inspired by this conversation, can be read here

Brady Walker: Welcome to Pixels and Paint, Eric P. Rhodes. Could you briefly introduce yourself to our audience who might not be aware of your work?

Eric P. Rhodes: Absolutely. My name is Eric. I’ve been in the NFT space since 2019. Primarily, I’m a conceptual artist who doesn’t adhere to a particular style but focuses more on the idea. My work often revolves around concepts of art law and remixing.

Finding Solace in Art Amid Emotional Turmoil

BW: You’ve accomplished so much in web three, making the preparation for this interview a bit more challenging than usual. What did you discover in web three that you didn’t find elsewhere?

Eric P. Rhodes: Absolutely. My name is Eric. I’ve been in the NFT space since 2019. Primarily, I’m a conceptual artist who doesn’t adhere to a particular style but focuses more on the idea. My work often revolves around concepts of art law and remixing.

BW: So, you were working at Twitter?

EPR: Yes, I was technically on medical leave when we decided to part ways.

BW: I can imagine that moving from Twitter to the crypto art world means you’re now more involved with Twitter than when you worked there.

EPR: Interestingly, when I worked there, I only used Twitter for work. I had a professional account and an anonymous one. The professional account had about 300 followers, mostly colleagues and family. I didn’t use it to build a platform. It’s still surprising that I now have almost 15,000 followers on Twitter.

Beyond Genesis

[4:43] BW: You recently published a blog post declaring the end of your Genesis years. Can you explain why four years marks the end of the beginning and give some insight into the concept of the Genesis years and what comes after?

[5:01] EPR: I was trying to encapsulate the work I did over the last four years, which felt like an evolution for me as an artist. I wanted to signal this growth to collectors and those who might discover me. I like the idea of using a narrative to illustrate where I was, where I am, and where I’m going. Ironically, I don’t have a Genesis piece; I burned it in 2020, not anticipating the significance it might have today. Back then, I was just experimenting, making art that only my new web three friends got to see.

So, the Genesis years poetically encapsulate these four years. I’ve been planning for about a year, knowing that at some point, I would transition from the rabble-rouser I was, from my Second Realm and trash art identity, to something new. I wanted to represent that transition cohesively and understandably, hence the Genesis years.

[7:28] BW: What follows the Genesis years?

[7:34] EPR: It feels like a restart, a graduation. Just like high school and college, these four years felt like a segment that ended and elevated me to a new level. As an artist, I aim to delve deeper into my work. I’ve done a lot of broad work across various topics, styles, and ideas. Now, I’d like to focus on one or two.
Transitioning from the Genesis years has opened up a lot of creative energy. I’m exploring concentric circles and using them as pixels, expanding the concept of crypto art and generative art. I create these pieces with layers and sprites, using JavaScript to automate the creation of pixels. There’s beauty in that.

It feels freeing to encapsulate the past and not be tied to a particular identity. I felt emotionally and creatively bound to the concept of trash art and who I was as Second Realm. Now, with Second Realm transitioning into my studio name, Second Realm LLC, it’s the right moment to move forward as Eric, the artist.

[10:37] BW: Do you approach your career with a high-level, meta perspective, envisioning the kind of artist you’d like to be and planning projects accordingly? Or does it unfold organically, as with your concentric circles? Could you discuss how you see yourself as an artist?

[11:12] EPR: I do have a vision for my future as an artist. Essentially, I want a platform large enough to make an impact in the mental health world. I aim to be a voice and an identity for younger people dealing with anxiety and depression, to show them they’re not alone. That’s part of this transition too.

I’ve been thinking about my mission in life, which is to create art, connect with others, learn new things, and play sports. This has been my life mission since 2017, and it’s come to fruition over the past few years. The idea of connecting with others means having a platform large enough for a young person to look up to, see me coping with anxiety and depression, and be inspired by it.

Art as Therapy

[13:40] BW: Let’s jump to a different topic. Your Brutalist Mannequin series has a deep connection to your mental health journey and the end of a 12-year relationship. Did creating this series help you through this period, or did you later realize it articulated the struggles you were going through?

[14:19] EPR: Both. Art has always been therapeutic for me, a safe place to express myself when I couldn’t articulate my feelings. The Brutalist Mannequin series started as an exploration of my mental health journey. I didn’t plan for a specific number of pieces, I just trusted my intuition to tell me when the series was complete. It was only a year later when I looked back at the series and its titles that I saw it narrated my relationship with my ex-wife, and our divorce. I hadn’t consciously realized that at the time. We are friends now, and while the legal aspects of our divorce were relatively simple, the emotional toll was heavy. Art has always been my means of expressing that.

[17:18] BW: You’ve mentioned journaling and doing morning pages. How has that influenced your creative journey?

[17:24] EPR: Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, introduced the concept of morning pages. It’s a technique I’ve integrated into my life. After waking up from a restless night filled with subconscious thinking, I find it therapeutic to let out all that mental clutter through morning pages. These are long-form, no-edit streams of consciousness, where anything that’s on my mind gets put down on paper. I don’t revisit them; it’s just a part of my process to help me face the day. By eliminating those heavy, existential thoughts, I’m able to enhance my creative output.

Therapy, Mental Health, and Creativity

[19:00] EPR: I’m currently facing a certain loneliness as I navigate the sluggish NFT market. It’s just me and my dog now; I no longer have my wife who was with me for 13 years. But the morning pages allow me to work through these feelings.

[19:30] EPR: I also see two therapists — a traditional one and a sex therapist. Towards the end of my marriage, I lost my self-confidence and felt unattractive. This impacted me as a creator because I need to feel connected to my art and the world I’m living in. While traditional therapy was helpful, it had a blind spot when it came to my sexual health, so I decided to seek specialized help in that area. All in all, whether it’s morning pages or therapy, it’s all therapeutic and helps me be a better creator.

[21:30] BW: Thank you for your openness. Many artists can relate to the loneliness of this journey, and your willingness to share can be really helpful to others in this space.

[21:59] EPR: The most recurring theme in my work is my mental health journey, which I’ve been open about from the start. The Genesis series helped me realize my major themes and what I truly connect with. I share intimate details about my life and journey in hopes that it can help others, especially when I think about my younger self who could have benefited from this openness.

[23:07] BW: It’s beautiful. Thank you. You’ve mentioned books, like Julia Cameron’s and Shakti Dwayne’s Creative Visualization, as influential. Can you tell me a bit about this latter book and what you’ve gleaned from it?

[23:28] EPR: Yeah, Creative Visualization was the first time I was introduced to meditation, which I’ve now practiced for 20 years. In my late teens, I was struggling deeply with depression and this book was recommended by a friend’s mom. I hadn’t looked at it in 15 years, but the core takeaway for me was the power of visualization as a meditative tool.

[24:43] EPR: Reading this book, I started to believe I could change my life’s trajectory. It reminded me of Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale, wanting to change his stars. I knew I wanted to be something else, I just didn’t know what or how to get there. This book was my first realization that I had it within me to change.

[26:57] EPR: Since then, my meditation practice has grown and been with me the longest. It was also influenced by other books like The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield. He proposed that if you read one book a month in your area of focus, over 10 years, you’ll have read 120 books and be in the top 1% of knowledge in your industry. This idea inspired me to use reading as a tool for learning.

[27:18] BW: So, your meditation practice was inspired by Creative Visualization?

[27:25] EPR: Yes, though it’s grown since then to include a mindfulness aspect. I didn’t know it at the time, but the concept of visualizing my future, then taking action towards it really stuck with me. The belief that I can do something empowers me to make it happen. Visualization combined with action was my key takeaway from the book.

[29:13] BW: That’s very insightful. I’ll definitely check out Creative Visualization and The Power of Focus.

[29:25] EPR: They’re both somewhat self-help-oriented, but they really helped me. In my teens and 20s, I didn’t have many people to connect with about these topics, so books became my path to self-education. I believe the strength of self-help is in its different approaches, allowing different people to connect with the same ideas in their own ways.

[30:55] BW: There’s an interesting divide with self-help, where I think in the best possible cases, you can maybe term it something like practical philosophy. But then there’s so much of it that’s more like toxic optimization.

[31:12] EPR: I’ve never been attracted to that. I like practical. I didn’t know this about myself until I started diving into it. I learn from doing, so having some practical toolsets to practice and use, then interpret and bring into my world is invaluable. A lot of gurus talk about this. They say take what works for you and forget the rest. And that’s what I’ve been doing since creative visualization.

This practice has evolved into reading books on philosophy, psychology, leadership, and management. I’ve learned from the great leaders of the world and brought that knowledge into my space. I’m an artist who dives deep into metrics and marketing. That’s rare among artists. It’s how I learn about my audience and connect with the broader idea of who they are. I do all that through learning, reading, and experimenting.

The Myth of the Starving Artist

[32:58] BW: Speaking of marketing, are there any books that you would recommend for our listeners, books related to marketing that artists can use in their everyday lives and their careers?

[33:45] EPR: There is one. It’s a book written by Jeff Goins. It’s about the myth of the starving artist. His name is Jeff Goins.

This book could really shift an artist’s mindset away from the “starving artist” visualization of what an artist should be. Jeff Goins debunks this myth. This should help artists shift their mindset and reconsider what it means to be a creator. Are you a professional? A hobbyist? A side gig? Your answer can help you decide how and where to focus your marketing efforts.

If you consider yourself a professional artist without the budget to hire a marketing team, then you’re running a business. As a business, you have to learn what it means to market and promote. If you’re a hobbyist, you don’t need to do that. If you’re a side gig, learning what it means to market and promote should be part of your practice, but maybe not all of your effort goes into that. I spend 80% of my time marketing and promoting, and 20% of my time creating.

[36:45] BW: What activities go into that 80%?

[36:51] EPR: I have a year-long marketing plan that I review every 30 days. Having worked in marketing and customer experience for 20 years, I have a wealth of knowledge. It’s part of my creative process to tell my story through marketing and promotion. Primarily, I use Twitter as my source of communication since it’s where I have the largest following. I also have a Discord, where I’m learning how to engage collectors.

I need to make it clear that when I say ‘activate’, it’s not a mechanical process for me. It’s about forming an emotional connection with the people who buy my work. I don’t engage in backroom deals or work with influencers. My approach might leave me behind in some ways, but I’m okay with that. I need to follow what feels ethically right for me.

On the technical side, I collect DNS addresses and try to tie them to Twitter handles. It’s a lot of individual research, but tools that could make this process easier would be really helpful for artists wanting to proactively connect with collectors.

Diamond Hearts

[40:28] BW: What does ‘being diamond heart’ mean to you?

[40:36] EPR: It’s a play on ‘diamond hands’, a term often used by collectors to indicate their intent to hold onto a piece of art forever. To me, a ‘diamond heart’ is someone who participates in the space every day, regardless of the market’s ups and downs. They might not always be buying, selling, or creating dynamic content, but they’re consistently present.

A ‘diamond heart’ is driven by intrinsic motivation to be part of this space. I wanted to reward my collectors with that title. All the owners of the 2000 wallets can collect these ‘diamond hearts’. Eventually, I envision them as my core group of followers. They’re the ones who stick with me and this space.

[43:01] BW: Diamond hands, it seems, was a very 2021 meme. It’s still around to a degree as people wait for the next Bull Run. However, Diamond Heart seems to be a uniquely mid-2022 phenomenon.

[43:21] EPR: Definitely. I think anyone could have come up with it; there’s no genius behind this. It’s just a visual poetry I use to describe where I am at the moment, and Diamond Heart really fits that bill for me.

A Dive into Trash Art

[43:48] BW: Our paths first crossed when I interviewed Empress Trash, the inaugural guest for this podcast. At the time, I wasn’t very aware of the trash art movement but decided to write about it. Luckily, my job allows me to write about what I’m curious about. I wrote an article on trash art and leaned heavily on your writing. Oftentimes, I come across an enormous amount of material, reword it all, and there’s not a lot of credit to be given since I have scavenged so broadly. But the trash art article was different. You had written the definitive trash art piece, and I did my best to summarize it, add something new, and direct people to your original work. I touched base with you and said, “Eric, I just wanted you to know you’re heavily referenced in this upcoming article.” Can you tell me a bit about your background with trash art and the whole scene?

[45:16] EPR: Trash art really helped me find my voice. I discovered this space in 2018 and by April 2019, I got accepted as an artist on SuperRare. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant or its prestige. So, I waited for three months before minting my first piece because I was still learning about this space.

I began to observe the dynamics and personalities in the field. Robness and Max Osiris, who were flamboyant and vocal about decentralization, caught my attention. I also noticed collectors like Whaleshark, who were adamant about not diluting their SuperRare collection with what they perceived as trash art. I found myself aligning with Robness, Max, JayDelay, and other early artists in the space. I resented the notion of someone with money dictating what is and isn’t art. That’s not what decentralization stands for.

The situation escalated when Robness got kicked off SuperRare for remixing a toaster image from a Home Depot website. This incident propelled me to further define my voice as an artist. I delved deep into copyright law and art history. Despite the setback of getting kicked off SuperRare myself for a controversial remix plan, it pushed me to develop my voice and understanding.

By 2021, I noticed a lot of misinformation circulating about the history of the space, especially among newcomers. To address this, I worked with a ghostwriter to create an article titled “Crypto Art: A Short History”. My aim was to present the true history and not to editorialize my personal feelings about it. I believe that’s why the article continues to be relevant.

Regarding copyright laws, my view is that they should be abolished, at least in their current state. They are often misunderstood, especially in relation to international contexts and money laundering.

I see writing as a tool to encapsulate different periods of time. Through my article, I hoped to convey what we were fighting for and the significant impact of trash art on the space. In 2020, remixes were looked down upon, labeled as fraudulent. However, in 2021, we saw these remixes being welcomed, and we realized their role in promoting various projects. This transformation was largely due to trash art breaking down barriers. The discourse on appropriation art isn’t new, but it was new in crypto art, and that’s why trash art holds its place in history.

The Genesis of Alt Punk Movement

[54:22] BW: It’s interesting, I interviewed Matt Gondek about six or eight months ago. He talked about religious art being the pop art of the time. Because the culture was centered around figures like Jesus and Mary. This is similar to appropriation art. From Nouns DAO to Crypto Punks, they’ve been getting away with this because they aren’t litigious. This leads to one of my questions about the alt punk movement that you spearheaded. Can you tell me about that and where it came from?

[55:32] EPR: The short version is, I was stubborn. Punks were going for a quarter of an eighth, and I just didn’t get it. This was around 2019 or 2020, and I didn’t grasp the cultural or technological significance of it. It was only when we started seeing million-dollar sales that I recognized the value. But by then, I’d been priced out. I wasn’t selling art every day, I was living off of my crypto, primarily Chainlink. So, I thought, I’m an artist, I’ll just make my own. That was the first time I’d ever gone viral. It must have resonated with people, especially considering I was part of the trash art movement. Unofficial Punks, which was my customized version of Crypto Punks, was just an extension of trashy art, an expression of remix culture.

Between the excitement of Crypto Punks making million-dollar sales and the launch of the Board A Yacht Club in April, there was a period where it was all about punks. The Crypto Punk community was not thrilled, calling us frauds, fakes, and thieves. However, the trash art movement had garnered so much attention that other artists coming into the space became interested.Although I feel uncomfortable saying this, I believe I inspired 150 derivative projects within a three-month period, which were all part of the unofficial certified unofficial punks. I created this derivative and, in a fun way, started certifying other artist’s creations as “certified unofficial punks.” 

This led to the creation of my first Discord and my first project Twitter handle. All I was doing was trying to participate in the excitement of Crypto Punks, by making my own version. The artist had done his version, and I thought, that’s amazing, I need to do a second round one.

The fact that anyone knew who I was at that point was because of either trash art or the unofficial punks. I owe it to Robness, Max Osiris, and Jay Delay for bringing me into the trash art world, and Money for inspiring me to create my own version. This led to an entire 100 piece derivative appropriation art, which almost got me kicked off OpenSea. 

Thanks to someone who believed in my project, Matt and the guys from Larva Labs, they approved it as an homage. At that point, I was no longer at risk of being kicked off OpenSea. But there was a period where I almost got removed because of those against the derivative culture, which we now accept as standard. If you make a project and it hits, someone is going to make a derivative. That’s just the way it is.

[1:02:13] BW: It only contributes to the value of the original project, which many people didn’t realize in the early days, and many still don’t realize now.

[1:02:30] EPR: But they accept it. People accept that it’s part of the culture, whether they recognize the value of these projects or not. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from 2018 and 2019 when we were a dark corner of the internet with a bunch of weird artists uploading stuff on chain and trading it back and forth. Now, there are billion-dollar businesses. It’s remarkable.

Alotta Money and His Impact

[1:03:20] BW: I want to touch on Alotta Money because he’s a good example of an artist who’s had a meaningful impact in people’s lives through his art, engagement, and personal connection. 

Back in October, I did an interview series in conjunction with a piece coordinated by Arsenic Lullaby. There were a lot of portraits of Money in various styles by artists like Reinhard Schmid, Mikko Lyytinen, and Valerie Biets, among others. I interviewed everyone and asked them about what Money meant to them. This experience was like a wake-up call, similar to how a really good funeral can change your perspective on life. Could you tell me more about your relationship with Alotta Money?

[1:04:48] EPR: We were acquaintances. We operated in the same world and were constantly chatting back and forth on Twitter. We never met in person, but we had a similar sense of humor, which is what connected us. 

Actually, we became closer during a situation involving an influencer named CryptoFinally, or Rachel Siegel. She had minted what was called a “Thirst Trap” that was, in reality, not revealing at all. CoinDesk wrote a damaging article about it, which seemed to show a double standard. It was damaging to her brand.

At the time, I didn’t even know Rachel, but I immediately noticed the double standard. So, I decided to mint my own thirst trap, which was me in a towel, taking a selfie. It went viral and got coverage in Defiant News. Other artists, including Money, joined in. Money minted his own version where he was fully naked holding a unicorn. We both recognized the double standard against Rachel and that’s where we connected.

Art and Controversy

[1:08:30] BW: It’s interesting how your biggest successes seem to come from humorous or less serious responses to events in the web three space, which must have done a lot for your career. This leads me to the question I originally planned to ask, which is about the tactical advice you’d give to artists looking to make art the centerpiece of their life instead of just a nights and weekends hobby. 

Additionally, I’m curious about how artists should approach their career, considering your significant moments seem to stem from moments of play.

Alotta Money, for example, was renowned for frequently goofing off. Although you should take him seriously, he was having fun. So, I’m interested in hearing your take on all of this.

[1:10:11] EPR: Creating controversy or tension is a great tool to draw attention to your work. Both times I mentioned going viral—the artificial punks and Rachel’s thirst trap—were genuine responses to the moment. But this also ties back to the ethics behind my actions.

I could probably stir up controversy more deliberately, but if it’s not authentic to me, I wouldn’t be able to discuss the impact of these actions honestly. That being said, if an artist is comfortable creating controversy in a way that suits them, they should do so. For instance, Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power advises drawing attention any way possible. My interpretation is getting attention in ways that I can live with. The point isn’t rocket science: if you can get more people to see your work, more people will get to know you. The lesson is to find a way to generate controversy that aligns with you as an artist.

[1:13:04] BW: That’s an interesting take. I’ve read and recommended The 48 Laws of Power many times, considering it a source of creative inspiration. But I stop short of treating it as a self-help guide or practical philosophy.

[1:13:37] EPR: Many could, and some might find it manipulative. That’s why I filter everything I read through my ethical lens. Even when considering the 48 laws, I strive to use them in ways that feel right for me. I believe sociopaths could have a great time with this book. The emotional disconnect between sociopaths and the world is fascinating to me.

[1:15:01] BW: I once met a bona fide sociopath and conversed with him for quite some time. About halfway through our conversation, the pieces fell into place and I became intensely fascinated. There was a strange desire to know everything about him and his perspective.

[1:15:35] EPR: The aspect of social mimicry in sociopaths, their ability to appear so genuine, is incredibly intriguing. I’ve been experimenting with AI, using it to analyze research from the web three space and my own primary research. It generated six personas, which I released. But I also had it analyze Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. I asked the AI how I could hypothetically use these laws to manipulate the personas, and the results were astonishing. This has been a fun and creative endeavor for me. But you need to approach this with the right lens and intention, understanding that the AI is not perfect.

[1:18:49] BW: What was the fifth career path the AI suggested?

[1:18:50] EPR: It suggested I become a social impact strategist. I wasn’t sure what that entailed, so I did some research. It appears to be primarily focused on the nonprofit sector. It didn’t feel quite right for me. I think I align more with the role of an Art Therapist, but there may be some connection between the two.

[1:19:40] BW: The terms ‘social impact strategist’ and ‘art therapy,’ considering your work and intents, seem to intersect in interesting ways

[1:20:02] EPR: Indeed, they do.

[1:20:06] BW: As we wrap up the interview, I have one final question. I appreciate you coming on and being so open, even with my occasionally probing questions.

[1:20:25] EPR: I’m generally an open book.

[1:20:27] BW: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about art and creativity? Is there anything you wish you’d known or any mindset you wish you’d had? What would you say that your 20-year-old self would be receptive to?

[1:20:52] EPR: I’ve posed a similar question to some of my own interviewees.
As for 20-year-old me, it’s not so much difficult as it is complicated.
I think that 20-year-old me, caught up in excessive drug use, alcohol, and oscillating between anxiety and depression, wasn’t ready to hear what 44-year-old me would want to tell him. I believe I would need to approach him gently and suggest therapy—art therapy in particular. At that age, I was still discovering myself, somewhat interested in meditation.

Art therapy, undertaken discreetly, might have opened me up creatively earlier. So that would be my approach. I wouldn’t talk about being creative. Instead, I would suggest seeking therapy that resonates—probably art therapy—as it allows for communication through imagery.

[1:23:15] BW: That’s insightful. I interviewed another trash artist, wondermundo, who sees art entirely as therapy. She treats her morning art pieces like morning pages. That sounds like excellent advice.

[1:23:54] EPR: I often get stuck on ideas. A lot of my therapeutic pieces don’t make it out into the world, not because I’m hiding them, it’s just how it is. I see an opportunity here to grow, both as a creator and as a mentor for younger individuals like me. That’s the path I hope to follow.

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