Artist Profile: An Interview with Zam

Artist Darian Zam is one of the pioneers of the NFT community here in Australia. With over 30+ years of practice as an ‘IRL’ Artist consisting primarily of painting and drawing, he moved his practice entirely into the Crypto Art space in Sept 2020.  In that time Zam has moved over 300 NFTs and was also 1 of 21 artists invited to participate in Australia’s Future Art exhibition in Aug 2021. In this interview, we ask him a few questions surrounding his practice, his inspirations and what the future holds for NFTs here in Australia.

Bowie Morph 2020

You were an artist for many years before you began digital art. Tell us about your first encounter with NFTs – why did you want to get involved?

I started showing my work in a commercial gallery in my late teens, so it’s been a long road. After that, exhibiting Art was very sporadic, between menial jobs for a long time. Bills always come first, right? But I’ve always had a high output of work, I’m always making something, I just can’t help it. However, like most Artists it’s always been a struggle to be remunerated at all from it.

I’ve never played that IRL (in real life) Art scene game, it’s not my thing and people in the Art world are of two minds – they either hate or respect me for it. I also was routinely told by gallerists my work is too ‘commercial’ and ‘designery’ whatever that means. I was like a ready-made Artist, ripe for the space just based on my style which has always been very Pop and Street inspired. I had swapped to exclusively making digital Art from the late 2000s, I really struggled to get people to understand it was legitimate Art or get respect for it, you had to present it IRL in a way people would ‘understand.’ It was frustrating. But when the digital Art market exploded as NFTs, that finally changed everything.

I was also having a massive problem with IP theft, and I could see tokenization on the blockchain was actually a solution after trying everything I could think of to combat it. You have to show your work somehow, but you can’t stop people stealing it. I don’t worry about that anymore, if it’s not on the blockchain so it’s tokenized and tradable, it’s not worth anything.

In mid-2020 a friend I’ve exhibited with, Jim Thalassoudis a successful photo-realist painter and NFT Artist from SA, was already making NFT work, he approached me and insisted I get into it because my work was ‘right’ for it. I did have to be coached through the whole thing to start but before he knew it, I was off and running on my own. I’m glad he did, that was 18 months ago, it seems like years – but that’s already considered ‘early’ days. I’ve seen many people join in and many crazy things happen in that time! At the beginning you could kind of count, there were maybe several thousand Artists working in the space. Now the numbers are unfathomable.

How has your physical art practice translated into digital?

The majority of my practice has been painting and drawing. I already switched over to digital 12 years ago so to me it was not at all a big deal to segue into NFTs. I was always super interested in the idea of mechanisation of Art production, producing work automatically with machines and programs or just making copies, cutting up and editing things. A very Warholian philosophy. I was really interested in photocopies when Xeroxes weren’t readily available everywhere, and I would cut the copies up to make collages onto paintings, a lot like the work I have been producing until recently, which is actually a throwback to that time long ago. I was just always really interested in technology and the possibilities of it merely to keep up with the pace of my ideas. I began designing my paintings digitally in the late 1990s, just to make the process of painting more efficient. At that time, I worked in oils on canvas, it was time consuming and meticulous so mistakes were to be avoided; they couldn’t be fixed later. I started going into work on the weekend to use the new-fangled computer. Now my work is pretty much only available exclusively digitally, so if you purchase a 1/1 piece as an NFT you are assured that it is the only one that exists in the world.

Your art takes the form of vibrant collages, occasionally including well-known figures in pop culture. Where do you find inspiration for your art?

They are quite vibrant which is funny because I hate loud colours in real life; everything is monochromatic. I loathe pink, and other warm colours. I find them visually jarring and intolerable. But in art it’s fine!

A lot of colour is really an important element of NFT Art. It’s loud and busy; full of detail and movement. Some may say the aesthetic is juvenile. There’s several reasons why that is. The short history of culture around Crypto and NFT Art is borne of some really specific things and that has a strong influence on the look of it. I always refer people to Colin Goltra’s short essay ‘Unholy Unions’ which really answers a lot of questions.

I’m from the generation before that so I wasn’t raised on cartoons of the 1990s-2000s, gaming, memes, forums, and stuff so it was a real eye opener for me to understand it from that angle. What we do have in common is, we’re cool nerds. This is just part of the story though, there’s the whole side which is the point of view of people like me, IRL Artists who have made the journey across the bridge into that world, we’re the real adventurers going into a new and foreign place where we didn’t grow up.

As far as inspiration, well the celebrity thing just came about organically from an old, archived piece of work I minted at the beginning when I didn’t know what collectors were interested in. It unexpectedly got a positive reception, started selling so I made more. It was really an accident and to me, it’s quite hilarious that here we are in this uber modern and hi-tech space and what I’m doing is exactly what I was doing at the beginning of my career when I was a painter, using the same stars and sticking bits of cut up stuff on them. Didn’t see that one coming, but it proves it’s not all a market for futuristic 3D renderings.

I like making them and people buy them, but eventually it got to a point where I had enough experience in the space and my point of view formed. With reflection borne of experience, I wanted to make work that was referential to the space and a commentary on the personas and events within Crypto culture. So now I’ve moved to making work about day-to-day events, other Artists and influencers. Actual ’Crypto Art’ in the authentic sense. There’s a lot of Illustrators and painters tokenizing their work but very few true ‘Crypto Artists.’ It’s also very closely tied to Trash Art, the big movement that has come out of Crypto and NFTs. When people look back, they’ll zero in on zeitgeist work; it captured something brand new that was going on in that moment. Other stuff doesn’t get remembered so much because it’s not relevant to telling the story per se. Every once in a while, I get a kick of excitement that I’m involved in this right now, it’s a pivotal moment in Art history and we have a great sense of awareness of that.

Confetti Lamarr, 2020

What sort of digital art are you drawn to or like to purchase?

Somehow in 18 months I’ve managed to acquire 250 pieces. Once I find an Artist I love I will buy multiple items especially if they’re really affordable. I have learned to trust my instinct, if I think they’re amazing, they are and it’s a matter of time before others recognise that. So, for me, it has to have two qualities. First, I know they’re great and they’re being under-recognised, and second, I think it’s going to potentially be a good investment. It has to pretty much be both as a rule.

But to be honest, a big portion of my purchases for my own collection is buying Art NFTs from colleagues to support their careers and projects. This is demonstrative of how tight and strong the Art NFT community is.

So, think about it, don’t overthink it though. Trust your instinct. Look for smaller creators to support and lower prices and spread your currency out to support many. Investors buying one famous Artist like Pak and then throwing the rest around on pfps is really having a negative impact on the space and industry at present.

What do you think the future of NFTs will look like here in Australia?

It’s a weird question for me to get my head around, because the premise of the digital Art, NFT and metaverse is not tied down geographically, and is a boundless territory. That’s the primary way I perceive it. And yet geography is so tied into our identity it’s almost inseparable; human nature. The Artists in Australia have definitely connected and formed a strong and supportive community now we have found each other, that took a while. There’s also a distinctive look to it, you can draw a thread that can only be a particular Australasian cultural influence that’s come down from creatives like Jenny Kee and Ken Done. 

The capital is definitely Melbourne, I’d say about 75% of NFT Artists are based there.

Domestically Australia has already seen a number of firsts like Future Art which was the first NFT Art exhibition in Australia in January 2021 curated by Sats Moon and Dave Goode from the Potbelleez. Others are claiming they’re first but they’re not. FA may have in fact been the first globally!

It’s being staged again this year as a component of Vivid and travelling to a number of international cities. I’m one of the 21 Artists selected for it. There’s a number of conferences, exhibitions and regular meetups happening now and that will only continue to grow. Australia has many of the best NFT Artists in the world, and a number of the most successful. We stand up next to the greatest international, without even trying.

What is some advice you would give to aspiring creators/collectors who are keen to get involved in the blockchain?

For collectors, please don’t get seduced into the world of low quality pfp projects. Invest in something that’s less likely to go to zero. Every time you buy a 1/10,000 crappy animal meme you just took the money away from an Artist who needs to pay the bills this month.

You really have to be enthusiastic about the tech and the culture. If you like Art as well then, great. This is part of a much bigger picture. We are on a trajectory into an amazingly exciting new world which will change everything – we’re inviting you to be part of it. Participate in the community and support creators. Don’t come in mercenary and just buy things to flip, that’s disrespectful.

It really does take a particular persona and style. Almost every Artist (except for maybe the voluntarily miseducated haters) is interested in getting into NFTs but many don’t in the end, and that’s because it’s really not for everyone. It’s incredibly fast paced and high energy. It never stops around the clock. From here we are not just catering to a single time zone. You have to love social media and interacting, if not then forget it, find another gig because this one is as exhausting and frustrating as it is exhilarating. 

I think there’s this perception that it’s easy money and/or you’ll be an overnight success. Like IRL industries this is a rare occurrence for a lucky few. You’ll definitely be putting the work in.

Follow Zam on Twitter

Article written by Beatrice Madamba