Digital artist Jack Butcher offers handmade prints of his viral multimillion-dollar NFT collection, “Checks”
That’s nothing Twitter can agree on. Disagreement, outrage, derision – these are the platform’s currencies, its enduring ethos. There was a time, however, when the platform’s little blue tick indicated status, an account of confirmed reputation, however fraught.
Elon Musk ended those halcyon days, democratizing authenticity to $8 a month, and ever since there has been an artist playing with Twitter’s flat reality and asking the giant question: can humanity find consensus on anything?
That person is Jack Butcher, an advertising guru turned NFT star, whose Checks the project, released earlier this year, gamified fundraising networks with Twitter badges and generated over $50 million. The game went like this: first came a 24-hour flash of open-issue NFTs priced, naturally, at $8, next collectors were encouraged to burn this original for a chain web of 80 tick marks which, when burned with another, created a 40-mark NFT. Game logic expanded until collectors arrived at the end of the rainbow: a single black check.
Exactly 100 days after the launch of ChecksButcher will end his latest installment with Checking items, a 152-piece generative art collection platformed by Christie’s that offers collectors physical companions to digital assets. An auction of three print-and-NFT pairs will run from May 16 to 23 on Christie’s 3.0 NFT platform. The transcripts will be sent from 24 May.
In his latest quest for universal consensus, Butcher has traveled to the pre-internet era, landing on earth, water, air, and fire as primary categorizations that defy geography, language, or culture. Essentially, Checks colliding ancient symbols from humanity’s analog past with the sign that once reigned in the digital. consensus, Elements seems to confess, is temporary.
Each of these elements corresponds to a dominant colour, whose variations and gradations are revealed in four-by-five grids produced by a bespoke algorithm. These are embossed digitally with a corresponding work printed via a lithographic press on paper chosen for its ability to handle intensive overlays of colour. The works are 30 x 42-inch mono prints divided into six levels from Alpha (four prints) to Complete (64 prints).
“By translating Checks for the physical world, there is nothing interesting to me in a one-click process. It is not conceptually exciting, says Butcher to Artnet News. “Checks is about authentication and there are parallels in how we create generative algorithms and the printing process. You have constraints and you add variables to create unique outputs – it’s a very handcrafted process.”
To execute the physical works, Butcher collaborated with master printmaker Jean Robert Milant, whose Cirrus Gallery has worked with the likes of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Mark Bradford and Judy Chicago over the past 50 years. It’s certainly a coup for Butcher, a creator whose work until now has been closer to the crypto crowd than the art world, and required a willingness to get his hands dirty. He achieved this over the course of a two-day meeting, followed by intensive trial-and-error sessions involving experimentation with crayons, pencils and ink washes.
The matchmaker was Martin Klipp, founder of Beyond Art Creative, who aptly met Butcher at the opening of Beeple’s gallery opening in Charleston and believes his fellow Englishman is a “generational artist” whose work is “universal” in appeal.
Bold words, perhaps, but even before the breakout success of ChecksButcher had built up a strong following and amassed hundreds of millions in sales through his series of Visualize value NFTs, works that spelled out big ideas in easily digestible graphics. The visual description of “Tools,” for example, shows a flint next to an iPhone, while “Delivery” is a postage stamp next to a red warning sign.
It’s a stylistic minimalism that grew out of Butcher’s background in commercial design. “I realized that what I was most talented at was trying to distill ideas into diagrams and pictures,” Butcher said. “But it took discovering what an NFT was to understand that it was a possibility.”
On the other hand, Milant, while largely focused on physical prints, has long been interested in works that reach into the digital realm. “I’m seriously interested in bringing the art world into the 21st century,” Milant said, noting that he has previously tried, and failed, to collaborate with artists on digital projects. “There is a perception that the internet world is not art.”
It’s a misconception, Milant and Butcher agreed, that is mirrored by misunderstandings about the work involved in traditional printing, one undoubtedly influenced by the rise of all things digital. From the outside, the terms “prints” and “editions” seem to signify the absence of the artist, a simple act of copy-paste. As Butcher found, this is far from the case. It’s an accusation that carries an eerie echo to the one who often lobbied at NFTs.
There is, of course, a contraction at play here, the idea that a person whose career and following stemmed from a mastery of the digital is now highlighting the value of physical art alongside an old-fashioned printing press. And a butcher is fully aware of that.
“Extending the medium beyond the digital feels more in the art category than being on screen forever,” says Butcher. “It’s an irony, but there’s something special about seeing your work in the physical world.”
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