Art means different things to different people. And for NFT artist, Trevor Jones, art is probably what saved his life. As a traditional painter, whose works are mostly in oil on large canvases, Jones is an unconventional figure in the crypto art space rife with digital artists. Yet, today, he is one of the most renowned NFT artists, whose works have sold for millions of dollars.
“It feels surreal,” Jones tells about his journey to NFT Evening in an exclusive interview. “It’s been a very long journey. So I feel privileged and honoured and blessed. Unexpected. But it’s been quite the journey.”*
Speaking to us from his studio in Scotland over a Zoom call, Jones is as humble as ever. His paint-splattered studio (at least what we can see) has all the markings of a typical traditional artist’s atelier—desks and shelves scattered with paints, brushes, and other tools. On the wall behind him hangs a large work-in-progress of Steampunk Bull in oil.
So, how did an academically trained painter like Trevor Jones make a mark in the burgeoning NFT space?
But Who is Trevor Jones?
Admittedly, unlike most traditional painters, Trevor Jones didn’t start painting at a young age. “I started my art journey 20 years ago. I was 32 years old; I wasn’t young.”
At the time, Jones had moved to Edinburgh, Scotland from Western Canada. He was battling depression when he decided to find redemption in art. After doing a foundation course, he enrolled in the MA Fine Art programme at the Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art in 2003. By the time he graduated, he was all of 38 years of age. And what awaited him was not pretty.
“I was trying to figure out how to be an artist and how to make a living,” he recalls. “Like most artists, I was working two or three jobs, I was running a small arts charity, I was teaching part-time. I knew many of the artists working and living here in Edinburgh and I saw the impossibility of making a living as an artist. There were very few artists I knew personally who were doing well.”
By this time, Jones was quick to realise a few things. Firstly, he had two “moderately successful” gallery exhibitions in 2010 and 2011. The experience made him understand the exorbitant expenses that went into creating a show—right from material costs to studio expenses.
To make things worse, the galleries took 45 to 50% in commissions. At the end of the day, despite selling about 80% of his works, Jones did not even have enough money to pay for another year’s overhead costs.
“I realised fairly quickly that I had to think outside the box, that I needed to approach this differently,” he says. “So, I was interested in exploring new opportunities.”
Transitioning from QR Code Art To Augmented Reality and More
“The other thing that happened was when I was in art college,” Trevor Jones adds. “I read a study that on average a person views a painting or an artwork for 17 seconds before they move on to the next art piece. And that really stuck with me. I thought, ‘it’s interesting…is there any way that I could look into this and try to find ways to get people to engage with my art for longer than 17 seconds?’”
For Jones, the new opportunity he sought came knocking during his solo exhibition, The Poem of Ecstasy, in 2011. During the show, he noticed QR codes, which immediately piqued his interest. With more research, he realised the full potential QR codes could have for his works. Soon, he was using them as tools to promote his exhibition.
“But before the show even opened up, I was already wondering if I could paint these and actually make scannable QR code paintings,” Jones recalls. “Then these QR code paintings would open up to another dimension—an online gallery. And that’s what we ended up building; an online gallery where other artists from around the world could upload their own artwork too.”
By 2013, he moved to Augmented Reality (AR), to bring his paintings to life. However, he struggled to convince other artists to use the technology or galleries to show his innovative artwork.
“That’s essentially how the transition happened—from trying to figure out how to engage viewers longer with my paintings to tell new stories and opening up digital dimensions with technology through the artwork. And it only took another five or six years of rejection to finally wait for this crypto and NFT art space to open up.”
Trevor Jones’ foray into the NFT space
As someone who has been working at the intersection of art and technology for over a decade, entering the NFT space was a natural progression for Trevor Jones. In a way, his NFT journey was set in motion in 2017 when he purchased some Bitcoin. Even though crypto art was a novel concept back then, Jones found himself conceptualising a crypto-themed painting exhibition.
Despite the big crypto crash that followed in 2018, in which Jones “lost everything”, he proceeded with his exhibition. And CryptoDisruption, Trevor Jones’ solo exhibition, launched the same year. It was around the same time that more crypto artists started entering the space. With the launch of marketplaces like SuperRare and MakersPlace, NFTs came under Jones’ radar. But, he admits, he was slow to embrace NFTs.
“Although I heard about NFTs, I wasn’t really sure how they would fit with my painting,” Jones says. “I saw myself as a physical, traditional painter”. It took him over five months to figure out how he would fit within the NFT and digital art space. It was at this critical juncture that he met the late NFT artist, Alotta Money.
“Alotta Money told me he’ll help me,” Jones adds. “He basically held my hand throughout our collaboration.”
The result was Trevor Jones’ genesis NFT drop, called ‘EthGirl’ which dropped on SuperRare in late 2019. This was only the beginning of bigger things to follow.
Becoming One of the Best NFT Artists of All Time
In the following months, Trevor Jones released a series of NFTs, each in collaboration with notable artists such as Pak and Jose Delbo. But, arguably, his 2021 release—Bitcoin Angel, takes the crown as his most popular work.
The exquisite painting takes inspiration from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1652). It features an angel thrusting an arrow into the heart of Teresa, with a golden Bitcoin token in the background.
“It was my first solo open edition—it was just perfect timing,” Jones says. By the time he dropped The Bitcoin Angel, he had built a reputation in the space, which certainly worked in his favour. Besides, the crypto market was on another Bull run.
That said, during the drop, he was not only “over the moon” but also “terribly frightened”. If this drop didn’t sell, he may have had to “crawl back to the legacy art world”. Incredibly, the painting did not just sell but broke sales records after fetching $3.2 million in just seven minutes. A total of 4,158 editions of the piece sold at $777 each on Nifty Gateway.
Trevor Jones on Staying Motivated
Finally, Jones found the redemption he was looking for, over a decade after entering the art world. Through multiple rejections and failures, what kept him going was his “stubbornness” and “fear of failure”.
“When I graduated from art college, I had nothing. I had no money, no contacts, and no family here in Scotland. I really had only myself,” he says. “So, it motivated me to do absolutely everything I had to do to reinvest everything I made back into my art career…to work as much as I possibly could. It was that sense of urgency—I saw the future coming fast, and I didn’t want to be 65 or 70 years old and still a struggling artist.”
On top of that, in art college, Jones failed to score good marks, despite putting a lot of time and energy into his works. A major reason for this, he claims, was the personal issues with his main tutor.
“That also drove me,” he says. “[I thought], ‘I’m going to prove to you [his tutor] that I’m an artist. Your opinion of my work has nothing to do with what I’m going to do in the future.’ So it was a bit of a chip on my shoulder, a bit of attitude, that carried me through a lot of the hard times.”
Trevor Jones’ Exclusive Event: The Stirling Castle Party
Now, Trevor Jones is gearing up for a first-of-its-kind, special edition castle party. Pegged as this year’s most exclusive crypto event, it will take place at Stirling Castle, located in the heart of Scotland. Set to take place on July 30, the event is only for holders of Bitcoin Angel. The fete will feature DJRT, tribal drums and pipe band Clanadonia, and Dusty the Magician, to name a few.
Interestingly, Jones got the idea for the party on Twitter. He was wondering what to do after the Bitcoin Angel drop when an NFT collector on Twitter suggested throwing a castle party for Bitcoin Angel collectors. One thing led to the other and a dedicated Discord server later, the castle party is now coming to life.
“It kind of developed from a crazy idea into what is we’re planning to be either an annual or biannual event,” Jones says. “We’ll pick a different country, different castle every time, and invite Bitcoin Angel holders to celebrate art, technology, innovation, and especially friendship.”
“The idea was—especially in the aftermath of COVID and lockdown—there’s a lot of really important things in life,” he adds. “And money isn’t really one of them…Meeting people in real life and building friendships is special and you hold on to these for your whole life.”
Moreover, the event will also support Maggie’s Centre in memory of Alotta Money, who passed away in March 2022 from cancer. Maggie’s is a local charity providing free cancer support across the UK.
Trevor jones’ quest to be unique is reflected in his choice of castle party location as well. Located on a vast volcanic rock, Stirling Castle has been witness to some of the most historical events of Scotland. Indeed, what could be a more fitting location for an artist blending traditional art with the digital, all the while questioning the legacy art world?
*Quotes are condensed and edited for clarity