Digital and NFT artist Mike Winkelmann, popularly known as Beeple, needs no introduction. After all—in a way—he has become the face of the NFT craze that blossomed last year. Little over a year ago, Beeple’s record $69 million NFT auction at Christie’s had made headlines for months. Even today, there’s likely no one in the NFT space that doesn’t know about Beeple and his iconic NFT artwork “Everydays – The First 5000 Days“.
At the time, Everydays broke every NFT sales record as the most expensive NFT sale in history. This remarkable achievement was only surpassed in December 2021 by NFT artist, Pak. Luckily, NFTevening’s Angela Giampolo got the chance to speak with Beeple during NFT In America conference.
But, who is Beeple?
A few years ago, Beeple was just your average digital artist with no worldwide recognition. To be sure, digital artists and digital art themselves were yet to attain the popularity they enjoy today. Indeed, Beeple recalled that he didn’t really consider himself an artist for the longest time. In his own words, he was a designer that “people hired to solve problems.”
Obviously, Mike Winkelmann was not always known as Beeple. As a matter of fact, he started going by the moniker in 2003.
What Is A Beeple?
Apparently, ‘Beeple’ actually refers to a little furry bigfoot-like toy that beeps. The original toy was also an inspiration for some of his artwork. Namely, the spring collection of 2021 featuring vials of hair “which were actually shaved from one of those Beeples”. Plus, over the years, Winkelmann has often gifted these toys to fans, friends, and family.
How Did Beeple Become So Famous?
Even as little as four months before he made his eight-figure sale, the most his art had ever sold was for a mere $100. This was when Beeple held an exhibition in Toronto in late 2019. There, the organisers decided to put up his artwork for a “ridiculous amount of money”, knowing very well that no one would buy it.
They were right—no one bought neither the original piece for $14,000 nor the prints for $1,000 each. The most anyone bought were the prints costing $100.
How Much Does Beeple Make?
But, the tides turned in Beeple’s favour when in October 2020, he sold his first pair of NFTs for $66,666.66 each. Later, in December, a series of his works fetched $3.5 million in all. In February, one of the NFTs from his first series was sold for $6.6 million in the secondary market. Weeks later, “Everydays – The First 5000 Days” made history.
“Now I just make whatever the hell I want and pray to God somebody wants to pay money for that,” Beeple told NFTevening. Today, he describes himself primarily as a digital artist who is now “starting to wade more into the traditional world (physical world)”*.
Top NFT Artist Mike Winkelmann On The Secret To Success
Post the Christie’s auction, many have described Beeple as an overnight success. This comes despite the fact that he didn’t create the piece overnight—it took him 13 years. To an extent, Beeple agreed that for the traditional art world and the media at large, he “came out of nowhere”. However, he reasoned, they are focusing on the NFT aspect alone and not the social media following he has gained over the years.
“I think social media and building up a following of millions of people over the preceding decade, that’s what allowed me to do something like this once this NFT technology came along,” he said.
“Something that people maybe don’t really understand with NFTs is this is not some magic bullet where you’re suddenly going to start selling stuff. If you do not have a built-in audience and you have not built a community around your work, then it is going to be very hard to sell stuff—NFTs, canvas, photography, sculpture, whatever.”
Building An NFT Community Is Key
That’s exactly what Beeple did—he built an audience over the years. “It had nothing to do with sales for the first 20 years here,” he added. “I think it’s really just about making that emotional connection with people. And if people don’t have an emotional connection to your work, I’m sorry, they’re just not going to buy it.”
Beeple & Fame: After The Everydays Christie’s Auction
A year since his record-breaking sale, Beeple said that he’s still processing the Christie’s auction.
“Things were happening at a [normal] pace and then everything just got bumped up to a new pace and then it stayed at that pace,” he said. “…because NFTs have not gone away. Now, there is this sort of shorthand—if you’ve heard of [NFTs], then there’s probably a good chance you’ve heard of me too.”
“Even now, when I’m in the fu***** airport, somebody comes up to me and wants to take a fu***** selfie,” Beeple added. “That was not happening before. So, it’s a different level of attention that I’m still getting used to. But, it’s also been just so exciting and something that I just feel so, so blessed and fortunate to be in this position.”
That said, Beeple believes a “degree of luck” certainly helped him reach where he is today. Even though he put in the time and work, he added, he did not invent NFTs. Indeed, he didn’t join the NFT space as early as you’d think. Actually, several others were working on them for years before that.
“It’s something that I have processed, but I’ve also, to some degree, just made peace with the fact that I’ll never kind of fully process it…Because it’s just one of those bizarre things that just does not seem like that happened.”
What’s next for Mike Winkelmann?
Currently, Beeple is building a 50,000-square-foot building in Charleston, South Carolina, which will act as his studio. The space will also have a gallery which will likely be ready in the next couple of months. Besides, the building will also have an “experiential space with tons of projectors”.
Winkelmann hopes this space to function as a bridge between the traditional and digital art worlds. “A place where I can show physical work immediately without having to wait,” he explained. “It will also be a place where we can have events and bring communities together. I think it is going to be super exciting and something that I’m very much looking forward to.”
Many thanks to NFT in America for arranging such a great interview with the legendary Mike Winkelmann (Beeple). And a huge thank you to Beeple for lending us your time.
If you want to see more like this, catch the full Beeple interview on our YouTube channel and watch this space for more interviews coming soon.