In March of 2021, the most expensive NFT digital artwork in history was sold for over $69 million. Since then, the NFT market has grown exponentially as sales generated multibillions in months.
Leading up to this sale, sales have ballooned by 1700% from December to February. A true precursor to the meteoric rise in popularity of
NFTs. This boom in the NFT market also comes on the tail of a particular sale
in December that saw an artwork get sold for $3.5 million. Not to much
surprise, the artist behind this sale is the same man who sold his artwork for
$69 million a few months later-- Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann.
What are NFTs?
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are what many can consider the internet’s futuristic treasures. After an unprecedented explosion in the NFT market at the end of 2021, the art trade in the digital space has suddenly taken the world by storm and into mainstream prevalence. NFTs, powered by blockchain innovations, and their market has only grown since.
This wave of newfound renown in the market has enabled transactions that have reached value amounting to billions. During this craze, the highlights of what seems to be the dawn of a revolution in the art scene are events like the purchase of Beeple’s NFT artwork for over $69.3 million, the selling of an autographed tweet by one of Twitter’s forefathers -- Jack Dorsey -- for nearly $3 million, and the re-emergence of the legendary Nyan Cat.
There have even been cases when these modern treasures have outvalued actual world treasures. Claude Monet’s Nympheas, a timeless piece, sold for $44 million in 2014. Compared to Beeple’s masterpiece, the legendary impressionist piece is $15 million less.
It is important, however, to know that bonafide NFT copies valued at the hundreds of millions are much more complex than just an image that people can just download. Thanks to the power of blockchain technology, artworks, videos, and other media files can be minted to prove originality, validity, ownership.
However, through NFT print on demand sites, people are starting to bring NFT art into the real world more often.
However, it might come as a surprise to many crypto art enthusiasts to know that Beeple isn’t the highest-earning NFT artist in the world. After a quick check on October, it was discovered that the honor belongs to the artist Pak, whose sales have broken the 200-million-dollar threshold.
Beeple is about 48 million dollars behind on total sales, but is, however, still the most closely monitored artist in the world according to several crypto-based blogs and sites.
As more and more artists and content creators enter the perpetually-growing NFT scene, the industry, in turn, has given rise to artists bursting into prominence. From the Beeple-Pak duo who was primarily responsible for the NFT prominence of December to February to the 18-year-old up-and-coming artist Fewocious, opportunities are rife for anyone fortunate enough to produce the next industry-defining art piece.
There are, however, artists who have been dubbed by the community as the stars of the industry. Here are 20 artists who have produced at a high level and are seated at the very top of the pyramid that is the NFT industry.
Pak has been at the summit of the digital art community in recent months. Now involved in the creation of crypto media, Pak has mostly operated with anonymity. As an active artist in the digital art community for two decades now, Pak is a master of leveraging the progress of technology and its evolution in creating art that pushes known systems and techniques to its boundaries.
Pak is most the distinguished founder and lead designer of the studio named Undream and is also the creator of Archillect, the AI designed to spelunk and disseminate stimulating visual pieces. As trailblazers and leading stars at the paramount of the rapidly expanding NFT space, Pak has become known as exemplars in crafting striking artwork paired with innovative token systems that create cutting-edge media. Their latest creations, Lostpoets, and their most recently developed tokens, Fomoverse, were highly acclaimed and well-received by communities, collectors, and enthusiasts in the NFT circuits.
As of October this year, Pak has been the best-selling artist in the entirety of the NFT industry so far. In total, his artworks have fetched an approximate value of $200,679,591.82.
Mike Winkelmann, or more prominently known as the famed “Beeple,” is a graphic designer residing in Charleston, SC, USA. Beeple, as the most sought-after artist of the early 2020s and late 2010s, is adept in creating a variety of digital artwork that range from short films, Creative Commons VJ loops, Everydays, and VR / AR work. A repertoire and versatility that is intensely coveted by the most esteemed collectors in the industry.
In the aftermath of the release of his widely used Creative Commons VJ loops, Beeple was able to work on concert visuals for Hollywood and music A-listers like Justin Bieber, One Direction, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Zedd, deadmau5 and many more.
As one of the proponents and pioneers of the current “everyday” movement in 3D graphics, Beeple has been able to create a picture every day from start to finish and share it online for over a decade without missing a single day.
The value of all his artwork combined is valued at approximately $142,409,179.19. He has sold 1,346 pieces and has fetched $105,801.77 for every artwork on average.
A London-based crypto artist and one of the pioneers of the NFT industry, XCOPY has been NFT circuits since the days of the SuperRare launch. He released about 100 NFTs on the platform and has had continued prevalence on a variety of other NFT platforms. XCOPY is one of those artists who have achieved legendary status, leading communities and his pursuits with style and excellence. His artworks, as of October this year, have accumulated an estimated value of $54,679,591.82.
With artwork averaging about 7,222.84 dollars apiece, XCOPY’s artwork heavily focuses on distorted visual loops and flickering lights featuring imagery precautions. Many of XCOPY’s works have death, dystopian, and apathetic themes and connotations. Some pieces feature a scribbly portrait of a title character, garbed in a set suit and tie with wide glaring eyes straight out of a horror show.
Among the more famed artists during the rise of the NFT art community is the duo from Milan named Hackatao. According to explanations, ‘Hack’ represents the gratification of venturing under the skin and discovering the hidden treasures inside and ‘Tao’ for the symbol of Yin and Yang, the creative and dynamic balance that exists in their relationship.
After the mastery of other mediums like sculpture, canvas, and many other techniques, Hackatao moved their artwork to the blockchain in April 2018. The duo quickly found success in the NFT industries and were eventually considered amongst the premier artists blazing the train in the crypto art space.
Hackatao have sold 2,241 artworks and have gained a total of $27,413,569.25 in value, averaging $12,232.74 per sale.
Victor Langlois, or FEWOCiOUS, is among the most decorated and flourishing members of a budding community of queer crypto artists. As one of the most visible proponents, FEWOCiOUS is part of the demographic that is finding success in the burgeoning NFT market. Langlois is among the rising names in the industry and is a great bet for NFT buyers and collectors.
As a blossoming multibillion industry, Langlois is among a prestigious circle exclusive only to the best the trade has to offer. During his tenure, his artworks have raised a total of about $23,305,813.26. FEWOCiOUS has sold 3,188 artworks that average $7,310 for every sale.
A true scholar of the arts, Trevor Jones is a graduate of Edinburgh University and the Edinburgh College of Art with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He earned this distinction in 2008 and is now one of the foremost painters and crypto artists of the past few years.
After graduating from the prestigious university, Trevor Jones became Director of Art in Healthcare for a non-profit art workshop for people with disabilities while also lending high-caliber original Scottish artwork to healthcare institutions and other medical environments thorough out the country.
When crypto art gained traction in the past decade, Trevor Jones rose along with it, becoming one of the finest artists of the past few years and gaining renown in the NFT space. With the release of his most recent collection, ‘FROM PALETTE TO CANVAS,’ since his first in 2020 that was deemed legendary, ‘Picasso’s Bull’, crypto art communities are surely excited to welcome Trevor Jones back.
His artworks have collected approximately $20,903,385.97 by selling 5,286 pieces.
Michah Dowbak, an illustrator based in Toronto, is a Mad Dog Jones on Instagram. The nature of his artworks is described to be a selection of ideas that pass through his brain, projected into the digital space. Maddogjones, who also creates science-fiction artwork, also expresses his commentaries on societies’ overreliance on technology through his art. This dependency on technology fuels his storied sci-fi pieces as one of the premier artists in the NFT art industry. He also draws on themes of tech, love, and friendship as his way of ushering this generation into the future.
Dowbak is known for a creative process with elevated attention to detail and elaborate techniques that make for fine art pieces. As of October, his artworks have raised an estimated value of $18,454,038.17. Selling 1,587 artworks, Maddogjones can rake in $11,628 for every artwork on average.
Known for provocative artwork, Slimesunday produces some of the most brilliant artwork in the world. This is is the reason why Slimesunday has had a history of several run-ins with Instagram due to censorship. Slimesunday’s artwork is more than just its provocative nature as it is created in high quality and excellent craftsmanship. In total, Slimesunday has raised value that reaches up to $13,666,692.03 in estimation, producing 6,789 artworks in the process.
A comic artist straight from Argentina, Jose Delbo started doing art by drawing for institutions like Pancho Negro, Batallas Inolvidables, Misterix and Rayo Rojo-- South American comic books. Jose Delbo spent most of his career, training, learning, and honing his craft in the United States. His work has fetched him an approximate total of $12,943,777.12, selling 3083 artworks in the span of his tenure. On average, artwork crafted by Jose Delbo is sold at $4,198.44.
Robbie Barrat, prominently known as VideoDrome, is one of the finest artists in the crypto art scene in recent years. Despite being among the best-selling artists, even entering the top 10 at some point, VideoDrome has announced that he no longer plans to engage with the NFT market.
“I don’t plan on making any more [NFTs] until the environmental/speculative aspects of the space change (if ever),” VideoDrome announced on Twitter in April 2021.
This is one of the most interesting stories the NFT space has witnessed since its inception because of, mostly, VideoDrome’s skill and fame. Selling only 41 pieces under the VideoDrome name, Robbie raise a market-shaking average of $331,264.33 per artwork.
The mind and hands behind the Vandal Gummy Bear series, WhIsBe is among the most successful artists in recent years due to the success of the iconic collection. Upon reimagining the famed Vandal Gummy Bear series into NFTs, the familiar and colorful delights have been given a new edge as it was juxtaposed with a mugshot background.
Despite being more prominently recognizable with the red gummy bear, WhIsBe’s work has integrated other gummy bear colors and has also explored textures to add to the NFT collection’s features.
The artist, who has chosen to remain anonymous throughout their tenure, revealed that their moniker is short for “What is Beauty” to encourage their fans and viewers to focus on their critique on established and problematic institutions. “Not Forgotten, But Gone,” was sold in March 2021 for a million dollars. The piece was a 16-second video that features a gummy bear skeleton, holding up a plaque for a prison mugshot behind bars which many of his followers recognize to be reminiscent of an exhibit in a museum.
As of April, WhIsBe has been known to have gathered $11,196,845.86 through their art averaging $4,507.38 for every sale.
Micah Johnson, aside from being one the most prolific artist in the NFT art scene in recent years, also makes one of the most interesting career journeys in the crypto communities. Once a Major League Baseball slugger, he entered the crypto art industry with a highly-acclaimed series of sculptures and digital art entitled “Aku: The Moon God.” The series was a collection of art pieces that features a black child drabbing an astronaut’s hat.
Recording 1,534 total sales as of April this year, Johnson rose to prominence averaging $2,244.55 per artwork.
What makes Johnson’s NFT unique is the fact that every piece comes with a physical sculpture. His highest recorded sale, "The Vault," includes a sculpture of Aku encaged in a physical vault at the Art Angels Gallery in Miami. The owner of this unique NFT has private access to the temperature-regulated vault where he resells visiting rights to fans and enthusiasts alike.
Johnson’s work goes beyond art for the sake of business, often creating pieces that have real-world implications and messages. One of his highest-selling pieces, called “ˈSÄ-V(Ə-)RƏN-TĒ” enables viewers, collectors, fellow artists, and fans to donate BitCoin to two young children in the Black community, with the mission of sending them to a quality school and gain a decent education.
Justin Blau is a DJ and fintech enthusiast with the pseudonym 3LAU. 3LAU is a creative musician who’s been releasing electronic music since the wake of the early 2010s. Blau has been recognized to have the talent worthy of performing in widely anticipated events like EDC Vegas, Electric Zoo, Lollapalooza, and many others.
In the early days of the blockchain craze, 3LAU has made it known that he was a firm believer in the new-age technology. A few years and an NFT market explosion later, the name 3LAU now stands with the elite artists at the pinnacle of crypto communities, successfully selling 6,479 artworks while averaging $1,527.61 for each sale. Since releasing his content and music as mostly NFTs, he has earned over $9,897,667.32 as of April 2021.
“Gunky's Uprising" one of his highest-selling pieces, was created with the collaboration of artistic director and fellow NFT giant Slimesunday and sold for $1,333,333.33. The 3-minute track paired with SlimeSunday's visuals was christened under their joint name SSX3LAU. With the influence he gained through crypto communities and NFT circles, 3LAU was able to ignite the fires for the first blockchain-powered music festival in 2018.
Etching his name among the visionaries of the NFT space through both the digital and real-world environments, Turkish-American Refikanadol with a successful professional campaign at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the Portland Building in Oregon. His moniker, Refikanadol, is derived from his name, Refik Anadol.
Refikanadol specializes in the advanced art and science of machine learning. As he develops his art, Andol strives to craft abstract environments that represent what occurs in dreams, achieving the most accurate manifestation possible. This process has opened him to success in the digital realm selling 536 units of his work for an average of $16,768.04 each.
One of his highest-selling digital works is a 3-minute video entitled “Machine Hallucinations.” The NFT was made available and sold on Sotheby’s “Metaverse” on October 4. Unique compared to most works of art, Andol maintains a relatively basic design. The piece features a woman standing in a room viewing a digital sphere revolve around her.
Despite being less visible compared to the other names on this list, FVCKRENDER remains to be one of the finest artists of the NFT industry. Working anonymously, FVCKRENDER believes that their group of artists are a decade early on art innovations surrounding the NFT market. Having sold 1,970 art pieces that gathered roughly $8,947,604.05 in total, artwork from FVCKRENDER costs $4,541.24 on average.
The group’s art style emphasizes “sharp architectural geometry,” to conduce a sharp feature on his subjects that often revolves around concepts of human effort and struggle. One of his highest-selling pieces called “Self_Help//” portrays a hyper-realistic human face shattering through a sheet of liquid steel. A pair of silver hands are also featured as it motions to cover the skin to hide certain aspects of the visage.
Remember that famous whistleblower who exposed thousands of classified documents to a bevy of journalists all over the country in 2013? That’s Edward Snowden. The famous whistleblower sold just one piece in the NFT market to break the Top 20 biggest NFT artists at the time. His expose from nearly a decade ago also involved NFT market secrets. Although, admittedly, it was just a small expose of what is a long and controversial document.
Selling his sole piece called “Stay Free,” Snowden was able to fetch $8,796,676.16 overall. The NFT features a full and unadulterated copy of Snowden’s landmark court case decision covering a silhouette of the whistleblower’s face.
The iconic duo of Slimesunday and 3LAU also made the list of the top 20 NFT artists of this time because of the sheer skill and craftsmanship the two NFT giants share. Together, the crypto community stalwarts have sold NFT goods that amount to up to $8,191,686.80 as of April 2021.
The DJ and art director partnership under the name SSX3LAU have produced over 5740 artworks. The dynamic duo’s works average at about $1,428.48 each, with their highest-grossing piece, "Gunky's Uprising," was sold for $1,333,333.33.
The video lasts three minutes long and starts with monochrome visuals of what looks to be a mountainous landscape. As the music progresses and the beat finally drops, pops of neon color quickly fill the screen in the entire spectrum of the rainbow, juxtaposing with the black background. The landscape terraforms into various geometric shapes, transforming the mountains into triangles, circles, and squares as a neon hand gradually conquers the page
Cherniak sits among the pioneers of the cryptocurrency scene. Cherniak has had direct involvement in helping a bitcoin tipping mechanism for journalists get off the ground. Coinbase, established in 2014, was launched with Chenrniak’s help. He has also been involved with the art scene for an even longer time. These passions of his combined in the emergence of the NFT market. Even as one of the premier artists of this era, Cherniak has sold only 17 NFT artworks as of April 2021. But even for just this minute number, he was able to rake in at least $459,357.74 on average.
In total, Cherniak was able to gather $7,809,081.56 as of April 2021. His artworks have a blueprint-like aesthetic as it seemingly helps design a machination that would never seem to be built. His best-selling works are part of a single collection and are all called “A slight lack of symmetry can cause so much pain,” and feature several conveyors and cogs painted in aesthetic perfection. The highest-grossing piece in the collection garnered $3,164,872 in its last auction.
Coldie is an elite artist that combines a gripping representation of themes and the innocence of someone new to the internet at the same time. Coldie’s work can disturb audiences and draw them in for a story for the ages.
With little surprise, COLDIE has won several awards because of the content and message of his artwork. His name has gathered renown and fame in crypto communities and the NFT industry as one of the top artists in recent years.
Gathering a total value of over $7,631,020.47 as of April 2021, Coldie has sold over 242 artworks at an average price of $31,533.14. His art pieces often tackle large landscapes, figures made of magazine cutouts, and a deep focus on famous eyes.
One of Coldie’s most famed art pieces is called “Almost There.” An artwork that accumulated values reaching $532,372.50. “Almost There” was sold in an auction in August 2021. The piece exhibited a silhouette of a figure gradually hesitating down an illuminated path that lead into a desolate landscape, filled with artistic allusions.
Alotta_Money is a unique artist that specializes in the creation of digital collages. This artist’s work ranges from the bizarre to the most accurate commentary on the political status quo. With versatility, Alotta_Money is a master of surrealism that utilizes the masterful use of eccentric artistic choices. If there is a need for digital collages, Alotta_Money is the perfect choice for any collector or buyer. His work has become endeared to general audiences, selling 1580 pieces of art by April 2021, garnering an average of $4,537.23 per piece that helped him accumulate $7,168,824.71.
In collaboration with another prime artist named Jivinci, Alotta_Money produced his highest-selling piece. The message of the product of this tremendous collaboration is the summary of the status quo that dominates the NFT market. It features a romantic-style painting of Satoshi Nakamoto, the man alleged to have been responsible for the famous bitcoin, as he created the currency’s famous white paper in the manner resembling Martin Luther. His highest-earning solo project, on the other hand, is called Arnolfini Shrimp. This artwork is a reinvention of a renaissance painting, transformed into GIF format and reimagined with trippy colors and demon-like eyes.
These artists have worked and honed their skills their whole lives. While these names are certainly among different echelons as many other artists out there, it’s important to know that the NFT market is still very much cutthroat.
Competition in NFT
According to statistics curating institution, Statista, the rise of NFT in 2020 was so meteoric, it resulted in a tenfold growth. Data gathered by Statista discovered that the market cap of non-fungible tokens saw a nearly tenfold increase from the timelines between 2018 and 2020. Further, these findings are still to be treated to be conservative as collecting data on the NFT market is presents challenges of its own being a new and fragile market. There is, however, one thing that one may surmise from current circumstances -- there has been exponential growth in this industry.
However, as the industry continues to grow, more and more artists, collectors, enter the fray to venture upon uncharted waters. After a survey of the market, NonFungible.com found that each day thousands of NFTs are sold.
According to data collected by the NFT data-based website, sales of NFTs can range from 15,000 to 50,000 per week. This can easily be attributed to the boom in the latter parts of 2017 as only 100 sales per week were made before the unprecedented dominance that took place from 2018 to 2020. These sets of data then suggest that competition had drastically increased in recent years.
The competition in the NFT industry has become so fierce that statistics have revealed that the majority of NFTs produced sell for less than $200. Despite several NFTs being sold for millions on occasion in 2021 alone, the reality is that many artists compete at the average selling price. Research regarding primary sales by artist Kimberly Parker, joined by an anonymous data scientist, 53.6% of NFTs sold on OpenSea in March 2021 were purchased for less than $200.
This only further contextualizes the prestige and skill artists must possess to be among the best in the NFT industry. The NFT market is far from easy. And like all other industries, it takes extraordinary means, extraordinary minds, and extraordinary people to reach the pinnacle of their craft.
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