On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last night, Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist better known by his moniker Beeple, spoke about how he went from selling work for $100 to being the third-most valuable living artist. It’s the first time that the artist has made such a mainstream public appearance, cementing himself as the face of NFT boom.
The segment marked an interesting point in NFT history, acting as proof that a niche part of the art world had effectively crossed over and become the stuff of general discussion. On The Tonight Show, Fallon attempted to construct some mythology behind this recent art movement. Wearing his signature outfit of glasses, a collared shirt, and a navy sweater, Beeple was a little awkward and very earnest. The 40-year -old artist responded to questions in his thick Wisconsin accent while his two young children, his wife, and his parents sat in the crowd.
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Fallon started off the segment congratulating Beeple for his recent sale of Human One (2021), a sculpture attached with screens displaying a pacing astronaut that also has a corresponding NFT. At Christie’s, the work was bought on Tuesday night by Ryan Zurrer, a Swiss venture capitalist, for $29 million. During the seven-minute segment, Fallon painted Beeple as someone who was either a prophet or just an insanely lucky artist.
“Starting 14 years ago, you painted a picture every single day,” Fallon said, referring to Everydays: The First 5000 Days (2021), the NFT Beeple sold earlier this year at Christie’s for a record-setting $69 million. “But you had no idea that NFTs would ever exist! What was your wife saying?”
Fallon seemed to assume that Beeple had essentially done all this work for no return. But in fact, Beeple explained, he spent a long time building his following. When he hadn’t been making millions of dollars in one fell swoop, his skills as a digital artist had gained him freelance work. One form of work he undertook was creating concert visuals, which is how many digital artists make a living. “This is the American dream,” Fallon exclaimed, “because you were happy, before, to sell things for $100 dollars!”
Fallon went on to take a closer look at some of the 5,000 images that make up Everydays, starting with one of Beeple’s first-ever drawing, made with pen and paper and depicting the artist’s uncle. Beeple appeared embarrassed as Fallon pulled up the artist’s meme-like work: a mash-up of Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh in one, the face of Buzz Lightyear from Pixar’s Toy Story placed atop a fat man’s body in another.
As for one unfinished 3D rendering featuring a strange, semi-abstract figure, Beeple defended himself saying, “This was the day my daughter was born, and I had to do it very quickly before going to the hospital.”
Fallon’s interview with Beeple may have simplified the digital art economy—before and after the NFT craze—which is a lot more complex than Fallon made it seem. But it was clear that Fallon is passionate about works made in the medium, and The Tonight Show host went on to tell Beeple that he had gotten into the NFT game himself. Fallon said he is now a holder of a Bored Ape from the Bored Ape Yacht Club series, whose individual components can sell for more than $2 million.