Spotlight: Mathijs from The Netherlands - Colour Amidst Complex Narratives

To me, NFTs are a breeding ground of design, art, and tech. There are a lot of crazy things happening, and it’s not just collecting jpegs for virtual coins.

Hello! Who are you and what do you do?

Hello! My name is Mathijs (pronounced like Matisse, but instead of isse, you say ice), and I’m an artist from The Netherlands. A bit of a broad definition, of course, but that’s the term I feel covers it best.

There are two sides to the work I do, and it’s easiest to split it along the line of autonomous and commissioned work. Together with my business partner, I run a small creative studio where we do client work and self-initiated projects.

We create things like key visuals and stage design for festivals, we do mural projects, and we’re currently doing a city-based art project.

Besides that, I create narrative series of art from a personal standpoint. For example, I’m interested in the effects of technology on mankind and use that as a starting point for telling stories or exploring issues that pique my interest.

My work originally started out purely digital, but I’ve taken up painting as my medium of choice in the last few years. The reason for this was to experience creating something that felt more ‘real’ in a sense. Tactile, physical.

Funnily enough, after a while, the digital aspect slowly came creeping back into the work, and the divide between physical and digital started blurring for me. While the line blurred, so did my personal notion of what is ‘real’ in this context. Why would digital not be real?

It was a bit of a mental hurdle I had to overcome for myself, and then NFTs came into the picture. A perfect medium to solve this issue in my head, right?

What’s your backstory and how did you start?

Remember RuneScape? I used to play that game a lot back when it first came out some 20 years ago. You could say I grew up on it; that’s how much I played it.

That game came with a big community that hung around on forums. Making little signatures for people to use on those forums was my first venture into digital art.

I used Paint Shop Pro 7 back then. It brought me a world full of possibilities to explore, from abstract images to figurative pixel art scenes. So I did.

From there, I experimented. Eventually, it crystallized into an illustrative style, which I took to Threadless - one of the original T-Shirt design competitions - where I had a lot of fun and again met a community full of inspiring people and possibilities.

Threadless brought me the first opportunity to actually make a living from my art. While working in web development and design for my employer, I created crazy t-shirt illustrations on the side.

Eventually, this led to me going full-time freelance illustrator/designer/artist - a plunge for sure, but a plunge worth taking.

My art evolved with me, and illustration gave way to other methods of creating. Eventually, I reached the point I mentioned earlier, where I hungered for something more ‘real.’ To me at that time, that meant something physical - art you see in a museum.

Then, as I did so often, I ventured off the main road I was metaphorically traveling along and dove into painting. To see what it could bring me, to see what I could learn.

So I painted. Originally I set out to do non-figurative work. My digital work before this was always very figurative. It was always a thing, a scene, a coherent, clear concept. So to learn something new, I had to let that go.

Abstract images were my starting point, but very quickly, the figurative bias that is within me took over again, and I just seem to have the urge to make it into ‘something’.

I’ve been painting for something like five years now, resulting in my first solo museum show last year. My work is once again figurative, very colorful, and aims to tell stories.

The museum show was titled #Blessed and looked at the comparison between modern-day idol worship and religious structures, language, and imagery. There are a lot of similarities, which make for some interesting conversations.

To do this, I created three series of paintings, like chapters in a story. The first part looked at global celebrities like Beyonce and Kanye, examining how they portray themselves and placing them in a religious visual framework. A mixture of portrait painting and famous classical paintings.

The second chapter of the story compared emojis with hand gestures in religious art.

The final chapter looked at new celebrities, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers and examined how they present themselves within the context of this story, as well as the platforms this new worship happens at.

Interesting differences are found when comparing these new superstars with the global popstars, especially in the way they present themselves and communicate with their audience.

My personal favorite of the show was ‘The Assumption.’ A painting about YouTube star NikkieTutorials, arguably the biggest Dutch YouTuber. During the process of making this piece, which uses elements of ‘The Birth of Venus,’ Nikkie announced that she is, in fact, transgender. It fit perfectly with the image that was being created and actually added an extra meaning to the piece.

All this took place in a museum that focuses on religious and classical art. So to say this took the regular audience by surprise was an understatement!

The paintings for this show originally started out as pure paintings on canvas but slowly evolved to incorporate more digital techniques. [More info and all pieces are found here on my website

A few pictures from this show:

The first time I came across NFTs was somewhere in early 2020, where I found SuperRare. It seemed cool, but I didn’t really understand what the whole thing was about, so I left it. Missed opportunity...

Then I came across it and other platforms again at the start of 2021, and I tested the waters with some older digital work. I also worked on animating some of the older pieces to adapt to this new world. I experimented with combining some paintings together.

All of the things were to try and get a grip on what exactly was going on in this world, and how it all worked.

I sold a few pieces on OpenSea and Foundation, and then the big crash came. At the same time, client work started flaring up again, so my time and energy went there.

Recently I stumbled across HicEtNunc, took a good look, and realized it was a really fun place to experiment, which was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to try something new that I had set in motion on Foundation but take it further.

And then we arrive at the present moment. At this point, I’m steering my painting path back into the digital world, where I came from.

The NFTs I’m creating on HicEtNunc are digital composites of various physical paintings, combined with digital painting in Photoshop to create something new.

Take us through your creative process of conceptualising, making, and minting your work

The starting point of my current NFTs is always portrait painting. I look through my work, see which particular work stands out and sparks something.

From there, I combine parts of other paintings, often things that don’t exactly seem to match. They clash together and create a problem that needs to be solved.

This way of working makes me break out of my comfort zone and results in some pretty volatile work.

It’s a very organic process, no planned series of actions; things just happen. That’s a rather vague way of describing my process, but it’s how it works best for me.

I find satisfaction in the unexpected results that emerge. When things click together, they move fast, and I never really take very many screenshots of the progress.

A little peek into the first part of the progress might be interesting?

Here’s a quick animation from a recent portrait I did, from which the final result forms the starting point for a new NFT piece, to be released soon.

Some final results from other portraits:

What do you do to increase the visibility and collectibility of your work?

The main channels I currently use for the promotion of my art are Twitter and Discord. The community is there, so you need to be there as a creator.

Originally I used mainly Instagram to connect with my audience, but I found the NFT audience is gathered largely on Twitter. Before starting in NFTs, I did not use my Twitter at all.

Having to start fresh also brought the upside that all the people who began to follow me were here for the NFTs. On Instagram, that’s not the case. So a new way to communicate purely with this new audience was perfect.

The works I’ve been creating in this world are all part of the same series, making it easy for people to know who made them. I let the art do the branding and keep my persona in the background.

The focus should be on the art. My work stands on its own through the use of color and the mix of traditional and digital art.

Time spent connecting with the community is hard to track, as it happens during the day at random moments. Though I do make an effort to check in every day just to talk with people I’ve come to consider friends, I wouldn’t describe that as marketing.

What have you learned about NFTs and the NFT space since you’ve entered, and what is your focus for the future?

What I’ve learned so far is that there’s always another thing to learn in this world. Things move fast. I personally love seeing all this development happen around me.

To me, this place is a breeding ground of design, art, and tech. There are a lot of crazy things happening, and it’s not just collecting jpegs for virtual coins, which might be the observation one might make when you first look at it.

I truly believe NFTs and the accompanying decentralized apps that come with them have a place in our future. This is going to be mainstream tech, but it might just happen in another form. A more accessible form, if you will.

Personally, I compare it to the parts our current internet is built with. We don’t see all the moving parts inside, but we use it for everything. We won’t need to know something is running on a blockchain, and the things that come out of it are NFTs, but we will use them.

To me, it is also going to bridge the gap of perception between digital and traditional art. Digital art has always been lesser in some way. The times are changing.

If I look at my art career, I’ve been focused on creating physical works to build things like museum shows. However, the energy and insights the NFT world has given me will surely impact my regular art practice.

I’m not entirely sure what that will look like, but it’s a new additional way of looking at things. A new tool in the arsenal, if you will, to use when it is appropriate when it helps the story I’m trying to tell.

What platforms/tools do you use?

My current home is HicEtNunc, and I’m enjoying it very much.

The tools I use are acrylic paint on cotton, a camera, and Photoshop. Plus, some other tools I won’t name now because it would spoil what I’m working on :-) Shh.

Which books, people or resources have had the most influence on you?

This is a tough question for me to formulate a concise answer for. I like to take in sights and sounds from all sorts of sources. To make it easier on myself, let me just name a few folks:

Andrew Salgado. Masterful contemporary painter. Self-proclaimed maximalist who creates the most incredible paintings I’ve ever seen.

Vincent van Gogh. Obviously.

Henrik Uldalen. Another ridiculously talented contemporary painter who is rocking the HicEtNunc scene right now. Not afraid of a little experiment either.

Anthony Hurd. I only recently discovered their work, but it totally hit all the right notes for me. Explosions of color and texture, a little creepiness and a lot of fun. Their work is some of my favorite in my HicEtNunc collection.

Advice for artists who are just starting out with NFTs and the crypto space:

Connect with people. Just be a normal human being and talk to folks. Don't constantly push your work into people's faces, but build relationships first. Support comes more easily from such a position.

A tip concerning HicEtNunc: don't come in too high, price-wise. A lower humble price point allows a broad adoption of your work. Slowly build from there.

Where can we go to learn more about you? 

Short questions:

Country of origin: The Netherlands

Where are you based: Uden, The Netherlands

Describe your art style(s): Colorful, complex, narrative

Years of experience in Art: 15+

Largest NFT sale: The Visionary - a 0.75 eth sale of an animated piece I did on Foundation, sold to Billelis. 

Describe yourself in one line: A quick-witted and stubborn creative who likes to figure out how things work.

timongty Timongty, Founder of Galleseum
🌏 Indie Maker (currently exploring the crypto space and metaverse). Enjoys chilling and making cool stuff