During the pandemic, street artists like Eric Mancini lost more than the ability to go out and turn neighborhoods into a canvas.
The Denton graffiti and portrait artist, who now lives in Denver, has put his trademark squiggle figure portraits and satirical art pieces all over North Texas. His work has been shown in installations at the Stomping Ground Comedy Theatre, and his street art includes the Bishop Arts home he "remodeled" in spray paint and his infamous "Trump dumpster" pieces in which he plastered former President Donald Trump's giant orange mug on actual dumpsters.
The Dallas Mavericks took notice of the artist and asked him to design a special poster in his signature spray can swirling technique. It was scheduled to premiere at halftime during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks scheduled at the end of March of 2020.
Then, the coronavirus shut down the season and took away the chance to unveil what could have been one of his most widely viewed artworks.
"The season got suspended because of COVID tentatively and then it just stayed suspended for a while," Mancini says. "So the game never happened, but the poster was already designed and printed."
Now Mancini is getting another chance to share the portrait he made for the team thanks to the blockchain apps, which record the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies. The artist is selling the commissioned poster on blockchain commerce apps Mintable and Rarible as a non-fungible token, also known as an NFT. A portion of the proceeds will go the Mavs Foundation, which was also part of the team's original plan.
"It might be a flop," Mancini says, "but it'll live forever on the blockchain."
Mancini first caught team owner Mark Cuban's attention in 2019 by accident. He planned an April Fool's prank on the city of Dallas by making a fake, canvas banner announcing that a vacant lot on Lamar Avenue would be the site of the newest Trump Hotel. The piece of property he picked turned out to be owned by Cuban.
After he moved to the Rockies, Mancini says the team reached out to him to participate in the Posterized series featuring Dallas artists' designs of special posters for specific games during the 2019-20 season.
The NBA shut down the remainder of the 2020 season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The announcement happened right in the middle of the Mavericks' bout against the Denver Nuggets where TV cameras captured Cuban's real-time expression in reaction o the news.
Mancini says he had an equally shocked and saddened reaction.
"Doing this poster was the thing I was most proud of," Mancini says. "I planned to take my dad to the game and I was gonna go on the court and thought maybe my dad would finally see my art is not for nothing, and he loves me.
"He's supported me when I was living in Denton by letting me use the sunroom as a studio at their house and he's definitely been supportive, but worries that I'm not gonna be able to support myself making art and just wants me to have a good life. I thought he'd see how important art is to me."
In 2021 Mancini was urged by a friend to release his work as an NFT. He realized he could still premiere his poster design in a digital art market. He says he started calling the Mavericks and even corresponded with Cuban by email and got permission to put the Mavs vs. Bucks poster on the blockchain.
"It's like a collectible," Mancini says. "The best way to explain it is you have cryptocurrency and bitcoin so it's on the blockchain. A NFT is essentially digital term. It can be an audio file, a picture, a movie. It's essentially just a line of code.
"I can put an unlockable item on it so when they buy it, they can download a high-res file of the images. It's just a digital painting, a way to show digital art."
The NFT market is new but it's starting to boom. A recent Christie's auction sold a JPG artwork by the artist Beeple for a record-breaking $69 million, according to The New York Times.
Mancini says he sees a future with NFTS as virtual media access becomes more ubiquitous and accessible.
"Where I see this being valuable down the road is with augmented reality or virtual reality," he says. "So you have your Apple VR headset or glasses and you're walking down the street and there's a building. There's a potential way to show your work in augmented reality and it would display on that wall to anyone with an AR headset being able to see it."
The release of the poster on the blockchain is also the final step in a chain of connected events that may not have happened the way he planned but still gave Mancini the opportunity to share his art with a wider audience.
"It's all so connected that I felt like I had to do it," Mancini says. "I thought it was something fun that they might find interesting, but, at the end of the day, it's significant to me and that's all that really matters, I guess."
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