Who is Josie Bellini?
Crypto artist Josie Bellini is most famously identified by her iconic Bitcoin gas mask from Filter. She has become one of the most prominent NFT artists, being featured at Christie’s and on just about every NFT marketplace platform available, including SuperRare, ASync Art and Nifty Gateway.
Born and raised in Chicago, Bellini always had a passion for art. But growing up in poverty, she wanted to live a life of plenty, leading her to major in finance at college and take a job at a TradFi company.
Weirdly enough, her desire to learn more about finance led her to crypto… which led back to art… which led to making money.
“Growing up in poverty, you don’t hear about stocks and investing,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘I have all these clients that were investing, and they were making money, while they were asleep.’ I kept thinking, ‘How can I do this?’”
She didn’t have enough money to invest in half the things she recommended for clients, as she wasn’t an accredited investor. A spark reignited about a paper she’d written in college about Bitcoin, and she fell down the rabbit hole of Ethereum in 2017.
“I started to think deeper about crypto and how this could potentially be my breakthrough. I got obsessed,” she says. “I’d ask myself questions of why Bitcoin was invented, why Ethereum came along, and what the differences between the two were.”
Bellini would attend Bitcoin meetups in her hometown, and before long, she quit her job to work in crypto, aiming to become a full stack developer by attending a coding bootcamp, “but I absolutely hated it, I don’t remember any of it. What I did love was the design side of it.”
“I started making websites, logos and materials for blockchain conferences around the world and also crypto companies. That was my foot in the door to getting work in the industry.”
“By the end of 2017 is when I made my first personal crypto artwork; that piece was called “Genesis,” and it blew up on Reddit. At the time, the term ‘crypto art’ wasn’t really a thing, and I wasn’t using it then myself. What I was doing was creating themed art to spread awareness of cryptocurrencies.”
Crypto art to NFTs
It was nearly two years between Bellini making her first piece of crypto art (“Genesis”) to minting her first NFT as an artist (“Tune In”) on June 23, 2019. “Tune In” was a physical painting with the NFTs accompanying 21 prints. It’s a timestamp for the NFT ecosystem in early 2019.
“In 2019, there were all sorts of NFTs at that time, CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties, Chain Breakers; you also had Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Neon District and Autoglyphs had just come out, so I snuck those into the piece last second,” Bellini says.
In early 2022, CyberBrokers was born, a 10,001-NFT collection Bellini had been cooking up for years. Josie is the founder and CEO of the project, which considers itself a media and entertainment company focused on the metaverse. The art was hers with help from Azamat Khairov.
Having grown up in the neighborhoods of Chicago, Bellini has developed a love for street art and graffiti, which shines through in her work, particularly the CyberBrokers collection.
“I grew up around a lot of street art. I was always interested in graffiti and all the different fonts.”
A collector as well as an artist, Bellini collects a lot of other Chicago-based artists’ work and draws inspiration from the likes of Kayla Mahaffey (artist/illustrator from Chicago), Bisa Butler (award-winning African-American textile artist) and Hebru Brantley (contemporary American artist using anime and graffiti).
“I fell in love with a lot of local Chicago artists like Kayla who’s amazing. Also, Hebru [Brantley] who’s really famous and does Flyboy.”
“I’m also obsessed with Bisa Butler. I’d die and go to heaven if I could own anything by Bisa, but everything is going to museums,” Bellini says.
Notable sales to date
While NFT insiders were well aware of Bellini prior to 2022, CyberBrokers caught the attention of the newer collectors on the block in NFT land.
It shot out of the gates in March 2022 after a carefully curated allowlist process in February where Bellini and her team rewarded existing collectors of her art and Twitter and Discord followers.
Minting at 0.35 ETH, the floor on the secondary market pushed up to the 4–5-ETH range within a month, including some massive sales for rares in the collection, such as “Gnash” for 150 ETH on March 31, 2022, and “Tempo” for 120 ETH on April 4, 2022.
Despite a sharp downturn in the NFT market in May, CyberBrokers remains focused on content, collectibles and experiences. “We’re born of crypto art and the metaverse. These are the things that I am obsessed about and have been living since 2017,” says Bellini, who says the project is focused on innovation.
“This includes us being stored 100% on-chain. We’ve released mechs which are full 3D, rigged and interoperable with many different virtual worlds. There are 17 billion combinations of the way people can mix and match their NFT. We’re always trying to push the next thing that much further.”
“We’re building out a massive beautiful universe that you can peer into through our website. We have some of the most talented people that have ever stepped foot into this space on our team, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Why on-chain NFTs matter
An often overlooked nuance to NFTs is whether they are stored on-chain or the art/image is pointing to a third party, such as IPFS. Bellini is a big proponent of true digital immortality.
“What we’ve done specifically with our art was to create it in vector format, which means that the vector gets translated into code. The code knows where the points are, where the shapes live, where the colors live. I’m simplifying this a lot, but basically, that code gets written into a contract,” says Bellini.
“For example, let’s say 200 years from now, I’m gone, my team’s gone; hopefully, I’ve uploaded my brain to the internet, and I’m living through some AI dupe of myself, but if that somehow doesn’t happen, as long as someone can access the code that launched and you can still access Ethereum, you will be able to generate the art simply from the code. You can generate every single 10,001 CyberBrokers from code.”
While her digital art has already achieved a form of immortality, she really does want to live on forever in the metaverse.
“My husband and I joke about it all the time. If one of us goes before the other, we better figure out how to upload each other to the internet so that we can live forever, and our family. We joke about it, but in all seriousness, I think about this thing often, and I would for sure love to live forever.”
Which hot NFT artists should we be paying attention to?
Giant Swan (A_Giant_Swan) — VR artist based in Melbourne, Australia. A world builder through art.
“When I look at Giant Swan’s work, you can’t stop thinking, and you start to feel a certain way. I can see the blood, sweat and tears. I can see that he’s put his heart in his canvas and the way that every stroke he builds them in VR.”
“They have so much depth and so much emotion to them. Every paint stroke he puts on there has purpose, and it looks like these humans are turned inside out. You literally see they’re wearing their emotions — they’re wearing this scene that he’s building around them. It’s just incredible.”
DominikG (@0xDominikG) — Freelance concept artist.
“I recently found and tried to buy this piece of his. It takes you through a journey where you’re thinking, ‘Is this guy tripping on drugs? Is he going crazy? Is this what his brain is really like?’ It’s chaos but it’s beautiful. It’s scary, but it’s cool. I just love getting caught up in that sort of amazing journey.”
As an OG and such a respected artist, Bellini not only has a number of notable collectors, but many other well-respected artists also collect her work.
“There’s a lot. I don’t want to forget people, and these are not in any particular order, but Steve Wand is one. Steve is an amazing person and was one of the first people who saw my artwork in person at a conference and fell over it. He told me he loved what I was making and wanted one of everything to be my biggest supporter. It meant the world to me,” Bellini says.
“Also J1mmy and Pranksy. J1mmy is one of the only people that I’ve ever done a commission for. I painted one of his CryptoKitties, and that’s how we met — in the CryptoKitties channel. Pranksy has become a really good friend over the years. He’s absolutely amazing and such a beautiful person to know.”
“There’s a lot more honestly. It makes me smile that some of my friends that are crypto artists themselves are collectors of my work. People like Matt Kane and Coldie. Means a lot that they’re interested in my work.”
Behind The Art YouTube Series: https://www.youtube.com/@JosieBellini/playlists
CyberBrokers Website: https://www.cyberbrokers.com/
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Greg Oakford is the co-founder of NFT Fest Australia. A former marketing and communications specialist in the sports world, Greg now focuses his time on running events, creating content and consulting in web3. He is an avid NFT collector and hosts a weekly podcast covering all things NFTs.
Follow the author @GregOakford