After graduating from art school, Trevor Jones was “completely broken” and struggling to make ends meet, but an early adopter of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, is now one of the most successful crypto artists in the world.
In 2021, the Edinburgh painter famously broke records when he sold an open edition NFT of his painting, The Bitcoin Angel, for the equivalent of £2.4m. He also collaborated with the likes of Succession’s Brian Cox, Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall and mystery author Ian Rankin on a 2017 celebrity portrait series titled The Famous, and worked closely with American rapper Ice Cube over the course of seven months. for their collaborative mixed media work, Man Vs. Machine.
And now, the artist is linking up with the Evening Standard for an exclusive new NFT to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. First created in her Edinburgh studio by Jones as a physical painting, The Oath captures the grand jewels of St Edward’s Crown – which was also worn by the late Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953 – in vibrant brushstrokes. Once transformed into an NFT in collaboration with Apollo Entertainment, the final digitized piece gives way to reveal a hidden, multi-layered world of animation, all inspired by the grandeur of the coronation as a pivotal moment in UK history.
Unlike many other NFTs, which are typically purchased using cryptocurrency, readers can own The Oath NFT with just an email address, opening up this still-growing area of the art world to an even wider audience. .
“I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to work with really great people,” Jones says, reflecting on his career. “Brian Cox was so funny,” but also too popular for his own good. “His cell phone went off, literally every two minutes.” In many of the other augmented reality overlays from the interview footage Jones created to accompany the famous portraits of him, there is hidden footage of the subjects of him discussing their lives. Cox, meanwhile, is now immortalized in digital time and space, constantly hanging up on people. “It’s only there that he answers the phone calls: ‘I’ll be right back’. “No, no, I’m busy doing something else.” ‘I’ll talk in a minute.’”
Calling himself a “social realist painter,” Jones actually comes from a traditional art background, first creating his physical pieces by hand in a studio before later transforming them into interactive, changeable digital pieces. He now he is one of the leading names in the growing NFT artwork space. No wonder he manages to fill an entire French mansion for his annual Castle Party, a gathering for crypto-converts and the curious, which raises money for cancer charity Maggie’s.
Trevor Jones’ life-changing journey into the art world began when he was 31, in the midst of what he terms an “early midlife crisis.” Originally raised in Lumby, a small logging community on the cusp of Western Canada’s Monashee Mountains, following a creative path never seemed like a tangible dream for Jones growing up.
Although he briefly moved to the big bright lights of Vancouver in his early 20s to pursue dreams of becoming a “rock star” – inspired by the likes of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Metallica, and playing what he now describes as “horrible 80s Rock” – Jones quickly realized that there was little money to be made and returned to his hometown. He got a job driving a loader at a gravel pit, but soon became restless and hit the road.After backpacking through Australia, he followed his grandfather’s ancestors to the United Kingdom, eventually ending up in Edinburgh.
It was here that Jones decided to make a drastic start and go to art school. Depression had taken him to “very dark places” at the time, and art somehow seemed to be the answer. “Interestingly, art just gave me more questions and no answers, but it got me through those tough years.”
When he graduated, he was in his 30s and “completely broken” with “nothing but a stupid arts degree” to his name. “So it’s been an adventure ever since…”
Art just gave me more questions and no answers, but it helped me through those difficult years
Throughout his travels around the world, Jones has been an early morning user of social media to keep in touch and has always had a fascination with technology. Fresh out of art school, with very little cash to spare, he became interested in the largely untapped potential of QR codes—a two-dimensional unique identifier that can be recognized by a smartphone—as a marketing method. So “I started thinking, on a creative level, what if I draw QR codes and create an integrated website? My paintings would become, in a sense, like a window or a door to a digital dimension”.
His 2016 collection I Would I Lie to You: the Art of Politics and Propaganda meanwhile – which featured a number of world leaders including Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – paired his seemingly conventional artistic portraits with an added layer of AR, taking viewers to additional elements such as videos, with an alternative narrative for each subject.
Jones thought he’d struck gold with these earlier pieces, but “unfortunately, nobody cared,” back then, he laughs. However, the whole endeavor made him start questioning the processes and norms of the mainstream art world, and he slowly began to distance himself as he went out on his own. Then, the stars aligned when Jones was first introduced to the idea of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which are often bought and sold using cryptocurrency.
In essence, an NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital trading asset, which is completely unique and cannot be replaced by anything else. While it’s certainly true that the power of owning a one-of-a-kind item is an ancient concept, what’s interesting about NFTs in particular is how ownership data is stored in the form of digital “smart” contracts that travel with the l object, wherever it goes. It’s theoretically possible to turn pretty much anything you can imagine into an NFT if ownership is involved — from music to house deeds — but the technology is often used as a method to sell and trade digital art.
At first, he admits he was baffled by the whole thing: Why on earth, he wondered, would anyone want to buy digital versions of physical artworks? That’s a very fair question, but sheer interest in his early forays suggested that the demand was there. When her first NFT piece, EthGirl, sold for a record 70 ETH (the shorthand given to the cryptocurrency Ethereum), Jones knew she was on to something.
That piece “opened my eyes to the possibility that it was genuine and that there was an opportunity here to make a living,” she says.
So where does this value come from? For Jones, the answer lies in subverting the traditional structures and mechanisms of the art world. If someone showed up at the Tate Modern to buy Matisse’s The Snail, they would likely be laughed straight out of the Turbine Hall: by convention, collecting art is often a rather opaque process, involving having contacts in the right places and being scrutinized as a buyer in advance.
Not so in the world of NFTs. Here, everything is available in the public record, with smart contracts even offering the option for an artist to continue earning royalties whenever their NFTs are resold in the future. For Jones, that means he has continued to earn royalties on his best-known work, such as The Bitcoin Angel, since its initial sale in 2021.
“It’s more democratic, and it’s also more transparent,” he says. “Whereas, in the traditional art world, a lot is done behind closed doors. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in this high-end space, but for the most part you can see exactly what sold and how much.
Unlike delicate canvas, you don’t even need to worry about the digital pieces being damaged in transit.
Jones has long been interested in the idea of modern age icons in his work, immortalizing world figures alongside divisive personalities such as Dr Jordan Peterson and Milo Yiannopoulos.
As he prepares to publish a brand new NFT work to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, in collaboration with this journal, this same idea of iconography is naturally present in his mind. After all, it’s hard to name an institution more ubiquitous than the British royal family: their name is graced on every mailbox, every bank note, in the UK.
“As a painter, and from studying art history, I recognize the value of the social content that artists have contributed over the centuries,” he says. Creating a new piece that reflects the king’s coronation, he continues, feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to commemorate a truly historic day. “I’m trying to capture the things that are happening in the world today that are relevant and our unique monumental occasions. This seems to be one of them”
“What are the possibilities, you know? A boy from Lumby, now living in the UK as an artist, and able to create this amazing piece of art in partnership with the Evening Standard.
To celebrate the coronation of King Charles III on 6th May, the Evening Standard has teamed up with Trevor Jones on brand new commemorative artwork, available as an exclusive free NFT to readers of the Evening Standard. It will be available from May 4 to 7 onwards Elegant portal
The Bitcoin Angel Castle Party is at the Château de Vallery near Paris from September 3 to 5; for business cards www.trevorjonesart.com