Interview with Gavin Shapiro
28 March 2023
Gavin Shapiro is a digital artist whose ultimate goal is to produce work that makes you smile. He focuses primarily on playful conceptual artworks that explore how we can use digital tools to confront our expectations of what’s possible in a traditionally physical art world
Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
Hi! I’m Gavin Shapiro, I’m a digital artist based in New York City, and have spent the majority of my career working as a motion graphics designer primarily focusing on 3D design and animation. I started in 2009 doing motion graphics and visual effects for The Onion, and since then have had a vibrant career working at various studios and agencies, even spending a few years working abroad in Paris and Osaka. In mid 2020 I was brought into the world of NFTs and for the last two years I’ve been focused pretty much full time on creating personal work.
What influenced you to pursue a creative path? What have been your biggest challenges so far?
I was surrounded by art from an early age; my parents used to be artist representatives in New York City, so art was their world and they shared it with me. As a kid I remember looking through big coffee table books full of art, design, and typography, and my toys were building blocks and Legos and other kinds of arts and crafts. They got me this program called Kid Pix, and I started making art on the computer, and eventually they got me Bryce 3D and I took my first dip into the world of 3D art. This interest in digital art continued through college, where I went to school for Film and TV production, and eventually got an internship at The Onion where I began to specialise in motion graphics.
A big challenge for me has been figuring out what my personal style is. After about a decade of client work, I realised that while I was great at executing a range of styles under creative direction, I hadn’t really figured out my own artistic voice. It’s taken years of experimentation, introspection, overthinking, and making mistakes to figure out what to say with my work and how I say it, and I’m still working on how to evolve it into something new while still having it feel like my own.
I also struggle with the psychological drain of social media and keeping up with the pace of technological advancement in my field. I find it exhausting to perpetually feel like I will be left in the dust if I am not paying attention, and I wish it was easier for me to mentally break away and find balance. I’ve also been humbled by new pressures that have emerged since making a career out of a passion, things that were not there when art was just a hobby that I would turn to to relax and enjoy creating something. But in the end these pressures have made me much more thoughtful about the art I make and have inspired me to grow and evolve my work.
How and when did you get involved with NFTs and the crypto art space?
I first got involved in the crypto art space in mid-2020 when Nifty Gateway found my work on Instagram and reached out to ask if I wanted to do a drop with them. I gave it a shot, and from there I also started releasing work on SuperRare as well. This was my first real involvement with anything crypto-related, and also my first time creating a Twitter account and getting so involved with online communities on a daily basis.
I’d release a drop with Nifty Gateway every few months, and periodically release pieces on SuperRare as well, and after about a year I was earning enough from my work that I was able to leave my full-time job as a motion design director and take a stab at a full-time art career.
What is your favorite NFT of all time, and by which artist?
It’s hard to pick one favourite, but I think for me it’s ‘Saving Face’ by Andreas Wannerstedt. I find the concept brilliant and hilarious, and I love imagining coming across this on the grounds of a contemporary art museum. At its core the motion is so simple and elegant, but it’s been articulated with a level of detail and thoughtfulness that is rarely seen in this kind of animated work.
Others that stand out for me are pretty much anything by Oscar Pettersson and Arben Vllasaliu, and also the CAR project by Shl0ms which I think is genius as a piece of conceptual art, both for its simplicity as well as meticulous execution.
Do you have any advice for artists joining the digital art sphere or the NFT space?
I think the most important thing in the long run is making good work and making work that people will remember as yours. Focus on your art and work towards making it better. Learn to recognize the things about your art that make it uniquely yours, and work towards highlighting that. If you spend too much time chasing trends, you’re more likely to get lost in a sea of competition, but it’s easier to stand out if you’re the only one who can do what you do.
Make sure you are sharing your work with the world, pay attention to the response and see if there are any learnings that could help improve future work. Be honest with yourself about what didn't work and what you could do better. Of course creating art is a very personal thing, but consider how your work might be interpreted from someone else’s point of view as well. Connect with other artists and learn from them too. Be friends with people who are honest enough to tell you if your work is bad. Art is very social, it is a form of communication and it is a conversation - pay attention to what kind of work is out there so you can add to the dialogue. You will not succeed if you completely isolate yourself.
In short, focus on making good work that people can identify as uniquely yours, and integrate yourself into whatever part of the art world you are interested in. From what I’ve learned so far, a lot of success in an art career boils down to luck, and I think the best you can do is work towards increasing your chances of being exposed to opportunities, and try to make sure that when opportunity knocks, you will be ready to impress.
Could you talk about the piece you’ve made for 0x Society?
The idea for this piece started at NFT NYC in 2021, when me and my wife Audrey met Yannick in person and he mentioned the possibility of doing a show where all of the NFTs were accompanied with a physical piece as well. Audrey’s a painter, and we had done a collaboration before, so we loved the idea. We decided to make a panoramic landscape that is essentially a super high-end fine art version of one of the squads from my Five Penguins generative art series (fivepenguins.art).
Audrey grew up in New Mexico, and her work draws a lot of inspiration from the landscapes out there, so we designed a scene that utilises these kinds of elements that she paints so naturally. After I animated it in 3D, we took a frame from the animation which she then painted in acrylic on a big 48” x 16” canvas. By the time we had gotten this far, AI tools had developed to the point where we were able to train a Stable Diffusion model on the painting that she made, and then used that AI model to help re-render the original 3D animation so that each frame looks like she painted it in her style. The end result is an animation that looks like it’s made out of 120 painted canvases.
AI image generation is of course a huge ongoing conversation right now, and we wanted to experiment with ways we could use it as a tool to help articulate our vision and execute something that would have been otherwise impossible to create.