Raphaël de Courville is an Artist living in Berlin. The enormous digital scene attracted him in the first place to this city. As he was born into a family of art lovers, growing up in Paris was a dream. Many great museums just around the street. His inspiration comes from his love for abstraction and early computer art. He sees the most significant issue of the NFT Scene in its energy consumption. But the adoption of eco-friendly blockchains like Tezos or L2 solutions like Polygon helps to transform the ecosystem.
NFT Granny: “Dear Raphaël, it’s a great pleasure to meet you. Besides your work as an artist, you are organising “Creative Code Berlin”. I was wondering how big the scene in Berlin is?”
Raphaël de Courville: The digital art scene is a large part of what attracted me to Berlin in the first place. We started Creative Code Berlin back in 2012 as a friendly hangout for anyone interested in using computer code for artistic purposes. We have gathered a loyal community over the years. This being Berlin, there is also always new people joining or passing by. We even had the visits of fantastic artists like Manoloide, Saskia Freeke, or Dave Whyte (beesandbombs). In all cases, we do our best to keep it casual and inclusive, and I think that is what our community enjoys about our meetups.
How did you first become interested in art, and how did you get started with it yourself?
Raphaël de Courville: Art has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. As I was born in a family of art lovers and, growing up in Paris, I also had easy access to some of the best museums in the world. I was very privileged in that way.
Around 2009 I started to take my art practice seriously, when my friend Roman Miletitch and I formed the interactive art duo Sable Vivant. We travelled to festivals in France and the UK, showing our digital installations. Later we got involved with the Graffiti Research Lab France, which helped me connect with the GRL Germany when I moved to Berlin in 2012.
We love the story of your project “Adam”. How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Raphaël de Courville: Adam is an artwork that gets destroyed by the money you spend on it. At first it looks like a grid of small print characters laid out in a square, but as more people buy some of its 10.000 editions, a corresponding number of characters get erased from the text.
The text used for Adam is from Chapter 2 of “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. This is the book that popularised the “invisible hand” metaphor to describe the unseen forces that shape a free market economy. Someone on Twitter described Adam as “capitalism eating itself”. I didn’t dislike that.
The story of this piece goes way back. As an emerging digital artist in the late 2000s, I got the impression that the traditional art world wasn’t really interested in our work. I became obsessed with the idea of creating digital art that subverts art market dynamics, and was fascinated by the question of how we decide what type of art is valuable.
The article Why “Fine Arts” Can No Longer Be Culturally Relevant by Dyske Suematsu (2014) really resonated with me at the time. He wrote:
“The business model of fine artists is to produce objects that can serve as symbols of cultural capital, and sell them to those who are short on cultural capital. (…) To financially succeed as a fine artist, you have to produce objects that can function as a medium of this exchange. “Digital” or “net” artists are much less likely to achieve financial success because their artworks are infinitely reproducible.”
Dyske Suematsu in Why “Fine Arts” Can No Longer Be Culturally Relevant (2014)
So I set out to create art that questions its own function as a financial asset. My first attempt was “Pricetag“, an installation that displays its own price (thanks to Sebastian Burkhart & Alexander Nitsch for their incredible help).
In “Pricetag”, the price calculations were based on stock market data. However, what I really wanted was for the artwork to objectively determine its own market value. The tech to achieve this just wasn’t there at the time, sadly. I looked into blockchain as a possible solution as early as 2014. I even came close to inventing modern NFTs that one time, but I wanted to make art, not become a crypto-entrepreneur, so I let it go.
Turns out all I had to do was wait a few years for technology to catch up with the vision! When I got on Hic et Nunc in early March, I was really excited by the possibilities of interactive OBJKTs. For me, interactive NFTs are an opportunity to make a radical new kind of art in which the market is the medium. Adam emerged from a convergence of these ideas and technology coming together at the right time.
Which of your artworks are you most proud of?
Raphaël de Courville: This might be a surprise for people who know me mostly for generative and conceptual art, but I have to say my favourite is “Vibe”. Until the end of last year, I had been on a long artistic hiatus, and those birb illustrations were some of the first art I started sharing again publicly. It felt truly heart warming to see the joy they bring other people too. If we’re talking generative art, my pick would be s171029 from the Aesthoplasm series. I love that it creates the illusion of shapes rotating when they are actually all going in a straight line. It is a peaceful and meditative piece too.
Is there an artist you would like to work with? Like a collaboration?
Raphaël de Courville: Definitely a musician.
We are curious 🙂 Would you be willing to share any plans of upcoming projects?
Raphaël de Courville: I’m planning to expand the Observation series and eventually include inspiration from early abstraction from the 1920-30s. I also have ideas for a follow up to “Adam” but I have to work on the concept some more. I might post experiments on my secondary account in the meantime. Also, birbs!
Who or what are your biggest influences or sources of inspiration?
Raphaël de Courville: I love abstraction and early computer art. Artists like Bridget Riley, Vera Molnar, Mary Ellen Bute, Agnes Martin, or Lillian Schwartz. Inspiration is a strange thing though, and it can come from anywhere.
What do you feel when you are creating new art?
Raphaël de Courville: It’s a constant back and forth between frustration and excitement. I just have to trust the process. The moment I am surprised by the result is usually when I know a piece is done.
Do you remember the first time you heard about NFT Art?
Raphaël de Courville: The real first contact was at the Ascribe hackathon in 2015. The chain isn’t active anymore but I still technically own a crypto-art piece by Marcel Schwittlick from that weekend! The Ascribe team was really ahead of their time and would deserve more recognition for their pioneering work.
As for Hic et Nunc, I heard of it when it opened on March 1st thanks to Joanie Lemercier. I minted my first piece on March 6th. I had been looking for an eco friendly alternative to existing marketplaces ever since that famous Memo Akten thread about the carbon impact of NFTs. Hic et Nunc was everything I had been waiting for.
How do you enjoy the NFT Art you have collected? Do you have a way to display it for example at home?
Raphaël de Courville: I don’t have a dedicated display at the moment. I would love to though! If someone starts selling a square format digital art frame, I’ll literally throw my money at the screen!
What would be your biggest wish for the NFT Art scene? What is currently missing / not fully developed to reach full potential out of it?
Raphaël de Courville: My number one wish is for marketplaces and big name artists to transition to energy efficient NFT solutions. We have to stop pretending that carbon offsets are an acceptable compromise and do the right thing: adopt eco-friendly blockchains like Tezos or L2 solutions like Polygon.
We would really like to know, where do you see the NFT Art scene in the future?
Raphaël de Courville: I think the metaverse will merge with the real world in interesting and unpredictable ways. Just imagine what AR glasses will mean for 3D NFTs, and virtual fashion!
Which tools do you use to create your art?
Raphaël de Courville: I started with Processing thanks to Julien Gachadoat (aka v3ga) at a workshop in Paris back in 2012. This was a personal revolution and what launched me on my creative coding journey. I now mostly work with p5.js, the web-based sister project to Processing. I sometimes also use glsl, Procreate, Blender, Spark AR, Unity and Photoshop. Whatever gets the job done.
What does a typical day for you look like, and what do you like to do when you’re not busy with NFT Art?
Raphaël de Courville: It’s a lot of sitting and staring at screens. Sometimes I look up and through the window at the trees and birds on the other side. Also I stream on Twitch at twitch.tv/sableraph every Tuesday and Sunday. I run a discord server called the Birb’s Nest, where I organise a weekly creative code challenge. I also co-host the Creative Code Berlin meetups twice a month.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Raphaël de Courville: ”Value your own art”. This is particularly important for digital artists, as many of us have been conditioned to see our own art as worthless simply because it lives in a computer – you just have to look at the “right-click save” crowd to see that mindset in action – NFTs changed that self-perception for many of us, seemingly overnight, and it can be hard to adapt. Take your art seriously and others will too.
Is there something aside from art or NFTs you collect?
Raphaël de Courville: I’m a bit of a minimalist so not much. Well, books! But I try to keep my library in check. If you want to get into generative art, I have a Twitter thread with recommended reads.
Where do you like to travel?
Raphaël de Courville: Italy has a special place in my heart.
- Full Name: Raphaël de Courville
- Current hometown: Berlin, Germany
- Languages he speaks: French, English, Italian, German
- What did you want to be when you were a child: A poet or an astronaut
- Education: I studied graphic design and typography