Most Influential Artist: Norman Harman
Before he learned about non-fungible tokens in 2018, Norman Harman had what he calls the “practice of a traditionally trained painter.” He also had an interest in digital technologies, which led him to explore using programs like Photoshop in his work – but there was one big problem with this pivot.
“The traditional gallery system I was part of didn’t really know how to deal and exhibit digital art at the time,” Harman, 45, says, leaving him with a “substantial digital painting portfolio.”
For the Edinburgh-based artist, NFTs swooped in to give his portfolio not just a permanent home on the blockchain, but a means to sell his digital work directly. His art, now regularly comprised of “different elements from [his] practice” – ranging from traditional painting to artificial intelligence – felt appropriate for capturing Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s minister of finance and corporate affairs for this year’s Most Influential list.
“In many respects, the style and materials used fit the portrait perfectly, as they convey [a combination of] technologies and brick-and-mortar traditional values,” Harman says, both of which are deeply imbued in Sitharaman’s work.
How and when did you first learn about NFTs?
By early 2019, I had started getting interested in blockchain technologies. It felt like a new, decentralized art world was on the horizon. The notion that your digital art could be tokenized and authenticated on the blockchain and collected without the [traditional] gatekeepers sparked my interest considerably.
What was your first piece of NFT art?
My first NFT was a digitally painted portrait titled “Double Presenter” from an ongoing series called Android Plaza. They are a collection of glitched portraits where the digital information is broken up, leaving the viewer to interpret the space between abstraction and figuration.
What were some of your main considerations when creating your “Most Influential” portrait of Nirmala Sitharaman?
There was much to consider, mainly how to steer away from a more conventional figurative portrait and include elements of digital painting, AI, and footage. The composition is cut into two sections.
For the first, a more traditional painting, I envisaged a mural – like a wall on the backstreets of Delhi. With AI, I rendered a wall with motifs like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, where Nirmala studied, alongside the lotus, the national flower of India, and a graffitied map of the country. These elements complement two, large painted portraits that capture the energy and strength of Nirmala, while an Indian woman with the national flag looks towards the wall mural.
In the second section, I wanted to capture the energy of India as one of the tech and economic capitals of the world. This is represented through abstract moving visuals that reflect elements of the financial and tech industry.
What about Sitharaman’s work in the crypto/blockchain industry most inspires or interests you?
Nirmala recently stated that India was developing standard operating procedures for cryptocurrency during its G-20 presidency next year, adding that all countries want the technology to survive but not be misutilized. As a blockchain/crypto artist, I believe in this incredible technology. I’m also aware of how the arena has become a canvas for speculative projects, and the fiasco with FTX shows how precarious it can be if you have bad actors. Hopefully, moving forward, the worldwide crypto community will ensure that disgraceful scenarios like this don’t tarnish the hard work going into all the legitimate projects.
Where do you see yourself in the NFT art world moving forward?
I envisage continuing to explore the array of technologies at my disposal, focusing on the collaboration with AI and building on some of the successful projects I’ve created. The expectation is substantial because artists are going to have to compete with not only well-funded VCs promoting gimmicky PFP projects, but also larger corporate behemoths and brands that are entering the market. Ensuring that your online presence, social media, and marketing is at the highest level for your art to be seen is pertinent.