From Ceramic Tiles to Generative NFTs: Art Blocks Founder’s Origin Story
Erick Calderon, aka “Snowfro,” shot to prominence one year ago as the creator of NFT generative art platform Art Blocks. But his journey into crypto was a roundabout one.
After almost a decade working at the ceramic tile company he founded with his father, Calderon first heard about Bitcoin from his brother in 2013. “He mentioned something about mining Bitcoin with thumb drives, but that it was getting too late to mine with a thumb drive,” Calderon said on the latest episode of Decrypt’s gm podcast. “And I’m like, ‘That sounds like it would have been really cool to know that a year ago.’”
Fast forward a few years, and Calderon read an article about Bitcoin that struck a chord—and at a pivotal moment: “I’ve felt the world is on fire for a really long time, and I’m starting to trust less and less,” Calderon said. Consumed with a “crazy desire” to own exactly one full Bitcoin by the end of 2016, he fulfilled his goal “right at midnight” on New Year’s Eve—after having had “a few drinks.”
But it was when he discovered Ethereum and its smart contracts that, “My brain literally exploded,” he told Decrypt.
Calderon experimented with smart contracts, creating a time-locked gift of Ethereum for a friend’s baby that would only open when she turned 18. “I was like, ‘This is either gonna be worth like a stick of gum, or it’s gonna be worth a house,’” he said.
After NFT collection CryptoPunks launched in 2017, “it all clicked.” Since that time, Calderon said, “I’ve been spending way more time than any human should in the NFT space.”
Building Art Blocks
That led him to create the generative art platform Art Blocks. NFT artworks produced on the platform, including the Fidenza series and the iconic Chromie Squiggle, have sold for millions of dollars—an explosive growth path that Calderon told Decrypt “felt unreasonable” even if it was thrilling.
“Art Blocks was a hobby, I never expected it to turn into what it is today,” he said. “I’m not one that’s been financially driven in my life.”
Calderon told Decrypt he feels that the present valuation of NFT technology relative to the underlying art is skewed.
“I think that during the insanity of last year, maybe 60% to 70% of the value of the NFT was attributed and assigned to the technology that is NFT, and maybe 30% was the value of the content,” he said. “To me, that shouldn’t be more than like 5%.”
He also thinks we might soon stop using the “NFT” jargon altogether. “I spent a week in Basel, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago, and I made a very deliberate point not to use the term NFT—to use ‘blockchain powered art,’ or just ‘art,’ for the most part,” he said.
More exciting for Calderon is the technology used to produce generative artworks. “The product-market fit of generative art is just so beautiful,” he said. “One artist can, with one action, produce a thousand, ten thousand—one day a million—independent, unique, individual works of art, without manually having to do it.”
Where a single artist can’t produce tens of thousands of individual paintings in their lifetime, he said, generative art “enables that to exist,” allowing an artist to define a set of rules under which the art is created.
That, in turn, allows communities to form around the art, he said. “At a time when an artist is an early up and coming artist, it fully democratizes access to the art because it’s not usually extremely expensive to acquire art from that artist.”
In the future, he predicts, generative manufacturing will be commonplace. “Your coffee table won’t be the same as your neighbor’s coffee table, even if you buy it from the same place.”
As for the future of NFTs, Calderon expects them to branch out beyond art. “NFT art or crypto-powered art, blockchain art, was the lowest-friction use case of the concept of a non-fungible token,” he said. “It’s the easiest for the world to wrap their brain around and understand.” Eventually, he said, “your mortgage will be on a blockchain, the title to your home will be on a blockchain.”
And—bringing things full circle—Calderon’s tile company will be there to furnish it. “I spent the first 18 professional years of my life doing that,” he said. “And I’m actually still in the space now, although, unfortunately, I get to dedicate zero time to that business. It still operates, it still runs, and it’s still part of my process of getting here.”