Fight Club, the fictional underground street-boxing group dreamed up by unfiltered author Chuck Palahniuk, found resonance in modern culture in part because it represented the competitive spirit in an undistilled, primal form. In 2006, seven years after the book became a film, Secret Walls, a Los Angeles-based creative group, tapped into that anarchic spirit with black and white street art battles. A decade-and-a-half on, what began as an intimate, underground illustration battle has matured into over 2,000 events in more than 50 countries and 100 cities, and a global community of over 2,000 artists, curators, and content creators.
Not one to sit on its laurels, Secret Walls has now plugged into the emergent world of digital art and NFT auctions. These new formats feature dynamic, hand-to-hand battles that transform blank, wall-sized electronic canvases into full-color digital art. From March 30 to April 4, Secret Walls sent five pairs of artist gladiators into the arena for a virtual reality clash dubbed the NFT Battle Series. Well-known artist veterans grappled with up-and-coming talent for creative supremacy that will ultimately be judged on the Lgnd auction platform. For fans and advocates of visual expression, it’s a new way to not only view creative expression, but also an innovative opportunity to experience art coming into being.
There are, of course, no real losers in these mock contests — it’s just a way to engage spectators in the artistic process, both live and online, showing artwork being developed in real time. This is the Secret Walls philosophy: provide an alternative to standing around a gallery and looking at pieces that don’t necessarily express the time, toil, and talent required to bring something about from nothing. With the NFT Battle Series, Secret Walls brings this competition to an interconnected world.
“For almost two decades, Secret Walls has used art as the impetus to create community,” Terry Guy, founder of Secret Walls, said in a press release. “From day one, we have been building platforms for artists and their fans. What started as a one-off battle, sent us around the globe multiple times over. I am excited and bullish about what this web3 world represents to the Secret Walls Universe and how it aligns with our core principles.”
For the artists participating in a new realm, it brings a new way to express themselves.
“To have a creative space to develop new things, play with scale, try new line weights and colors and ultimately practice more has been amazing,” artist Nina Palomba said. “Since I am constantly juggling so many things, the VR space has been a great way for me to just disconnect from my work reality and just have some creative fun.”
Palomba, a grizzled pro designer and veteran artist, matched up with artist Gabe Gault on Wednesday, March 30. While Gault expressed his modern take on classic expression with a sprayed-painted pot of flowers entitled Gogh Experiment, Palomba graffitied Weird Comics. This black and white sedan crashing through chromatic 1960s imagery aligned with Nina’s World, a blend of street and pop art that’s inspired by the 1938-1956 Golden Age of comic books.
“The stylings of that period of cartooning are so ingrained in my mind that I can just draw references freeform from memory,” Palomba said. “I’ve always loved the oddball comic books because there are so many weird heroes and villains that ultimately inspired a lot of the characters we love and admire now. I thought it would be fun to pull that reference into this piece because I knew it was going to get funky with the use of color and imagery.”
Because they didn’t have to deal with the realities of paint in real life, Gault and Palomba were able to pull off their paintings in only five minutes.
“In every battle, I always wish I had more time because I don’t think artwork is ever truly finished,” Palomba said. “In this case, though, I am really proud of how much detail I got into the piece in the time frame.”
That doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges, though.
“There was a LOT of troubleshooting that went into this behind the scenes — it truly took a team to make it happen,” Palomba said. “The one thing that really threw me off doing the battle in VR was that throughout the experience I had waves of feeling disoriented. This is just something that comes with working in the VR space.”
For Palomba, who has worked in a number of diverse creative spaces since 2012, she is used to out-of-the-box projects shaping her professional output. The instant bursting of NFTs onto the artistic scene, however, is a boon and a burden for creative workers. NFTs offer an enormous new way to access and sell imaginative work. With no road map to steer an entirely new universe, though, the way is still somewhat confusing, even to makers. Palomba is always game, though.
“NFT’s have definitely thrown a wrench into the world of art, which I appreciate but it is definitely interesting and honestly confusing to navigate,” Palomba said. “What it means to be an ‘artist’ has strayed a lot from the traditional idea of a master painter or illustrator. Being able to think outside the box is a huge part of what I do. The VR space and NFT space is just another outlet for that expansion and ultimately growth as an artist.”
Enthusiasts can see Palomba’s and other spattered, multi-hued results on the Lgnd NFT marketplace auction block.