Few people can say they’ve achieved all of their goals — especially by their early 30s — but that’s exactly what multidimensional artist Nanu Berks has done. Living a nomadic lifestyle since age 14, and fostering her love for art with each new city and personal connection, she has now become the first woman to live-paint and create crypto art in the bitcoin conference circuit, as well as one of the first artists to create fashionable crypto art clothing. I recently had the chance to interview Nanu on exactly what crypto art is, how she uses upcycled materials in her art, and how she thinks the intersection of art and technology will continue to expand. Her insight and experience glean a love for what she does, and her admiration for the past and future of creative expression in all forms, is a true inspiration. Read on to learn more!
Thanks for chatting with us, Nanu! You’ve had such an interesting life — can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I am originally from San Juan, Argentina. It’s a small town up north, and we moved to the U.S. when I was 14 and have been nomadic ever since.
I always knew I was going to be a full-time artist. I thought I would be a writer, fashion designer, muralist, motivational speaker or fine art creator, and I am proud to say at age 31, I am doing exactly that!
My earliest memories of creation are making paper clothes at six years old, taking art history classes at eight, and drawing on walls behind the furniture at nine. When I was 13 years old, I used to graffiti around Argentina out of pure rebellion and fun, but as I got a bit older, understanding the injustices of the economic system, my art became much more intentional. I had many good reasons to take action, as my family was one of the victims of banks stealing all of our family savings in 2002. We ended up on the street overnight. No food, no shoes, no jobs, single mom with two kids, it was wild.
I was one of the lucky ones, we were able to relocate to the U.S., and I had the opportunity to study, learn other languages, and backpack across the Americas and several other countries, opening my eyes, heart, and mind. I paid my way through my traveling dreams by painting murals and teaching creative healing art classes at hostels and hotels.
Lucky, indeed! While you are an artist in many forms, you are most known for your crypto art. For those who may not be familiar, can you explain what that is, and how you got involved?
Crypto art is an art movement based on the symbology and ethos of cryptocurrencies, but mostly about the underlying technologies for decentralization like blockchain.
After the collapse of the economic system in Argentina that left us on the street, I traveled endlessly, painting any and all walls I could find. I remember in 2012 by the Chichen Pyramids in Mexico, a stranger saw me drawing a mural concept and began explaining to me why Bitcoin had the same value systems as my—at that time—”living on the fringe outside of tech and money” lifestyle. He was right. I stood for decentralization, innovation, and planet-positive tech that aids with consciousness expansion and regenerative initiatives. I just wasn’t aware of the language and tech systems that empowered these ideas.
It is safe to say that from that moment on, I happily traveled into the rabbit hole of blockchains and by 2016 I found myself live-painting and creating BTC art in the conference circuit. There were a few other women starting to show up in the intersection of arts and tech at this time, but it was very rare to see women at all in these places. I remember emailing every conference and asking them to please make space for artists to come showcase, advocating for how important it was to have visual and creative expression, for this movement to reach mass adoption.
2016-2019 was a wild cosmic fog; world-wide traveling, activism, partying, risk-taking, and discovery. I helped co-create alternative conferences in the consciousness hacking space, became a speaker, and showed art all over Europe, Asia and the U.S. Being one of the few women in the space was extremely challenging—emotionally and energetically—and I had to take some time off, to honestly questioned if I would ever be able to return to such an intense and fast paced — even aggressive — fabric of creation.
As alignment happens, I was unable to stay away for too long, as projects and the community kept getting better and better and I felt called to help out in this space in any way I can.
I have so much respect for those involved early on, who stuck with the hype, peaks and valleys, and still choose to create the images and cultural experiences that continue to empower this movement. Lately, I’m also feeling grateful for the new wave of creativity and inspiration that have been pouring in. We all needed some invigoration, and the point is to continue to become more inclusive so that we can all benefit from co-creating a better existence.
How interesting! I recently heard about “crypto fashion”. Are you involved in that, and can you explain how blockchain and cryptocurrencies are being used in fashion?
I remember wanting to create fashionable crypto art clothing and wondering why there weren’t better designs out there. To this day there aren’t really many brands doing this well, that I know of. Most brands go with a generic black tee and a logo. I wanted to blend street art graffiti symbology and history to create fashionable, limited-edition wearable art pieces that people could collect. People say I was the first one to bring these types of crypto art wearables to the space, it is such an honor to pioneer along with so many talented and creative humans.
NFTs or non-fungible tokens are a great way to connect and authenticate physical art (clothing or and fine art) on the blockchain.
The same way that QR codes or a microchip can connect a physical item to a website, I am using NFTs to imprint and forever certify the authenticity of each piece in a secure blockchain system. Even long after the physical item is gone or damaged, you can still trade the token for its intrinsic value based on my brand, as well as the timeline in history being one of the first crypto artists ever in history. I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this movement and help with the mass adoption of these technologies that are empowering artists to thrive and create what they are meant to.
How do you envision this evolving in the future?
NFTs and blockchains are very important to the future of consumption and marketing. The same way we have Instagram and Twitter today, everyone will have a superworld or a decentraland account where we can walk through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) worlds, and purchase art, clothing, etc. We are already seeing how in Fortnight and other video games, the in-app purchases are making billions of dollars. I am in the process of AR/VR-enabling my clothing collections to be able to be purchased in-app to virtually dress your avatars with Nanu Berks wearable art. We are also in the process of further integrating functionality into the tokens that certify authenticity of each art piece, whether wearable or fine art.
VR and AR will integrate seamlessly with our current 3D reality. We are already seeing how Art Basel, Burning Man, and so many other events have either gone fully virtual or have virtual layers. I remember putting on the same art show in Austin, Texas, New York, and Hong Kong via projection mapping. All of these extensions of our creativity that happen to be technology-based are also enabling us to further connect with one another in immersive art installations that are part online, part in-person. We have seen the van Gogh museum, I think in Amsterdam, with projection mapping where we can walk inside his paintings—I mean, the creative exploration is limitless and it’s so exciting!
Sustainability is a hot topic right now, and rightfully so — I know your art incorporates a lot of upcycled materials, can you talk a little bit about that?
Sustainability is very important to me. I once lived a zero-waste lifestyle for a year to see what it was like to never use plastic at all, to upcycle any scraps, and make them into clothing and daily useful apparatus.
I remember in 8th grade for an art project, I made a top made of silk strands and soda tops, and I was definitely into that duct tape clothing movement for a while. I love creating something out of outdated or broken materials. I am also a big fan of the solarpunk movement which is similar to steampunk, but with an emphasis on sustainability. My art definitely has influences from both.
For my time capsule fine art pieces, I love taking all the technology scraps I can find that are not biodegradable and are actually toxic, and re-purpose them into bioresin-encapsulated fine art.
I love using objects of all kinds — coins, hard wallets (crypto wallets), scrap wood, plastic, fabric, bones, metal scraps, computer and phone keys and screens, and actual door keys. Now friends from all over the world ship me elements they want me to incorporate into paintings and it’s so much fun! These paintings then end up as backgrounds for my wearable clothing line which will be upgraded into nightwear and couture. I’m planning on creating sport coats, cocktail dresses, and experimental high fashion collaborations with masters in the intersection of art, fashion, tech, and sustainability. We also have exciting projects coming up in the luxury car industry, as well as jewelry lines.
I love that! Such a great way for these items to continue serving a purpose and telling a story. Tell us a little more about your wearable art and the inspiration behind it.
Self-expression is very healing. Some people think clothing isn’t important, but most people realize how transformative a good makeover can be. We’ve heard this in movies and on TV, and it’s so cheesy but it’s true! Being able to wrap myself in original art as clothing gives me joy and allows me to express myself, my emotions, ideas, values, and it also opens up conversations with people. When I roll up at a bitcoin conference decked out in wearable art, I end up getting into really interesting conversations, for sure.
The inspiration for wearable art comes from providing functional art for everyday life, bringing joy and the possibility of self-expression to people that appreciate art. This stems from my background as a muralist, wanting to bring art into the streets and into communities that wouldn’t necessarily have access to the type of information or creative expression that is available in other places. I receive a lot of emails with stories of how people wore one of my wearable art shirts to an event and how that helped them connect effortlessly with others, and that makes me so happy to hear! I love the fact that people are walking around with art and talking about art and that I am a part of that shift in our society.
I have an obsession with having everything I do be as multilayered as possible. Most of my art has at least seven layers of paint, upcycled materials, ink, spray paint, etc. I love upcycling cyber scraps into fine art, making that fine art piece into an animated NFT, then linking that NFT to a physical wearable item of clothing that is also a collectible that you can trade in VR and see in AR. Then you can also use that for projection mapping during the fashion shows and art installations, as well as virtualize them for video game characters to have the option to purchase these items to dress their avatars, or hang art in virtual spaces.
You’ve had so many interesting experiences that have led you to where you are now — where do you derive inspiration for your work?
Like many artists, I often felt too much and found myself wanting to understand larger concepts that I struggled to comprehend. I had severe depression as early as five years old and had no idea what to do with my emotions. Creating my own colorful universes was my salvation and my healing.
I feel very fortunate to have had artistic inspiration within my family members as well. While most of them are doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers, many of them are also writers, poets, and painters in their free time. I was encouraged to learn about art history early on, took music classes and experimented with mixed media often. At the same time, I was always told making a living as an artist was a sure failure. This polarity between “hey, be as creative as you want”, but also, “never do that for real” really messed me up, however it is also part of what motivated me to become a self-starter and a driven business owner.
I was also always surrounded by great literature and music at home and have been in awe of Frida, Dali, Cortazar, Borges, e.e. Cummings, Plath, classical music and punk rock since I can remember. And of course, nature, always nature as my main muse, as well as creative expression for self-healing.
What do you hope to achieve through your art/career?
I hope to inspire people to be more playful and open to expressing their true selves. To shift the outdated broke artist paradigm into the abundance win win ecosystems.
I hope to normalize conversations around mental health needs and boundaries; to empower, inspire, and be inspired by the conversations and emotions that art, along with these tech advances and consciousness expansion, bring into our awareness; to help expand the idea that artistic expression is a powerful self-healing tool we all have available at any point throughout the day, just like our breath; to help redefine the value of art and restore its proper status of importance for our healing and happiness, and to bring more art into schools and programs for our communities.
So powerful — you are definitely leaving your mark on the world… Do you feel your art is fulfilling a purpose?
I have been sitting with this question a lot, alongside of contemplating the purpose of value. I have gone through many iterations, from feeling that my life is pointless, to attaching my own self-worth to my art, to judging it way too much, and finally now accepting it as a part of how I process and exist on this plane.
I believe that the art made in the first 10 years of bitcoin will be in museums and history books one day. As well as much of the art that will be created in the next few decades as we transition into an integrated reality of several multiverses of physical and ethereal realms.
I have been serendipitously placed in a moment in time where the art I am channeling, especially my earliest works, reflect pivotal moments in history. I am a part of this movement and that is beyond my control and it absolutely serves a purpose. All of us creating the culture, symbols, memes of this shift in history via experiential art are an integral part of recording this progress and sharing it with future generations. I am beyond amazed and grateful to be able to take part in such evolution and transmission.
Something else that I am practicing accepting lately is that beauty is important for the sole purpose of play, joy, creation, and relaxation. The amount of joy, love, appreciation, and good feelings I have experienced just by walking by a mural that was beautiful, blows my mind. Same as really experiencing the fullness of a flower or the flow of a river. Creative expression is healing, color therapy, light and sound waves, all of these are technologies that help us grow and improve.
Giving the experience of pleasure and play its own purpose and value, has been a challenge that I am enjoying very much and that continues to improve my overall quality of life.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
There have been many! From trusting my own vision and self to devote all my time to exploring the depths of creative nature, to taking extreme financial risks to pursue what I love—I have gotten down to my last dollar a few times—but in my experience, the uprise afterwards is always tenfold in abundance and wisdom from the mistakes and failures that build confidence and open new visions.
The more I get involved in tech, of course, the more challenging software and apps and programs I have to learn to stay up-to-date. I recently read a white paper for an app I was interested in, and realized by the end of the 30-page paper that I understood all the technical layers of it and I honestly sat back and laughed because this stuff was so challenging and nightmarish for me in the beginning. I had no idea how I was going to be able to create and integrate with such foreign concepts, but by learning a bit at a time, here I am six years later with skills I never in my life though I would be able to study and implement.
Of course, there have also been emotional challenges. Being an artist in a world that has become mostly branding and marketing, is painful. Many times talent is the last factor to be considered, and that is not fun, however, I believe when we create, we imprint intention with our attention and this is very powerful for the person receiving the art on the other side. This is my answer to “why is a blue square selling for 70 million”, well, maybe it’s branding, maybe its hype, maybe its money, maybe its marketing…but also, sometimes, it is the energy encrypted into that art piece that we just can’t look away from.
There have been so many, but what do you feel has been the greatest accomplishments of your career so far?
I have accomplished every single one of my goals so far, from traveling, to artistic and intellectual goals such as being featured in Forbes, museums, publishing my own books, and helping other artists become financially independent, having my own art studio, and showcasing art all over the world. I feel the biggest one of all is learning to be kinder and less judgmental through this journey of entrepreneurship as a spiritual path.
Alright, we need to know more! What are you working on now—anything exciting in the works?
My first loves are mixed media, poetry and art installation. I see myself gravitating more into those fields. I see myself printing fabrics on massive scales, painting entire buildings, integrating VR and AR and super collaboration, and further integrating planet-positive aspects into my projects. I usually donate 5-10%—and often entire art pieces—for causes I want to empower, or natural disaster relief. Lately, I’m also obsessed with sounds and lighting. I look forward to the collaborative aspects of creating something bigger than the idea itself, and learning so much in the process. The people I am starting to collaborate with inspire me so much! This is also why I love the crypto art space. It’s a dream intersection of art and tech where I can find all the sound, light, and infrastructure engineers of my dreams and also vibe off their dreams! I can create the 3D physical pieces they dream of in other realms as well.
As far as healing arts, I am focusing on how joy and play can bring forth a lot of progress, and help others reconnect to their creative spark for their own evolution.
Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Nanu. You are such an inspiration and positive light! Where can we find your work and follow along with your career?
I am always posting upcoming exhibits and online auctions in my Linktree profile, and you can also follow me on Instagram. For those interested in my wearable art, my designs can be purchased in my online store, and information on my books can also be found there. I will also be at the bitcoin conference in Miami the first week of June, and possibly the NFT conference in New York in October—I’d love to connect with anyone who will be in attendance!