Cast your mind back to the bygone days of 2021, the most recent cryptocurrency boom, a time when mainstream media struggled to explain NFTs to the masses and monkey JPEGs fetched millions at auction. Two years later, crypto prices crashed and the online monkey market cooled significantly. But through the ups and downs of the advertising cycle, digital artists have continued to experiment, and now a new platform, Tonic, has launched to translate (and sell) their work to a wider audience. The twist? Interior designers are invited to the party.
First announced at Future of Home last September, Tonic was founded by Mariam Nafisi (founder of Minted) and Suzanne Maybank (former head of digital at Gagosian), who say the platform aims to be a “safe place” for curious, if not an experienced digital art collector. “We believe there is amazing work being done in this space,” says Maybank Home business. “We are trying to increase access for new entrants and create a welcoming community for both crypto and non-crypto locals.”
Courtesy of Tonic
To that end, much of the platform is structured to make things easy for newcomers. Traditionally, buying NFTs required users to go through the somewhat complicated process of converting dollars into cryptocurrencies like ether, then setting up a digital wallet to make transactions and store assets. Tonic, by contrast, allows users to pay by credit card and store their digital art in a simplified wallet system.
“A lot of what we do is related to education, because there’s a lot of complexity here, and we want to be a resource for anyone who’s curious about it [so they can] get involved,” says Maybank. “There’s even a concierge service if you just need someone to help you get it across.”
One of the biggest challenges of digital art is that even the most enthusiastic collectors don’t always know what to do with it after they buy it. To help address this, Naficy and Maybank have made efforts to connect their digital offerings to the physical world – upon checkout, shoppers can purchase an exclusive print of the artwork they just scored. The couple has also tapped a number of design talents to launch the platform: Yves Bear, Britt Morin, India Mahdavi, Ken Fulk, Brigette Romanek, Sarah Sherman Samuel and Christian Lemieux are founding partners. “It seemed obvious to me that people who could explain how [live with digital art] were the people who deal with interiors,” says Nafisi. “They are the critical conduit to people who understand how to use this art.”
Designers participate not only creatively, but can also participate financially. For each sale on the platform, Tonic will give artists 87 percent and take the rest as a commission. In exchange for helping to promote a drop—by creating visuals that contextualize the art in a “real” environment, sharing on social media, or hosting a launch event—designers can earn about 3 percent, taken from Tonic’s side of the split.
The artist featured in Tonic’s debut presentation – Jaime Derringer – is no stranger to the world of interior design. Derringer, founder and former chief creative officer of Design Milk, has been experimenting with digital art since 2021. Her collection, Chromesthesia: Ascend, consists of 200 pieces created by manipulating MIDI controllers—devices typically used to make music .
“I dove into making my own art NFTs after seeing something on Twitter and quickly went down a rabbit hole — it’s exciting! The Art NFT community is incredibly welcoming,” says Derringer, who also joined Tonic as Community Lead. “We want to educate and help onboard the next generation of art collectors, so it’s about approaching web3 from the perspective of someone who knows a little bit about NFT collecting. This excites me because I am a futurist. I have so much enthusiasm and passion about what is possible with blockchain.”
Starting today, Deringer’s work will be sold in a Dutch auction format on Tonic’s website. In the coming months, the platform will debut collections from acclaimed digital artists Stefano Contiero and William Mapan. In addition, Naficy and Maybank want Tonic to become a home for “blue-chip” digital art as the medium enters a more mature era.
In this regard, Maybank believes their timing is optimal, despite the stagnation in the broader crypto market. “In some ways, it’s a really wonderful time to start a gallery in this space,” she says. “There is less volatility and what you see is an incredible community that has already formed around generative art. Maybe the speculation piqued their interest, but then they got to know the space, got to know the artists and fell in love.
Homepage image: artwork by Jaime Deringer | Courtesy of Tonic