Bjorn’s journey to the world of NFTs

At first, Filipino painter and interdisciplinary artist Bjorn Calleja didn’t pay much attention to NFTs. He simply saw it as a platform for digitally native art. “I felt that it belonged to the 3D artists, creative coders, digital painters and illustrators, etc.” It was his playful experimentation with animation that eventually led him to realize that tokenizing and minting his creations made sense.

Born and raised in Manila, Calleja earned his Fine Art degree from the Far Eastern University. “I wasn’t born in an environment that was exposed to art. Growing up, the only experience I had was from a single painting in our home by an anonymous artist, a giclee print of Fragonard’s A Young Girl Reading, my aunt’s sketches, and three volumes of The Book of Art. It was only in college when I started joining painting competitions that I thought I could be an artist.”

Early in his career, he went from became a part-time lecturer in his alma mater, to taking on corporate jobs, and graphic design stints, while making the rounds of group and solo exhibitions. 

Then came 2017, when his friend Jon Deniega introduced him to crypto currencies. “At that time, my research brought me to CryptoPunks and Crypto Kitties but it never crossed my mind that I was going to collect or mint my art.” In March 2021, it was also Deniega who showed him the now defunct hicetnunc.xyz, a greener, more energy efficient platform powered by the Tezos NFT blockchain, said to be the popular choice of artists and creatives who are into digitally minting their art, music and other creative endeavors.

“With the energy of the early #tezos community, I met a lot of interesting people and made good friends. I’ve also minted a few pieces on @objktcom and @versumofficial. I am excited about the inception and evolution of both platforms. My satire PFP commentary, Stoopied Avatar Project, is minted on @fx_hash for generative reasons,” shares Calleja.

In the recent international art fair Art Basel in Hong Kong, Tezos blockhain showcased the evolving relationship between art, technology and culture at a three-day interactive exhibition, The Ever-Evolving World of Art. “NFTs are definitely a big part of the art world, we look at it as the next frontier of contemporary art,” said TZ APAC head of digital marketing and communications Jivan Tulsiani. Tezos has previously hosted NFT art exhibitions at Art Basel Miami and Singapore Art Week. 

The event featured NFT works from 22 international digital artists, with a strong focus on Asian artists producing generative art, including the artist Qingnan Tan, or “Random Combo,” a Chinese artist and computational physicist applying math, coding, and modeling to traditional art forms to create NFT pieces.  Of course, the renowned Filipino artist Calleja joined the 20 global NFT and generative artists who mint their works on the Tezos blockchain.

“In ABHK, the animations were based on my paintings— each character frame is painted in oils and they can be seen as details from larger paintings. The idea of populating an image with miniscule characters allows for choreography on how it’s viewed from various distances.” For the show, Calleja chose his work, “Violencia” and “The Exit,” respectively. “These animations were part of my exhibition for the previous Art Fair Philippines, Unknown Unknowns. I thought they were good representations of my body of work, both in context and aesthetics.” 

He also represented his work as part of the Asian artists for a session in GeckoCon 2022. Last July, Calleja participated in the #tezos4Africa fundraiser and in August, he staged a solo exhibition at the West Gallery.

While creating NFTs opened an exciting niche for his art and brought opportunities to excel and claim patronage, it is the community that welcomed and embraced him that makes it more attractive. “The community makes it exciting, I am able to expand my creative network, meet and interact with a lot of good artists around the world, discover new art, learn other artists’ processes and ideas, and have a glimpse of the future. I don’t really believe that the technology would replace what already exists, but it could bridge the gap and act as an extension, a representation of our time, the digital generation in art history. 

The most important thing for me would be the supportive community that the platform built around my art, growing and learning via connecting with artists, meeting a ton of good people around the world, introducing my art to a global audience and market, and being able to represent what Filipinos are capable of as artists. From a cultural standpoint, I think these are the same opportunities being granted to every Filipino artist in the space, plus the platform to elevate, market, and showcase art by digitally native Filipino artists.”

Image credits: NFT image from Objkt.com