Whitehot Magazine

Artist thr33som3s - when painting meets blockchain baseball

Paul Reuschel. Courtesy of the artist.


Brooklyn-based thr33som3s — known to fans by this, the title of his blockchain baseball card league — might be a painter, but his real medium is behavior, empowered by the digital ledger.  

Sure he uses gouache to paint fantastical players with the flourish of authentic vintage baseball cards, but he’s not one of those artists who makes a series, throws it up on OpenSea, and calls it a day. The smart contracts behind thr33som3s’ interrelated collections are the connective tissue empowering viewers to activate his efforts. Most would call that utility, a battle cry for NFTs’ survival this whole crypto winter. Ever ahead of the curve, each of the many thousands of cards his collectors have acquired thus far all came equipped with utility from the start — destructive, constructive, or generative. Maybe related, he’s the third highest selling artist in the Tezos blockchain’s history.

thr33som3s’s imagination ran wild as a kid raised in desert isolation. The young, devoted baseball fan envisioned mascots as players, real giants and tigers running bases. Decades later, he found himself in possession of a second, equally extensive card collection. He began defacing piles of throwaway cards he’d accumulated with White Out and Sharpie — then experimented with gouache, minting works and building The Grotto, his collectors, meanwhile. The artworks’ world-building capabilities — the game — only just began materializing in 2021.

So far, thr33som3s has debuted eight of the collection’s teams — with a baker’s dozen more to drop. The project technically started in 2018 with the introduction of his first team, ‘the Exes,’ featuring players named according to what got them dumped, like loving Jimmy Buffet. Some off-season drops are exceptions, but most cards feature a player, their name, their team, sometimes even their position and number. thr33som3s really got off the ground, though, in 2021, with ‘the NFTs’ depicting superstar artists birthed by Web3 like Beeple and DotPigeon as players. thr33som3s had a hunch the zeitgeist celebrities would assume he was lionizing them, then retweet his artworks to all their followers. That hunch proved true.

Cardinal to Scoutmasters. Courtesy of the artist.

They often do. Six months into learning how to paint richer landscapes and faces, thr33som3s watched a gouache tutorial to supplement his empirical education. “The first three things about ‘what not to do’ were what I was doing,” he said. “I never watched again, because this works for what I do. It's thicker — I use a lot less water. When I do use water, it's to remove and destroy.” Except for rare occasions, his paintings are ever-changing, as per terms of gameplay. 

Although a handful of the 1,400 NFTs thr33som3s has dropped so far were made available in editions topping the thousands, most are only editioned in the double digits. They typically sell for around 1 TEZ (less than a dollar) at primary sales — for those lucky few who can access those opportunities. Even existing collectors have to duel it out for their shot, fulfilling complex criteria like destroying certain quantities of certain types of cards, a challenging decision to make given that thr33som3s NFTs notoriously skyrocket in value on the secondary market. NFTs across thr33zi3s, a separate generative art project still related to thr33som3s (and simultaneously the artist’s alter-alter-ego, the Hyde to thr33som3s’s Jekkyl) are all one of one’s. 

Even those who meet the artist's terms by burning (destroying) the appropriate NFTs to access his drops still aren’t guaranteed a chance. Those efforts mostly get them a spot on the wheels which thr33som3s uses to randomly select who has access — and they usually host tens of thousands of names. Much like life itself, games within games abound across thr33som3s, and it’s all a choose-your-own-adventure, playing out in real time. Every existing team has an actual owner at present. They don’t own cards for all that team’s players. Instead, they approached thr33som3s himself for an opportunity to acquire and operate the franchise. They’re required to maintain a front office and compensate staff in the collection’s proprietary thr33p3nny token. They’re expected to act as leaders for the collective narrative’s greater good, like a real league.

The machinations unlocking those narrative twists arise on the fly, responding either to trends thr33som3s observes in the NFT space, or interesting deviations from his projected collector responses. New teams only drop once or twice a year, though. He’s had that part planned out from the start. Lately the league’s working on “defrocking” ‘the Cardinali’ team, comprised of Catholic cardinals, by burning a combination of Cardinali paintings and corresponding traits from thr33zi3s. Stripped of their robes, the cardinali’s true essences transport them to their new team, ‘the Scoutmasters,’ since thr33som3s could only find one crime which gets clergy ejected from Catholicism. Other players like Mad Dog Jones are traded more traditionally, from the NFTs to the ‘Cat Moms’ for instance, a path recorded through cards, like real sports history.

Courtesy of the artist.

Every team across thr33som3s will have their own dual squad down the line — somewhere between their foil and their rival, the way yin and yang both exist in each other. 

thr33zi3s first dropped in January 2021 with 100 varied editions of the eponymous alter-alter-ego’s visage. The artist calls his “analog generative” approach to this facet of thr33som3s “the purest form of generative art on the blockchain.” He worked with the same developer behind his smart contracts to engineer an algorithm based on a data set of every trait on every card across thr33som3s. That algorithm activates only when a collector mints a piece — thr33som3s then paints the thr33zi3s NFT they’ve bought according to the random combination of characteristics his algorithm dictates. By fulfilling criteria when opportunities arise, collectors can also entreat the artist to remove or add characteristics to their actual paintings. Those collectors can only hold the paintings in their hands, however, once they’ve burned the corresponding NFT. Only then is the painting complete — at the cost of all future utility. 

“I’m trying to have them decide why they’re collecting this work to begin with,” thr33som3s said of the quandaries his use of blockchain creates. “Is it simply because it becomes worth more and more money over time? Or is it to step into the project and see what happens?” 

The auction for the third, next round of 100 thr33zi3s artworks will go live for blind purchase in tandem with the artist’s debut gallery exhibition at Vellum LA, opening August 10. Keeping a low profile through the past few years’ NFT craze protected thr33som3s collectors from the proliferation of scammers that accompanied it — and the space’s harrowing volatility. But thr33som3s was really never in it to ride the boom. Though he’s single handedly creating sorely-needed liquidity in the space, blockchain alone allows this project to exist. It’s the only technology so far that enables an artist to know the status of every piece they’ve ever made.

“I’m reinventing the dialogue between collector and artist,” thr33som3s grinned. Stay tuned. WM

Vittoria Benzine

Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // vittoriabenzine@gmail.com // vittoriabenzine.com


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