In crypto since 2015 and one of the first to mint his art in 2019, Rutger van der Tas is one of web3’s original creators. A seasoned advocate for the opportunities that web3 can bring, the painter and digital artist sits with Nina Knaack to discuss finding the next step in generative art and creating a space for every emotion.
Rutger van der Tas has never adhered to conceptual norms in his creative process. Instead, the Dutch artist allows himself to be swept away in the flow of creation, finding liberation in the act of art-making, especially during trying times. Rutger first began drawing and painting at a young age, later joining a design academy before he realised that it was an ill-fit; he was not willing to follow a set of prescribed guidelines when it came to art, but instead sought to communicate through his own, inimitable artistic language.
“I have always been intrigued by combinations of shapes and hues, and bringing them together to make something that speaks to the human experience, though often distorted,” he says. In this perpetual dance, Rutger creates his own rules, shaping an ever-evolving landscape with each (digital) brushstroke.
Rutger’s teenage years were defined by bending the strictures of society, a pursuit that only intensified after the loss of his younger sister. “All I did was escape reality,” he recalls, “drawing, painting, smoking, drinking, and immersing myself in the music of Radiohead and Nirvana. I was unfit for a life of routine.” Rutger decided to take himself to the other side of the world, funding travels across Australia with odd jobs. He returned to learn that his childhood home had been sold, and found himself illegally squatting with friends in Amsterdam.
“I was making physical copies of works that were born digitally.”
— Rutger van der Tas
He started, for the second time, as a student at the Rietveld Art Academy but, even there, he was still twisting societal constraints. He dropped out after half a year, living without direction until he met his future wife at the age of 24. A year later, they were living together, and Rutger’s life began to take direction. With the arrival of fatherhood in his late-twenties, his perspective shifted once again. He returned to the academy, balancing his studies with a day job in healthcare and the responsibilities of family life. After five tough years of pouring himself into his art, Rutger finally earned his degree.
Rutger’s studies at the academy introduced him to myriad modes of creation. Now he works with both the digital and physical, his sketches numbering in the thousands. “I create shapes that are both human and machine-like,” he explains. “They may appear distorted, but they are part of an ongoing process. Each fragment holds its own identity in that moment, but can transform into something new as time shifts perspective and opens up new possibilities.”
Rutger does not seek to tell a story through his art, but rather, provides the raw materials for the viewer to craft their own narratives. “I hope that those who view my art discover, see, and process what they will,” he says. “It is their own tale that I wish to inspire, as well as a form of therapy.”
Rutger was a visionary when it came to adopting blockchain technology: he accepted Bitcoin as payment for his paintings as early as 2015, and soon added Ethereum to his list of accepted currencies. In 2018, he even entertained the idea of creating a platform for artists to mint their work, only to discover the “roadblocks of code” that would be required to do so. He abandoned the idea when he realised that the task of building a platform like OpenSea would have taken too much time away from his art. “Up until that point,” he reflects, “I was printing my digital collages, making physical copies of works that were born digitally.”
Embracing the advent of NFTs, Rutger made his entrance into the digital realm of art on SuperRare in May 2019. He soon found himself connecting and collaborating with like-minded artists, such as Matt Kane, Coldie, and Sarah Zucker. And then, at the beginning of 2020, he received a call from Conlan Rios, the founder of Async.art, inviting him to collaborate on the first work for the Async platform. Rutger was quick to seize the opportunity.
“Everything just fell into place. I have always been drawn to creating layered art, both physically and digitally, because it keeps my workflow open to new discoveries along the way,” he explains, noting how Async’s platform empowered him to create and distribute generative art that was digital from start to finish. “With the ‘Master+Layer setup’ and, later, the ‘Blueprint option’, I was now able to mint generative art without writing a single line of code, adding an entirely new depth and dimension to my collections — something I had unknowingly been searching for all along.”
This idea of bringing all the previously ‘lost’ layers of his work to life was a revelation for Rutger. “Creating my work is like an ever-expanding cycle of reusing fragments,” he says. “I piece together past and future discoveries in the present moment, constantly listening, looking, and experimenting with new combinations. Everything I create builds upon the last thing, creating a slightly different universe each time.”
“I aim to create a space for all emotions.”
— Rutger van der Tas
Although Rutger conjures up imaginary worlds through his art, his work is also a reflection of our own world and the human experiences within it. The softness of paint, combined with the sharp lines drawn on an iPad, showcase the contradictions and layering in life. “My ultimate goal is for the viewer to explore the different layers I have created across multiple collections,” he explains, “and have a continuously surprising and somewhat (dis)comforting journey.”
Rutger’s art can be intrusive and intense, a deliberate choice to raise awareness about mental instability. “I aim to create a space for all emotions. It’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Psychological instability should not be a taboo, but rather something we must address and talk about. It is a part of our daily lives, in one way or another. There is always a dark side, but acknowledging it is the key to enlightenment and finding our way through.”
“I was now able to mint generative art without writing a single line of code.”
— Rutger van der Tas
Artificial intelligence looms over the creative industries, but The Cotton Modules show how the tech unlocks new opportunities for those willing to tinker. The pair sit down with Clovis McEvoy to discuss music technology, ethics, and creative sparks that come from working with an AI vocalist — and it's so much more than imitation.
Working at music’s digital frontier, Portrait XO shows how the future of AI can have a place for us all. She tells Clovis McEvoy about the release of her newest AI creation, the importance of creative struggle, and why society looks to artists to show the true shape of disruptive technology.