Olive Allen on Her Education, Saving Manhattan and Being a Crypto Art Pioneer

Olive Allen is a New York-based visual artist. She’s a true pioneer of the crypto art movement and has been a part of the NFT space since its inception in 2018. 

Not only was Olive one of the first artists in the crypto art space, but she played a role in shaping the entire movement. She’s also one of the most diverse crypto artists working today. 

She has her No One’s Available, Everyone’s Busy series on Open Sea, Hallowcracy on Async Art, while her CoinDesk Most Influential portrait of Charles Cascarilla has been auctioned off on Nifty Gateway. And that’s only a small chunk of her work. 

I had the pleasure of talking with Olive for an hour straight. We talk about her background in design, flipping Supreme on eBay, her short-lived acting career, and marketing on crypto art platforms, among other things.

What would a 7-year-old Olive think of you today?

God, at the age of seven? That’s the first grade. I was still in Russia, it was a lifetime ago. But I already had a computer back then. I was playing video games, collecting Pokémon cards, and learning English. I thought I was so savvy and smart.

What would I say to myself today? Probably like “you’re so lame… I’m so disappointed.” I’d say something like that. I thought I’d be famous. My younger self was more of a control freak. I’ve mellowed down since. Definitely. 

Has being a control freak ever helped you in your life?

I don’t know. As a kid, I think I had ADHD so to really study well I liked to do little things not to get distracted. I had to be in control of a lot of things. It’s weird. Being a grown-up is weird. I was a real know-it-all when I was a child. But I’m still like that a bit. 

I always hope for the best and go for it. You can say that I’m delusional. When I’m interested in something, I go for it, and when I’m not… Seriously, I had so many job interviews in my life and people always ask why are you passionate about this job?

Well, I’m really passionate about putting food on my table. That’s about it. 

13 Dreadful and Disappointing Items, 2019

What companies did you work for on the path of your self-sustaining career?

I worked for virtual startups. But I mostly worked on my own. Also, I was flipping streetwear on eBay. Vintage clothing. I was good at selling. You know, I was selling my art before all of the crypto stuff. Strangely, a lot of people were buying my stuff. And they paid good money for it. 

Tell me more about flipping streetwear. What were you making money on?

Supreme. I’m not going to lie. Mostly Supreme. You needed to follow drops and buy everything quickly. Everything sells out in minutes. That’s how the market operates—artificial scarcity. If you buy it quickly, you can buy it cheaply. T-shirts and shorts are the best. They’re never readily available. You have to use bots to snatch them. And you have to upgrade the bots each time. 

Did you program your bots right?

Oh, no, no, no. I wish that was my talent. I mean, I know the process, but I’m not a coder. For some reason, it took me forever to learn the basics. But I knew someone that knew someone… 

We mentioned your education in passing, did you study art in high school or college?

Yeah, I did study art history in school. I always loved art. That’s my lifelong passion. I never thought of it as a career obviously. Nobody really does. After that, I did design. Not that you’ve asked, but yeah, I majored in industrial design. 

But I also did weird things like drama. I went to Lee Strasbourg Institute in New York. Sometime after I went to grad school for architecture. There, I explored different concepts around preservation. I’m passionate about climate change. 

I’ve always wondered how climate change was going to affect the world—especially New York City. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking of ways to save Manhattan for quite some time. 

Do you know how to save Manhattan from being flooded? Do share… 

There are several ways to go. You can put up a wall… Several walls actually. These would prevent the ocean from coming in the first plays. You can also elevate the city. Basically, you need to make people give up on the first floor. Obviously, the wall is the easiest solution. Elevating buildings is very complicated. 

You got this creative and engineering side, do you feel like crypto art connects them?

I guess art, in general, ties them all together. Crypto art is a movement that I belong to at the moment. But I’m not saying that it’s going to be like that forever. I mean, I will belong to it forever, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t do anything outside it, especially in the physical world. I love the intersection of art and different projects. 

So this NFT, what is it? How would you explain what NFTs are to someone?

It’s a backend technology that allows you to record and securely store and manage data. That’s about it. Not everyone will like my explanation, but that’s it. And it took me a while to understand how blockchain technology works. 

I mean, I heard of it super-early from an actor I was living with for a brief moment. In 2011, I believe, but it was all so confusing. I was like, “I don’t need this digital currency headache now.” Also, I didn’t have enough funds to get into crypto for a couple of years.

The Portrait of Charles Cascarilla, 2020

Tell me about the differences with Rarible about marketing your work…

I want my work marketed. Once, they posted my work on Instagram. Then, they deleted it. I was like, why? I’m paying you guys 15% of my sales and you can’t even post my work on Instagram for fuck’s sake? I mean, really? 

Everyone’s paying 15% and almost no one is getting any exposure. It’s a mess. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that the team is doing the best they can. They’re facing pressure from investors. But as the founder, you need to make decisions.

As a founder, you’re under pressure to grow your business. But instead of helping the current artists sell more, they’re constantly trying to get more artists on the platform. They’re not going to bug the founder. However, most people probably have a different mentality than me. 

I’d ask you where do you see yourself in the future, but you’d say something like “I’ll be creating something, somewhere…” right?

Yeah, I don’t know. I started without visual arts. I wasn’t always a part of crypto art. But this is the art movement of the moment, I need to push, create more, and be as innovative as possible. I give myself deadlines. They push me forward when I really need it. 

There’s a lot of collectors in the space. Even though I started early, I wasn’t on crypto art early enough. I simply didn’t believe in it enough in the beginning. I didn’t think it was real. So I don’t know what I’ll do in the future. 

What are you working on currently?

I’m working on something new. I don’t know the platform yet. But the work is dedicated to the crypto space. I figured I owe it so much. The crypto space is expanding and it’s really big. It’s really, really funny and ridiculous.

It has its own symbolism and language and it’s great. I’m working on the crypto bull run series. There are five or 6 more similar paintings I’m working on each one with different symbolism. Everything’s there. The good, the bad, the ugly. 

All of the paintings are depicting the state of affairs in the crypto world. I’ve combined several styles like flat imagery, 3D airbrushing, pixelated photographs off the Internet. I’ve combined all of these things to portray this era as artistically and symbolically as I could. 

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