Second Realm

Eric P. Rhodes, Artist

WTF is Trash Art?


Note from a “Trash Art” Pioneer

Last edited: Feb 25, 2024

It might not surprise some, but four years ago, I faced criticism, bans, and censorship for creating homages, remixes, and what was derogatorily called “trash” art. From February 2020 to June 2021, respected figures in the crypto art/NFT community labeled me, Robness, Max Osiris, and many other artists a fraud, thief, and scammer, constantly attacking our character and branding us a money grabber and “trash” artists.

For me, it all came to a head when I was permanently banned from SuperRare in September 2020, simply for threatening to remix a Hackatao.1,2 This encapsulated the reality many other “trash” artists and I endured in the early crypto art space.

Despite these challenges, I persisted, continued creating, and building. From this tension, the Trash Art movement grew, shaping its unique amorphous identity.

Soon thereafter, my low-effort “trash” art piece, The People’s Potato, was short-listed for the most innovative NFT and was the recipient of the People’s Choice Award of the 1st Annual NFT Awards.

Second Realm, The People’s Potato

“Artist and Trash Art historian Eric P. Rhodes has been one of the most prominent figures in documenting this evolution.”

The Emergence of “Trash Art”

In 2020, the emergence of the Trash Art movement was not initially intended as an anti-mainstream rebellion. Instead it was intended to engage in conversation and shine the light on practices that didn’t align with a decentralized art ethos. As detailed in my article, ‘A Short History of NFT Trash Art,’ this movement was a direct response to artists like Robness, Max Osiris, and myself being banned and censored by collectors and leadership at SuperRare. At the time they believed that derivatives, low-effort art (aka “trash” art), and remixes devalued the rest of the art on the platform.

In response to Robness being banned and censored by SuperRare for minting a 64-gallon toter remix. I minted Art Was Here on the platform. It’s not immediately recognizable as a toter, but those in on the joke saw the 64-GALLON TOTER in the silhouette and recognized it. Because it was just a silhouette, it didn’t violate SuperRare’s terms at the time: no remixed toters allowed (yup, that was a thing). So, it remained on the platform.

Second Realm, Art Was Here

Trash Art: One Year Later

By February 2021, the narrative on “trash art” had shifted within the community. And I hosted a series of conversations with pioneers and detractors of the movement, including discussions with Robness, Max Osiris, and Jim McNelis (J1mmy.eth). Through several conversations I captured the growth and evolving meaning of Trash Art.

The Evolution of Trash Art

Since 2020, “trash art” has evolved into two main areas: the movement (most subversive) and the meme (most visible). Each area has grown in their own right, allowing artists to expand their skills and personal interpretation of what it means to engage in Trash Art.

The Movement

The movement started with a focus on gatekeeping, censorship, copyleft, and welcoming new artists to open platforms. Instead of forming a centralized group, artists instigated important discussions about decentralization for collectors and creators by making art that challenged a variety of traditional art norms.

The balance between curation and openness has now evolved beyond just “trash” artists and remains a hot topic in the broader Web3 culture. That said, the remixing ethos inspired by the initial struggles of the “trash” artists like me has now become a part of the everyday fabric of crypto art. And for me, the principles we pioneered in the Trash Art movement are now ingrained in my art practice. It’s fair to say that I connect with this aspect of Trash Art the most.

For example, in February of 2021, anchored in Trash Art remixing principles, I created the Unofficial Punks and founded the Alt-Punk movement which popularized PFP project derivatives. As a result, by July 2021 – 18 months after being called a “trash” artist for remixing – the broader NFT shifted its mindset and fully embraced remixing and derivatives. This confirms for me the key role we played in shaping crypto art culture.

Second Realm, Unofficial Punks V1

Today, a quick glance at all the art available across Web3 platforms will uncover numerous derivatives, copies, remixes, homages, and CC0 experiments, evidencing the Trash Art and Alt-Punk movements’ lasting influence years later.

Ultimately, these movements not only reshaped the dialogue around art and ownership but also paved the way for a new era of digital art where boundaries are continuously redefined, establishing a legacy that continues to influence and transform the crypto art world. Trash Art’s principles have now permeated the cultural consciousness of the Web3 space.

The Meme (aka The Toter)

The 64-gallon Toter, created by Robness, transcended its initial role to become the quintessential symbol of the movement, inspiring many remixes, parodies, and homages. This emblematic trash bin evolved beyond its original context, embodying the spirit of the movement and sparking a new generation of Trash Artists.

These artists have found a niche primarily on the Tezos platform, where the Toter is revered not just as an icon but as an anti-mainstream emblem, symbolizing a break from traditional art norms. While I connect more with the foundational aspects of the “trash art” movement, this new wave of Trash Artists signifies the evolving nature of the meme and its increasing influence, indicating a vibrant and growing community that continues to reinterpret its meaning.

Robness, 64 GALLON TOTER

We are all “Trash” Artists

All that being said, it’s crucial to clarify that Trash Art was not pursuing a definitive individual label when it emerged. Instead, it simply planted a flag firmly in the middle of the debate between “what is” or “what isn’t?” Art and stated clearly to the gatekeepers, “You do not define Art anymore.”

Four Years Later!

And here we are four short (long?) years later!

And it’s huge that Robness’ 64-gallon Toter is in TASCHEN’s On NFTs book. The irony is not lost on me that the Trash Art movement – often thought of as antiestablishment – is now codified in the annals traditional art history.

Do you even understand what that means!? It’s a testament to the impact and legacy of the movement we pioneered together. It’s a big fucking deal!


  2. In September 2022, the $RARE community voted to reinstate me, Robness, and Max Osiris back onto the SuperRare platform after community members submitted proposals to the DAO.