Why this 87-year-old is getting on board the NFT train – The Australian Financial Review | NFTRADIUS

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Charles Billich has just minted his first NFT at the age of 87, and he wishes the technology had been available earlier in his career.

More than 50 years ago, surrealist painter Charles Billich discovered that communist officials had stolen millions of dollars of his work from a Croatian studio. That experience has made the 87-year-old open to the idea of electronically protecting his work and led to him creating his first NFTs.

It was the fulfillment of a long-held dream when Billich established a gallery in Croatia’s coastal city of Lovran. However, the artist didn’t realise the manager he employed there was a government spy. When she failed to pay a small government tax, officials descended and seized more than 100 paintings.

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Artist Charles Billich has just created his first NFT. Natalie Boog

“This manageress also stole my penthouse,” Billich told AFR Weekend recently, from his Sydney harbourside studio in a converted sailors’ bunkhouse in The Rocks, from which he has painted for nearly 40 years.

When his friend and lawyer, Geoffrey McDonald, suggested recently that had those stolen works been minted to an NFT, or non-fungible-token, he could have tracked their illegal movements over the years, he was keen to learn more.

“Having work stolen is not uncommon, but this is a nice invention,” Billich says of NFTs.

“The only problem of course, was the communists would have announced those paintings were worth nothing. Now, I think they’re probably worth millions of dollars.”

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Billich at work in the his studio in The Rocks, Sydney. Natalie Boog

Billich arrived in Melbourne in 1956 at the age of 21. He had fled Croatia when he was a teenager after a run-in with Yugoslav authorities. Once he had settled in Australia he built a career that has reached dizzying heights: his dream-like, architectural works hang in the White House, the United Nations and the Vatican.

He has painted popes and even designed 16 Chinese postage stamps based on Bing Ma Yong Terracotta warriors, now he has created his first NFT with a digital animator.

Billich is the latest in a sweep of traditional painters experimenting with digital mediums while looking to make use of the technical breakthrough afforded by NFTs.

The resulting work, Journey of Flat Earth, is fine art animation. A gleaming, surreal cube turns in on itself before hurtling down a corridor framed with doorways and bird cages.

The ambient track stretches throughout the 80-second clip, before it folds away and starts again, showing elements of Billich’s hundreds of paintings over the years.

Billich is not surprised that technology has evolved to track and prevent art theft, but he says that good work will always find a home.

“There is always going to be an instinct in human beings for artistic merit,” he says.

“And this is not only confined to the educated classes, it’s common for everyone, it all comes down to whether people want to look at something. That eye exists, no matter how much work is produced, or indeed, stolen.”

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Jessica Sier

Jessica SierJournalistJessica Sier writes on technology, internet culture, cryptocurrencies and software from our Sydney newsroom. She has previously covered global capital markets and economics. Connect with Jessica on Twitter. Email Jessica at [email protected]

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