Crisis often begets catharsis.
For New York artist Sam Spratt, rebirth could only come after the realization that a decade of client work had left him feeling hollow. Despite working with marquee artists like Kid Cudi, he was creatively lost with “nothing to say.”
“I had sidelined every component of what makes you human to create that client list and work on those jobs,” he recalls. “I had totally missed everything else that is life. Just top to bottom, how to be a friend, be in a relationship, and be an artist.”
Spratt unlocked something larger than himself by leaning into his own creative vision. His Luci project has captivated the Web3 art world with its nuanced lore and sprawling vision, garnering a cult following with six-figure sales at major auction houses like Christie’s and assembling a council of notable collectors who hold his coveted Skulls of Luci.
“Despite its appearances, I wasn’t even really attempting to make a cult,” Spratt claims with a sly smile.
The project’s next chapter, entitled The Monument Game, kicked off last night (Aug 21) on Nifty Gateway with the sale of more than 256 “Player” tickets that enable holders to compete for three Skulls of Luci by co-creating stories within Spratt’s new 1/1 artwork, “IX. The Monument Game,” over the course of four days.
In an illuminating nft now podcast interview, Spratt recounts his journey from rock bottom to launching the Luci project and offers us a deep dive into The Monument Game.
Matt Medved: Who is Luci? What is the genesis of the project?
Sam Spratt: Luci was born from the feeling of starting over. When everything went to shit, I felt like I missed every step that every human throughout history has built and left behind. Luci, in a way, is a joke on me. The name Luci references our ancient relative, Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in Afar, Ethiopia, coupled with a few other inspirations fans might discern.
Luci is more than just a product of my personal experiences. It’s a refracted self-portrait. The emotions I express, and the paintings I create, aren’t solely autobiographical; they’re about the shared experiences many have overlooked.
Strangely, the crypto and NFT space seems to attract many people who missed something. Their financial outcomes, whether success or failure, become secondary. I’ve seen individuals who’ve done phenomenally well in their lives but have missed basic tenets of humanity that they are finding here, among brethren who also missed it and are like, “Hey, I stayed inside my room for the last 30 years being a gamer and a gambler. What does friendship look like?”
The primary driver here is to make something that is my whole self. It’s not emotional vomit but a primary motivator to keep going. Get up, build, make something, find your tribe, find people, stitch it together, make something bigger, stretch, grow, tear. This space is good for that. There’s a feeling of decay in whatever we were up to before. There is a profound driver to see and create whatever the future holds.
What’s the story behind the Skulls of Luci?
When I first discovered the space, I saw all these artists without a filter. There was no middle management, agency, label, or studio in between them and their output. I spent about ten months just studying, lurking, following everyone, including you and your classic punk back there. I was far too shy to speak up.
As I observed the NFT space, I noticed two trends: the ephemeral nature of auction stories and the often thoughtless airdrops. Inspired by these, I introduced an idea to create a derivative artwork for every unique bidder on my works. This was my way of showing gratitude. The auctions were surprisingly intense. Notably, the skulls representing Luci were particularly captivating. However, there wasn’t much secondary trading or interaction with the skulls, making me feel a bit disheartened. But as time passed, a deeper appreciation for the skulls emerged, proving that patience and close observation were essential. The Skulls of Luci wasn’t a failure; I just needed to adjust my expectations and timeframe. Art’s communal and participatory nature, especially in the blockchain, enriches its essence. This realization has set the foundation for my next venture, The Monument Game.
What is the Council of Luci?
Earlier this year, I created the council as an experiment. I wanted to see how I could bring this tight group of 50 Skull of Luci holders closer to me and closer to each other. I wanted to do it in a way that was not the proverbial community, without utility or an airdrop.
The council created that communal layer, this story that begins in the image but actually unfolds with the participation of the people around it. The act of collection is not actually just transactional. It is the beginning of an actual bond that, if nurtured and strengthened, can actually do something crazy.
The first initiation took place at my home, the same place I married my wife Rachel. During NFT NYC, I shared this project and what I was trying to do with them. Instead of offering them perks, I made a request: I wanted them to take on responsibility within my art world. They’d be intimately woven into my art in return for offering some of their time and judgment.
They are very intelligent people who approach life from very different angles. I now have this incredible group of people I can go to and ask for advice to test my ideas and never have one guiding voice but dialogue and discourse. I try to live my life by the idea of mental sparring. It’s like everything gets better if you fight it out.
What is The Monument Game? How are you thinking about this technology as a new creative canvas?
The Monument Game was born because I was in Milan and I went to see “The Last Supper.” It’s a painting everyone knows. It is memed to death. It almost feels unspecial despite how famous it is. But then you see it, which is a very confrontational experience. It’s all you’re looking at. I was deeply curious, how do you do that digitally?
I’ve planted the seeds for The Monument Game since Luci began. This includes elements like the story, lore, codes, and even the market structure that evolved from Luci’s inception. The Monument Game is based on four main pillars:
The Painting: This is the most intricate piece I’ve ever crafted. I’ve never poured more love, time, and attention into anything. But I questioned its purpose if one can just scroll past it online. Unlike in a museum where one can sit and absorb a grand artwork, how could I replicate that digital experience? This led me to the idea of creating our own platform.
The Game: It’s a viewer. I consulted with developers, including Duncan Cockfoster of Nifty Gateway, to create a platform where users can zoom into and pan around the vast 20,000-pixel painting. This allows them to delve deep into the hundreds of stories woven throughout.
The First Edition Work: This acts as an entry ticket. It grants the holder access to the one-of-one painting, allowing them to share their observations. This isn’t for everyone. Instead, I wanted to design a system that demands something of you and requires you to give a piece of yourself to it.
The Skulls of Luci: The Council plays a pivotal role. While the painting is the focal point, the Skulls and the council are the community that gathers around the fire. This outer circle of players can inch closer if they play the game well. Once the game closes, the council will deliberate on all 256 observations. Their task is to reach a consensus on the top three players, who will then earn a Skull of Luci and a position on the council.
How does one play The Monument Game?
From August 21st to 24th, the primary artwork will be auctioned on Nifty Gateway, using an on-chain Manifold contract. You will see this giant painting that you can enter and look around. You will need to buy a ticket to place a marker and leave an observation. Concurrently, 256 tickets, allowing observation submissions, will also be up for sale on Nifty. The first observation will be from PTM, a notable collector who secured this privilege from a previous Christie’s auction.
After the four-day observation window, the game and auction close, and tickets are minted into NFTs with their observations written into the metadata. Nifty Gateway has built a special secondary market exclusively for The Monument Game where you can read all the observations. Subsequently, The Council starts its deliberations. Over the next week and a half, two voting rounds will determine the most impactful observations. The selected finalists are then published, and a final vote by the council determines the winners.
If you have given a piece of yourself to this project and you’ve shared some unique variable, some part of your life that is reflected and refracted through the art. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what the council is looking for. You must also hold on to your observation to win The Monument Game. Selling it forfeits potential council membership and the accompanying Skull of Luci.
Are you gunning for this? I love treating art, observation, and life as a friendly competition. I think that we get stronger when we are pushed. I want people to run like wolves with each other. I want them to like nip at each other’s heels and attempt to come out ahead. What I enjoy most about art is doing that against myself, finding other artists that are so inspiring and creative, and letting what they’ve put out into the world feed me and fire me up to go further and see what else I’m capable of. Within The Monument game’s boundaries, it is my grandest hope that people play well and play to win.
What artwork are you showing at The Gateway: Korea?
The Monument Game introduces an element called the “ticket,” or the “edition,” which is the “Player.” With an edition size of 256, each will be named as Player One, Player Two, and so on. This piece will be showcased in Korea. If “The Monument Game” is the most zoomed-out and intricate painting, “Player” is a very intimate and personal piece that connects on top of it. I wanted my first edition work to fit everything else I’ve made. It signals what it’s like to take that thing that used to only be for a few people and share it.
If I had to connect this to what you guys are trying to do, I think we are all very curious about whether we have stumbled into the exact group of people that will always be here. The roster is done. This was a beautiful time in life. We all experienced some wins and some pain. This technology may outlive it, but whatever this current iteration of it is, it stays within this zone. It only surrenders to being in that zone if no one bothers to try to build things to get it out of it. So that requires building projects, artwork, and platforms that promote the best ideals, but also requires people like you pushing into areas that are ripe for understanding this, that already have all of the ingredients, the love, the appreciation for art, games, creativity, and do it. The same way you would in Miami, right? The same way you would anywhere else. This will be the furthest away I’ve ever seen my art displayed. So I’m very curious to see what people make of my angsty, pale blue Australopithecus in Korea. But if life and this space are any indication, I think we share pretty much everything in common, and the country is irrelevant.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.