Interview with artist Tom Yoo NFT | CHIE on Nifty Gateway 4/10/22 | NFT culture | NFT News
Tom Yo is the artist best known for creating both the world’s first NFT sneaker and the very first sneaker made from LEGO bricks. Yet when he left a career in investment banking/private equity, he never imagined he would become a pioneering NFT artist. During his career, Tom has collaborated with Adidas, LEGO and Nike SNKRS. He is proud to represent as an Asian American artist and his mission is to raise the next generation of young BIPOC creatives. Tom’s desire is to help those in need as well – which is why he is committed to donating a portion of his earnings to non-profit organizations. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife (Charlet), son (Guy), daughter (Gal) and dog (Geoffrey).
If I can be honest, I often gave in to creating art that I thought was what people wanted to see and buy. But I’m fed up now. I want to make art that gives you all an authentic insight into who I am as a person and what is most important to me.
Introducing CHIE, my most personal and vulnerable work to date. This is the story of Chie, an Asian American who becomes the first woman to play in the NBA. Inspired by Aku and his creator, Micah Johnson, the development of this character was spearheaded by my wife, Charlet Chung (whose Japanese name is Chie), as many of the challenges Chie will face are based on Charlet’s real life experiences. . My responsibility then was to bring everything to life visually – it was through this collaborative process that CHIE was born. We hope she will be part of a legacy that will inspire our daughter to believe that anything is possible.
“CHAPTER 1: Genesis” not only lays the groundwork for who Chie is, but also captures the magical moment she falls in love with basketball – as she watches the GOAT hit the final shot.
Please give us some background, where are you from?
Born in Michigan but basically raised in Southern California. I grew up as the son of immigrants from Korea and navigated my childhood sometimes being the only person of color. Even though it was difficult at times, it shaped who I am as a person and as an artist.
Can you tell us about your background and what led you to become an artist and eventually experiment with NFTs?
I was studying economics at university and had no desire to pursue a career in art. After my studies, I turned to Investment Banking and Private Equity. Ultimately, I knew that the career path I was on was not what was going to make me happy in the long run. So, following in my parents’ footsteps, I tried to open my own business, but it didn’t work out. Those were some of my darkest days as I had lost everything (and my parents lost everything too) and I was trying to find a way to cope with my stress as I was working 100 hours a week. It was then that I turned to writing and eventually to art. It would only be a matter of time before I create the 1st LEGO Air Jordan and my life would completely change, again.
When did you hit your first NFT? Which platform did you choose and why?
Nifty Gateway in May 2020. To be honest, they found me and I’m so grateful. They reached out to me in early 2020 before the platform launched and wanted me to be one of the first artists to be featured… ever. Of course, that was before anyone knew what an NFT was. I admit that I was a little skeptical but I took the plunge and created my first collection – which became the 1st always sneaker NFTs! Luckily I was able to continue depositing my collections – kudos to everyone who purchased my work, I wouldn’t be here without you and I’ll never forget it.
Can you tell us one thing you can’t live without?
I can’t live without sweatpants. It has become my life uniform.
What is your favorite artist(s) (Non NFT)? How does their style resonate with you?
Virgil Abloh was one of my inspirations. What he was able to do in art, fashion, design, etc. touched me on so many levels. I hope I can grow up to be an artist like him. May he rest in peace.
Who is your favorite NFT artist? What makes this artist unique?
Dot Pigeon! His style is one of a kind and the way he’s been able to collaborate with other artists is awesome. It was an honor to find out that one of my pieces was the 1st NFT he had never bought. Art aside, he’s also a great person and one of the nicest people I’ve met in space. I only wish him a good continuation.
What is the NFT piece of art you wish you had bought but missed out on?
This is a difficult question to answer without bringing a painful tear to my eye. =( As I was one of the first artists to sell an NFT on Nifty Gateway, I had the opportunity to purchase all of the first drops Beeple, XCOPY, etc., which were their genesis mints on the platform. But I was so new to the world of digital art. I had no idea who it was, so I never bought those first drops. AHHHHHH! Now you can see why that is a painful subject for me!
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why this location?
MALDIVES!!! My wife and I love to travel to tropical places with crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. Everything I’ve seen of the Maldives looks GORGEOUS! I want to dive with dolphins! I don’t know if they have any though. =)
What are your other passions besides art? Why?
My identity as Korean-American/Asian-American/BIPOC is very important to me. Who I am, along with my previously mentioned experiences and influences, ripples through every idea and image I choose to present to the world. I hope that as an Asian-American artist, I can be another representative of my people of someone who is not afraid to follow a passion for the arts and make a career out of it. In this regard, my mission is to do my utmost to raise the next generation of BIPOC creatives.
I just want to be the best husband and father I can be.
How did you find your specific style?
LEGOs were part of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories of being a carefree kid involve playing with LEGOs. I spent hours and hours building things and creating worlds that I totally lost myself in. It was also a big part of my relationship with one of my cousins who passed away too soon – so LEGOs have a deeper meaning to me than just being a fun plastic toy.
Fast forward to 2014, I received a “Back to the Future” LEGO DeLorean set in a Christmas gift exchange. It was the gift no one wanted but my wife pushed me to take it because she knew my love for BTTF. When I opened the box the next day, I was blown away to find that the kit had been designed by a fan. He had gone through the process of submitting his design to LEGO, receiving 10,000 votes from the public, and eventually LEGO produced his DeLorean.
Seeing this, my mind immediately raced – what do I love that I could translate into LEGO? Of course, the answer was obvious…Air Jordans. I then spent the next few months developing the right design for my first sneaker sculpture. Until finally, I launched the LEGO Air Jordan XI on my IG in May 2015 – the first Air Jordans ever made from LEGO. The rest is history.
How has your style evolved over the years?
Going from making NFT sneakers to where I am now was a long process. I have always felt a desire for the content of my art to reflect the deepest parts of who I am and what excites me. Although I love LEGOs and sneakers, I didn’t feel like my journey into art had to end there. But I must admit that I was afraid to move on, because I had become known for a certain thing and this thing allowed me to support my family. Getting away from that was something I struggled with a lot. But I ended up having lunch with Micah Johnson last year and he really inspired me. It was after leaving that time that I knew I had to follow my heart and create something that not only represented me as an Asian American, but could inspire my daughter to be everything. she wanted to be in the world – that was when the idea for CHIE was born. After months and months of planning and working with my wife, Charlet Chung, we are finally ready to introduce CHIE to the world. This time has come.
What’s coming in the near future?
Completely dedicated to the history of CHIE!
If you could collaborate with an artist, who would it be?
It would be great to work with Dot or Micah on something special.
What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
Losing everything after leaving the restaurant was the hardest thing I had to deal with in my life. I learned that there is nothing more important than my family and my faith. Everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t have gone through this period of my life without those two things.
Do you have anything else to share?
Lots of love to the NFT Culture family. Your support is felt and I am always here for you too!
Where can collectors find your work?
The best way to see my work and get all the alpha for my projects is to follow me on IG and Twitter.