Art News

First-ever NFT digital artwork from legendary Texas artist up for auction

First-ever NFT digital artwork from legendary Texas artist on auction

Daniel Johnston art
The original artwork was discovered after Daniel Johnston's death. Courtesy of the Daniel Johnston Estate

Fans of legendary Austin songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston can now collect a truly unique piece of his work.

For the first time ever, the Johnston family and the Daniel Johnston Estate will release one of Johnston's previously unseen original works of art — titled Daniel Johnston is Alive Somewhere — as a nonfungible token, or NFT.

NFTs are digital tokens tied to assets — like rare art — that can be bought, sold, and traded. The Daniel Johnston is Alive Somewhere NFT will be offered exclusively via a 24-hour auction through the platform beginning Friday, April 9 at 2 pm. The piece is one in a series of NFTs Johnston's estate plans to release.

While the medium may be a bit more state-of-the-art than collectors of Johnston's works are used to, the original piece, discovered after the artist’s death, is unmistakably Johnston, featuring a multi-colored army of his signature "friendly frogs" backed by a keyboard excerpt from Johnston's perfectly eccentric "Fly Eye" groove from his 1985 musical release, Continued Story.

Even better: The frogs, whose animated eyes blink, seemingly ask, "Hi, how are you?" then reply, "Fine, thank you."

"The foundation for this piece is an original Daniel drawing that was found shortly after his passing in 2019 — a message to us all that his spirit is very much alive," says Dick Johnston, brother of the unconventional and beloved artist.

Johnston was born in California and died in Waller, Texas, but Austin was his adopted hometown, and his influences and art remain a quintessential and exceptional part of the city's culture and lore, his best-known piece being the Hi, How Are You mural — featuring his trademark frog — on The Drag. (And if you don't know the work we're referring to, you might start with a viewing of the wonderful documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.)

"I often say, only half-joking, that Daniel was the original file sharer," says Johnston's longtime manager, Tom Gimbel. "He would walk up to people on the street and say, 'Hi, how are you? I'm Daniel Johnston and this is my new album,' and hand them a cassette. What was most important to Daniel was for the world to receive and enjoy his art and music. He was always open to embrace new technologies if it was a way to deliver more art."

Coinciding with the release of the first Johnston NFT, the Johnston Estate is also launching a new website that will sell a gallery of Johnston's original pen and colored-marker drawings.

And if after reveling in all that art you still haven't gotten your Daniel Johnston fix, head down to Austin, to The Contemporary's Jones Center, which will host an exhibit titled “Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams,” the first major museum survey of visual art and music created by the artist. It runs from September 11, 2021 through May 20, 2022, and is sure to be a fitting tribute to a creative Austin genius.