Artists on Real Nifty: Matt Vegh on Mosaics, NFTs and Portalism

Matt Vegh

We speak to artist Matt Vegh about his ‘Mosaic NFT’ project, how he ended up in the art world, and the appeal of mixing art and technology.

Canadian-born abstract and AI artist Matt Vegh has traversed a unique, exciting path. Only discovering the world of art over the past decade, this has culminated in the establishment of his studio gallery in the city of Chengdu, China where he has lived for the past 21 years. Vegh’s life is an interesting story with many twists and turns, and one that has ended with him being a heavily sought after artist with a penchant for combining art and technology.

A lot of what he puts down to where he is now is the entrepreneurial lifestyle he’s had since he was young. “I’ve been an entrepreneur since I started my paper route when I was 6 years old,” says Vegh. “By 14, I had my own business painting houses. I never thought all those years ago that it would all come back around to painting again!”

His entrepreneurial spirit continued through his 20s, but it was a slice of luck on a trip to Las Vegas that truly changed Vegh’s life forever. “When I turned 30 I was down in Vegas on a bit of a soul-searching bender. I was fortunate enough to have played my cards right and won some fun money. It was the millennium new year and I just remember saying to myself on the second-floor balcony overlooking the strip as the clock struck midnight, ‘Time to see some other parts of this rock!’” 

China Beckons

One of those places was China and Matt wanted to see what it was all about. Being the entrepreneur that he is, he figured out the easiest way to stay for any decent length of time was through a teaching visa. He goes on to explain, “I actually had a choice. I could have gone to Russia, Poland or China for my first teaching stint. One night, the phone rings at 3 am and it’s the owner of the Canadian Business Institute in China and he is saying, ‘get on the plane! We need you! We need you now!’ So off I went to Shanghai. The teaching thing was a great way to go to China in the year 2000. But, for an entrepreneur like me, I was offered so many business opportunities. I tried a lot of stuff, too. It was very exciting.”

After 6 months in Shanghai, Vegh was offered an opportunity at the Canadian Business Institute opening in Chengdu and jumped on a plane again. They say that Chengdu is a city that once you go there, you never want to leave, and that seems to be true in Vegh’s case. He actually became the very first foreigner residing in Chengdu to obtain a Chinese green card. Little did he know he would go on to reside there for 21 years, buying a house, marrying, and starting a family with two sons.

Moving on from teaching business courses, Vegh ended up co-founding Western China’s first English language newspaper owned by the Chengdu Media Group and helped build the circulation up to 365,000 subscribers in less than a year. This is what eventually gravitated him towards a more creative output, and eventually to art. “I worked for the newspaper for 13 years and wrote hundreds of articles and took plenty of photos. That’s what got me started into art, actually.” 

The castle at Kedronavista – part of the VR world being developed with Matt and Nate Vegh

With the creative juices now flowing, Vegh tried his hand at writing and publishing his first graphic novels, expanding on the success of their launch to start a franchise IP Universe called SXD Middle Kingdom, including a screenplay trilogy which was optioned by China Film Group and made the cover of the Hollywood Reporter Magazine (Cannes Daily No. 1). He is now in full production with his partners in the UK on building a VR Universe based on his storyline, and even more exciting, an NFT’d version of his VR worlds which will become the building blocks for his corner of the Metaverse. The VR Game entitled SXD Andromeda is expected to launch in early 2022.

Art Always Finds A Way

Now at a later stage in his life and with a much greater creative output, it seemed as though the planets aligned for Matt and his art; he was at the right time in the right place as he goes on to explain. “I was already dabbling in the artsy world. I kind of semi-retired 5-6 years ago, slowing down from everything I was doing. I also wanted to concentrate on helping my sons because they were getting into high school. I wanted to make sure they were on the right path.”

It was helping his sons on their paths that actually led to Vegh finding his own. “My older son is a phenomenal artist,” says Matt. “He was trained by a disciple of one of China’s most famous traditional painters, Xu Beihong, the horse painter. I was helping him prepare for his first exhibition and discovered my own painting style by accident.  I just started experimenting with the traditional Chinese paper that my son used to paint with. I just kept doing it and finally, I got a show.”

Vegh’s first show was in 2016 and things have just rolled on from there. Now a famous artist in the Chendu art world and beyond, Vegh has sold over 480 original works of art, received two Golden Panda International Design Awards, participated in several high profile residencies and regularly is asked to live paint at events held in China.

Some of Matt Vegh’s pieces and mosaic collection

Relying On The Past To Build Technique

In the beginning, however, many of his friends not in the art world didn’t understand his abstract art style. “Everyone was teasing me!” smiles Vegh. “They would say ‘Why are you doing these finger paintings?!’” But, China is now a hot market for art and I was in the right place at the right time. I have such a unique style, different than anything else you will see at a group show.” 

With no classical training and no artistic influences, Vegh once again called on his life experience to figure it out as he goes on to explain. “When I was painting houses as a kid I also did drywall and plaster. That’s how I got my painting technique. I had to use a knife and trowels. It’s the same technique I use for my painting. A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it is to have the touch with the knife until they try it, so they might think it looks easy but that’s because I’m making it look easy after years of practice.”

Substance, Style and Grace

But what exactly is Matt Vegh’s style? And how has he managed to sell so many pieces of work in such a short space of time? It’s all to do with how he creates his pieces. 

Vegh’s technique is unique with many different methods, sections, and processes that make his pieces a multi-step process. He’s shown off certain elements of these in live shows. “I used to do open shows,” says Vegh. “I can’t show the whole process in one sitting because it’s a multi-drying time process. I’m happy to show it part by part. I’d never shown the whole process at one time but I’d show snippets of it… I don’t want to reveal too many secrets.”

In most cases, Vegh starts with a ‘mother canvas’. He could then go on to use anything from oil-based paints, metallics, acrylics, gold dust, fabric, plaster and more, all in one piece. Rubbing and texturizing can also play important parts, as well as the pulling off of specialized papers in varying directions. It’s all very intricate and diverse work that requires skill and patience. His artwork can also have multiple layers, creating what some would call ‘paintings within paintings’. “I learned what to do with the dried paper transfers,” says Vegh. “I can layer them, depending on which pull in the order it is. Some have too much texture, some are flatter. I learned how to mix a medium so the paper will go transparent and then when I layer it, you can see down into my painting. There’s another painting under that layer. It’s very special when you look down through layers of a painting and see more”.

Like many artists, Vegh has gone through ‘generations’ where his works differ. From oil-based canvas pieces of his earlier works to taking inspiration from traditional Chinese techniques, Vegh’s abstract style transcends boundaries. It can feature all the colors of the rainbow, embellish a whole canvas or be split into sections, all whilst using different textures, methods and materials. He’s even drawn inspiration from his Postal collection, embedding stamps right into his art or creating floral abstracts that literally jump off the canvas. His ‘Four Seasons’ collection takes the Chinese-based style and manipulates it into his own abstract representation.

Mosaics and Portalism

Vegh’s most recent generation focuses on using a process to create special mosaics, and this is what has helped him produce so many pieces of art in such a short time. Once again using a mother canvas, Vegh can cut and create where he sees the best images within his work. 

One of the reasons why his mosaics work so well is what Vegh calls ‘Portalism’ or spirit painting. It’s been a constant throughout his recent work as he goes on to explain. “You’ve noticed in my mosaic pieces, I’m taking the scenes, the people, the buddhas and the animals that I see appear. I didn’t paint them there. I didn’t intentionally do it. What Portalism means is that spirits or representations of those things somehow connected to me in this life or a past life are using my canvas as a portal to appear and peak out into the real world. Everyone has this ability. To connect with the spirit world. That’s why I call it ‘Abstract Portalism’. A lot of ghosts and creatures show up in my paintings, too. I like to ascribe that to the fact I come from a gypsy heritage, but who knows! Sometimes it’s just easier to say, ‘that’s beautiful’ than to explain.” 

‘The Hooded Figure in Blue’ – One of 1,250 mosaic tiles and NFTs created by Matt Vegh

Art, Technology and NFTs

Having always been a fan of technology and having built some of the first distance learning apps and machine-based language translation apps in the market (a venture that naturally aligned with his skills as an educator in the early 2000s), transitioning his art to combine with AI was the next logical step for Vegh as far as he was concerned. In fact, the idea was there before the technology to back it up. 

In 2016, he began the artwork that would become the world’s first Mosaic Cryptocurrency. This was before NFT’s were ‘coo’l, and was exhibited at the 2017 Chengdu International Golden Panda Design Week. It was adjudicated by iF Germany, one of the world’s premier design firms. It took until early 2021 for Vegh to start looking into the crypto world in a serious way but he has now dived headfirst into all that it offers, with his older son Nate Vegh – the world’s youngest Kernel Master on coder’s platform Kaggle – also joining him for the ride. “We’ve ramped up a knowledge base pretty quickly,” says Vegh.” 

Digital art has been one of the main beneficiaries of this year’s NFT craze with some digital pieces being sold for millions. But it has also been an opportunity for lesser-known artists to sell their digital pieces and profit from NFT sales, allowing them to keep on creating. 

For his first real foray into NFT’s, Matt Vegh was involved in the first-ever community-minded NFT. This helped showcase what can be achieved when art meets the creative use of technology. Vegh provided artwork for the project entitled ‘Rebuilding the Tower of Babel’ through his Starcloud studio, which is his AI Lab in Chengdu. That work eventually sold for 16.1 ETH. “It sold for over 51 Thousand USD,” explains Vegh. “It’s a really cool piece of digital art that I composed for the Babel Tower concept and to see it come together, being built in shards by 2,560 participating ‘tribes’ was something to behold in real-time.”

‘Rebuilding the Tower of Babel’ – by Matt Vegh and his Starcloud studio

Now with a taste for NFTs, Matt has launched his most recent Mosaic project in collaboration with Real Nifty. Based on the thought process he had way back in 2016 with the world’s first Mosaic Cryptocurrency, it follows the aim of bridging the gap between physical and digital art for the very first time: physical art, backing and tied directly to the NFT. 

Entitled ‘Mosaic NFT’, Vegh has created 1,250 handmade mosaic tiles as part of an initial NFT Mosaic drop. Each of these physical mosaic tiles will have a digital NFT counterpart that people will be able to purchase (via minting) through the Mosaic NFT Drop Page. The NFT mosaic tiles can be re-sold on the Metacraft marketplace.

This isn’t the full story of the project, however. Things now get interesting. Being an artist and innovator, Vegh wanted to include something in the drop that has never been done before. “NFTs are about innovation and I like to see what can be done with them. I wanted to combine the physical and digital worlds in a unique way”.

When a purchaser collects at least 9 of the NFT mosaic tiles, they will be able to digitally ‘crystalize’ them on the Mosaic Drop website. This means you can choose a pattern or order for your mosaic tiles within a 3×3 grid. This then ‘burns’ those 9 mosaic tiles and replaces them with a new NFT of your personally created mosaic design of 9 tiles. The owner will then have the option to claim the real-world matching physical mosaic. Matt Vegh will create the new physical mosaic using the matching NFT tiles from your design and send you the completed artwork in the real world. It’s an exciting time for Vegh with the Mosaic NFT project having the potential to become a trailblazer for future crypto-based art.

A selection of Matt Vegh’s Mosaic NFTs and physical pieces

What Does The Future Hold?

Even though Matt sees himself in semi-retirement, he still seems to have more on his plate than most people with full-time jobs. As well as the Mosaic NFT project, Matt is also working on a VR Metaverse with his son, Nate and an ever-growing team. With a realistic feel to the VR world and plenty to explore, purchasers of tiles and mosaics from the Mosaic NFT project will be able to display their pieces framed on the walls of an epic castle within this metaverse.

Vegh would also like to combine his VR Universe and the NFT galleries contained within them to provide real-world vending experiences. “People could use their phone or headsets to stroll through the Metaverse and then choose what product they want from a 5-star locale vending machine. Lots of stuff to think about and many possibilities in crypto, blockchain and NFT’s!”

Find out more about the Matt Vegh Mosaic NFT Drop and how you can get involved over at the Mosaic NFT Drop Page.

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