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Artist Lei Melendres Discusses the Challenges of Making the Largest Blockchain-Integrated Mural

lei melendres interview

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  • Artist Lei Melendres discussed the challenges of creating ‘Existential Voyage’, the world’s largest blockchain-integrated physical art, in a Twitter Space hosted by BitPinas. The mural’s large size required the new use of spray paints and scaffolding.
  • Melendres and 25 volunteers faced obstacles like the high cost of spray paint, inclement weather, and intimidating scaffolding heights during the month-long creation process. Weather disruptions caused significant delays and changes to the artwork.
  • In partnership with Ownly and Meatspace, a digital version of ‘Existential Voyage’ was minted on the Tezos blockchain. Despite challenges, the team is pleased with the mural, which changes appearance with the day’s sunlight.

Lei Melendres, the lead artist behind the 75-feet by 40-feet physical mural located in front of the Meatspace Gallery in Manila, shared his experiences in creating the largest known blockchain-integrated physical art in the country, and possibly the world, during a Twitter Space hosted by BitPinas.

The Artist’s Largest Work

According to Melendres, the mural, titled “Existential Voyage,” is his largest artwork to date:

“Actually, ‘yung pinakamalaki (kong artwork) bago dito, siguro, ‘yung size niya ⅛ or 1/7 lang (nung size ngayon). Never pa akong naka-akyat nang ganoon kataas na scaffolding (kasi) before naman, puro ladders lang kami, ganun.”

[“Actually, the largest artwork that I did before was just about ⅛ or 1/7 of the size of the Existential Voyage. I never experienced going up in a high scaffolding because before, we were just using ladders.”]

Photo for the Article - Artist Lei Melendres Discusses the Challenges of Making the Largest Blockchain-Integrated Mural
Lei Melendres with the Existential Voyage in the background. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Surillo.
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The project was first hinted at last year by Ismael Jerusalem, the CEO of Ownly, who posted a picture of latex and spray paints on Twitter.

“So, ito, first time ko siya, tapos, ‘yun nga, nagdecide kami gumamit ng spray paints kasi naisip namin na mas mabilis ‘yun dahil ‘pag gumagawa ka ng wall art ng mural, ‘di ka na magdadala ng bucket ng paint or cups, tapos ‘di ka na magwe-waste ng time na magsasawsaw ng brush sa bucket para ano, isang tuloy-tuloy lang ng spray, mapupuno mo na yung wall,” the artist explained. 

[“So, this mural art with this size was my first time to make, and we decided to use spray paints because those are easier to use in a mural wall art. We do not need to bring a bucket of paint in scaffoldings, we do not need to waste our time dipping the brush into the bucket with the paint. Just a continuous spray, you can immediately fill the wall.”]

Adapting to Challenges

Melendres explained that one of the challenges they faced was that they were not accustomed to using spray paint at the time, so they had to practice intensively to familiarize themselves with it.

“May mga parts na mabilis naming nagawa dahil mayroong isa kaming volunteer si Solaire, graffiti artists siya, isa siya sa mga volunteers sa EARIST. Sanay na siya mag graffiti, parang hulog ng langit nga siya (kasi) siya yung nagturo sa amin ng mga process, yung mga ginagamit na cups, yung tamang gagamitin na paint,” the doodle art expert stressed.

[“There were parts that we finished quickly because we have a volunteer named Solaire, who is a graffiti artist, and she is one of the volunteers from Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology. She was so used to doing graffiti and she was like a heaven sent to us because she taught us the right process using cups and how to properly use paints.”]

There were 25 volunteers who worked together to produce Existential Voyage, but only seven of those are allowed to use spray paints because of the difficulty to familiarize with the material.

Additionally, Melendres emphasized that another challenge they faced was the high cost of each spray paint can. He elaborated that each can could only cover up to a four-feet by four-feet block before running out. To put this into perspective, Existential Voyage measures 75 feet by 40 feet.

“Actually, ‘yung 100 namin na spray cans na binenta nung event as memorabilia, ‘yung mga ubos lang ‘yun. Meron pa ‘yung mga spray cans na hindi talaga naubos, around 200 ata yung nabili naming spray cans in total,” the illustrator shared.

[“Actually, the 100 pieces of spray cans we sold as memorabilia during the launch, are the cans that were already empty. There are spray cans left that are not yet empty, there were about 200 spray cans that we bought.”]

Braving the Elements

Consequently, as their team started working on the mural in December of the previous year, Melendres expressed their frustration with the weather to the audience:

“Since December kami nag-start, maulan na siya, tapos kapag hindi naman maulan, mainit naman. Gumagamit kami ng cover dun sa area pero minsan, kapag sobrang malakas ‘yung ulan, mahirap, lalo na ‘yung mga final stages, kasi nagpe-paint na kami, so, pag nag-drift ‘yung ulan dun sa wall, medyo malaking revision nanaman, lalo na dun sa line work.”

[“Since we started last December, it was already a rainy season. But when it does not rain, the weather is too hot. Though we uses a cover in the area, there were still times when the rain is too hard, especially in the final stages, while we were painting and the rainwater flows through the wall, we need to have major revisions, especially in the line work.”]

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In a prior report of BitPinas, gallery manager of Meatspace Jori Gallano shared that the first reaction they got was people doubting that they could finish the project as it was so huge that they needed seven layers of scaffolds to be able to reach the whole wall. This was supported by Melendres, citing that working above the seven-layer scaffoldings was a challenge to them:

“Isa pa sa mga struggle namin noon ‘yung the fact na kailangan mong magsuot ng harness every time umaakyat ka sa seven floors na scaffoldings. Kasi sa simula nakakalula talaga, pag hindi ka sanay sa heights, every time tumitingin ka sa baba, (malulula ka). Eh hindi naman perfect ‘yung pagkakagawa sa scaffoldings, merong makalog, merong loose, merong mahirap kapitan ng harness.”

[“Another struggle we faced was the necessity to wear a safety harness every time we had to climb above the seven-layer scaffoldings. At the start of our project, we were really frightened, because if you are not used to standing at heights, every time you look down, you will really feel fear. And the structure of the scaffoldings is not perfect, there were shaky parts, there were loose parts, and there were parts that were hard to hold the harness.”]

According to Melendres, they started the project around the second week of December and finished around the second week of January, making the project done in more or less a month.

“Actually hanggang ngayon, dun sa final product, mayroon pa ring mga pansinin dun na mga mistakes, pero siguro mas minimal na siya compared dun sa mga (naunang version), kasi nakailang beses din kaming nag-check, ‘yung ilang parts lang medyo mahirap siyang i-paint kasi nakadikit yung scaffoldings sa wall pero ‘yun, maganda naman ‘yung kinalabasan niya,” the NFT artist assured. 

[“Actually, up until now, there are still mistakes that can be observed in the final product, but those mistakes are minimal compared to the prior and unfinalized version of the wall art. We have checked the mural many times, there are parts that are really hard to paint because the scaffoldings are adherent to the wall. But yeah, the final product was beautiful.”]

Merging the Physical and Digital Works

Aside from the prestigious wall art, a digital counterpart of Existential Voyage is minted on the Tezos blockchain with only 100 editions, which come with physical spray cans each. The project was made through the partnership between Ownly, Meatspace, and Melendres.

“Na-realize namin na iba’t iba ‘yung look niya sa tama ng araw, like, sa umaga, ‘yun ‘yung pinakamaganda ata kasi ‘yun ‘yung laging sinasabi nung mga pumupunta eh. Sa tanghali, iba rin, sa gabi, iba rin, pero so far, naging satisfied naman kami at ayun, masaya naman kami sa final result,” Melendres concluded. 

[“We realized that the mural art appears differently depending on the angle of the sunlight. Like, in the morning, is the most beautiful time frame to visit the art because that is what the visitors always say. In the noontime, the look is different, in the evening, it looks different too. In the end, we are satisfied with the art and we are happy with the final result.”]

This article is published on BitPinas: Artist Lei Melendres Discusses the Challenges of Making the Largest Blockchain-Integrated Mural

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