Lost In The Metaverse: Meet Itzel Yard Aka ix_shells, The Highest-Selling Female NFT Artist

Forbes

As an underground digital artist, Itzel Yard never wanted nor expected fame and wealth. When she became the highest-selling female NFT artist with the $2 million sale of her artwork “Dreaming at Dusk,” she was astonished. 

Itzel Yard, a 30-year-old Afro-Caribbean artist, uses autonomous systems to create patterns and … [+] shapes. In mid-May Yard sold an NFT for $2 million, making her the highest-selling NFT female artist.

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Itzel Yard

“I never thought I would sell any of this for this much and now my artwork is valued at $2 million,” says the 30-year-old Afro-Carribean artist who is known on NFT platforms as ix_shells. “It’s surreal.” 

To the naked unknowing eye, “Dreaming at Dusk” is simply a bunch of flickering and merging black and white squares. One might question what made it worth roughly $2 million. It’s a question many have about the exploding market for NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as digital art. Built using the same blockchain technology as Ethereum cryptocurrency, it ensures authenticity and sole-ownership of digital works such as music and art. It, however, doesn’t provide a copyright to the buyer.  

Proceeds from Yard’s $2 million digital artwork benefit the non-profit Tor Project, which requisitioned the piece to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Tor Browser through which users can anonymously surf the internet through multiple layers of encryption. 

For the generative art piece, Yard wrote 12 lines of code that randomised the cryptographic key of the first Tor onion website, which will soon be removed and revamped. Yard’s work will become a digital artifact that documents a piece of internet history. 

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“That’s what makes the token even more special because it is no longer going to be around,” Yard says. “It’s going to be burnt and the only thing that will last is my artwork.” 

After a close bidding war with NFT hoarder and CEO of Kraken, Jesse Powell, the piece was sold on an artist-curated marketplace Foundation to a group of collectors called PleasrDAO on May 14 for 500 ETH or $2,019,820. Itzel describes the buyers of her work as “huge nerds” of cybersecurity and internet privacy.  

“It is clear ix_shells is leading the way in the burgeoning generative art space — the universe where code meets art — with her many beautiful algorithmic visualizations alongside novel musical art pieces,” wrote Jamis Johnson, the chief pleasing officer of PleasrDAO, in an email.

Generative art, which uses algorithms and autonomous systems to create patterns and shapes, is a male-dominated field, Yard says as one of the few women in those circles. The multi-million dollar sale of her work leveled her with other prominent female artists, most of whom are working in traditional art mediums, says Lindsay Howard, the head of community at Foundation. 

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“Itzel’s sale breaks new ground because it establishes a new ceiling for women artists in the NFT space, and shows that we’re not just carrying over the values of the traditional art world.” Howard told Forbes

When she first started minting her works into nonfungible tokens, Yard was so broke, she didn’t even have gas money, let alone the funds needed to work in this new medium. “I remember I didn’t have any money to mint any Etherium,” she says. With the help of a friend, she was able to mint her first NFT artwork which sold for 0.5 ETH or $800. In the past four months, she has made between $60,000 and $70,000. Now, she sells her work for a minimum of 3 ETH or $8,000.

Yard, who taught herself coding and processing languages while studying architectural technology in Toronto, picked up cryptography and creative coding design along the way. She returned to her hometown in Panama in 2019  when her education got too expensive and her student visa was about to expire. Currently, she’s enrolled in an online computer science program at the University of London. She also leads Creative Code Art, an online community she co-founded to support and facilitate networking among emerging generative artists. 

Generative art and NFTs have become a means to escape painful life experiences, Yard says. Breakups, the death of her dad when she was just 14, being forced to leave school in Toronto, “a country which wasn’t as receptive and open to someone that doesn’t have the resources to live in it,” it all melted away.

“I just, like, dove into the metaverse,” she says, “I’ve been on my computer for two years straight.”

In July, Yard will exhibit her work at Unit London, a global artistic platform in the UK’s capital, marking her first physical gallery show. As she moves into the mainstream NFT artspace with her work, her commitment to the newbie artists remains.  

“On Itzel’s end, she came back to Foundation the day after the sale and started bidding on other artists’ work—essentially paying it forward right away—which speaks to how generous the NFT space is, and how supportive Itzel is in particular,” she says.

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Author: Rashi Shrivastava, Contributor


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