Lakewood-based artist Arabella Proffer came up with an unconventional response to receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer in 2020. She focused on creating a far future for her artworks, and for her, that meant exploring the world of NFTs.
Since then, the 44-year-old Lakewood-based artist said she has become part of a growing online community that has opened up lucrative new opportunities for herself and her work, now and after she’s gone.
NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are unique digital assets that can be traded or exchanged for money or cryptocurrency through blockchains, a form of high-security digital ledger that records transactions.
Proffer said she was working remotely in 2020 as a consultant for ConsenSys, a private blockchain firm when the company asked to explore how to build markets for art using the technology.
Her research involving spending more than a week watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts —left her intrigued about the possibilities for herself and other artists seeking to market their work, even posthumously.
NFTs provide a digital certificate of authenticity for artworks, a secure and accurate history of ownership, or provenance, and a way to provide royalties from sales for an artist or artist’s estate.
Creating an NFT is not challenging. “All of it is about using [keyboard] commands that people already know how to do,’’ she said. “They just have stupid names that are kind of gate-keeps.”
Proffer said she has sold analog or “real” paintings for up to $6,000. While some artists have sold NFTs for tens of millions of dollars, Proffer said her sales have been in the tens or hundreds of dollars. But such sales can add up.
“If I sell an NFT for $100 I’m happy, and one day, it might sell for $500,’’ she said. “For me, it’s more just having collectors in the future, having collectors in the digital sphere, and being able to control my digital legacy.”
Proffer describes her work as a mix of pop surrealist portraiture and abstraction. Her projects include the 2011 book, “The National Portrait Gallery of Kessa: The Art of Arabella Proffer,’’ a collection of old-master-style portraits in Punk and Goth-influenced fashions, and “The Restrooms of Cleveland,’’ (2019).
Her work has appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Plain Dealer, Hi-Fructose, and Pittsburgh City Paper.
When she received her cancer diagnosis for terminal sarcoma three years ago, Proffer’s doctors told her she had two months to live.
But she said that for her learning about and creating NFTs has been a welcome distraction. Since then, she’s traveled, attended conferences, and seen one of her NFTs displayed on a digital billboard in New York’s Times Square.
“If I gave up I think I would die,’’ she said. “I’m almost in denial but not quite.”
What’s encouraging her, as she said in a news release about her upcoming discussion at the Artist’s Archives, is thinking about the future.
“What if my art can live on and get new collectors after I am gone?’’ she said. “This is my main interest in pursuing NFTs. I’m excited people will be able to collect long sold-out inventory and pieces in a different way