LONDON — The Art & Finance market has made unprecedented development over the past few years, which has resulted in the financialisation of the art market. As financial-technology (or fintech) start-ups have been mushrooming, Thomas Gilbert, a British-born young entrepreneur has joined the force by introducing blockchain technology and distributing cryptocurrency to the vibrant but opaque art market. As the founder of ArtBankChain, he is interviewed to talks about his ambition and passion.
Q: You founded ArtBankChain mainly because of your interest or professional background?
A: I majored in biological science and minored in electronic computer during my college years. Although I majored science and engineering, I particularly like arts, especially visual art.
Q: How do you get interested in visual art?
A: My interest in visual art stemmed from the animated picture books I read when I was a child. They are also the source of inspiration for my own paintings. My favorite is photography, especially documentary photography. I believe that documentary photograph is a narrative, a storytelling, which captures the real moments and is able to present to a wider audience as photographic works. I think the art of visual communication is very interesting and meaningful. Therefore, after I graduated from college, I chose to pursue my career as a documentary director and luckily I participated in the shooting of the documentary namely “Animal Planet”, produced by BBC.
Q: Apart from work, how do you usually arrange your life or leisure time?
A: I often go to art galleries or museums to see exhibitions, thanks to the vast art resources in London. In addition to regular exhibitions, I prefer galleries or coffee shops, which are less well known or even difficult to find, where there often might be surprising discoveries, such as a small street cafe displaying artworks by unknown artists. These artworks usually could give me inspiration and enlightenment. At the same time, I can meet a lot of young artists alongside with their novel and interesting art paintings. I am often excited and delighted by the communication and interaction with them.
Q: Do you paint yourself? Can you share your creative ideas with us?
A: I once made a painting of Mona Lisa with digital symbols, when I was suddenly struck by inspiration during a painting class. It is probably because I like numbers, or my profession may have influenced me. Still, I am very sensitive to numbers and technology. I’ve got another painting, which combines mechanical elements into the portraiture I made. I’m also a fan of images with technological characteristics.
Q: What do you think of Chinese art market and the world art market?
A: There are more than 300 billion to 400 billion transactions in the art market every year, including public auction, private sales, gallery deals and so on. In 2016, the total turnover of the global art market was US$45bn, which was about 300bn RMB. China has jumped to the first place in art world with 38% of market share. Therefore, the art market has a fairly broad outlook and long-term steady growth. In 2017, Chinese art market was even more successful, with a large number of star lots in the auctions, such as modern ink-brush master Huang Binhong’s Yellow Mountain, Cheng Rong’s masterpiece Six Dragons, a set of 12 ink-brush paintings by Chinese artist Qi Baishi, Ru ware and heavy equipment armor plate… Each sale was phenomenal.
“Technology and Human Being” Artwork by Thomas Gilbert
Q: How has the concept of ArtBankChain germinated?
A: Although the art market is on the rise, it needs strong financial strength and a reliable information system as the support. To let more people participate in the art market, there are still some problems about the circulation, authenticity and origin of the art for the time being.
Unlike the financial market, the art market is not as fluid as the stock market. Tradable art itself is more than the stock of securities. Second, art cannot be traded in real time. And the ownership of a single piece of art cannot be divided, and expensive artworks cannot be converted into smaller and more mobile units, and therefore increases the barriers to transactions. As collecting art becoming a popular form of investment, counterfeits are also growing among untrained buyers and making substantial profits. The detection and falsification of artworks increases the difficulty of tracing, and in many cases, documents that support the authenticity of artworks are also forged. It is essential to provide accurate and complete provenance about the artwork.
In the second half of 2015, the article by the Economist “Block Chain: A Machine of Trust” made the concept of “regional chain” known to the industry. That’s when I began to wonder whether the concept of block chain could be applied to the field of art, combining science, technology and finance to solve the long-term problems and disadvantages of the art industry.
So we have conceived ArtBankChain and collaborated with Seal Art Finance as an important partner in Greater China. Seal Art Finance is regarded as an industry leader in art finance and art collection. We have agreed that through block chain technology, art will be inherited in an orderly manner, and the industry will be more open, fair and transparent and healthy.
Q: What are ArtBankChain’s biggest challenges at the moment?
A: ArtBankChain is a pioneer to combine block chains and the art industry. As we offer a whole new possibility, there are hardly any references or benchmarking cases.
Therefore, based on the technical characteristics of block chain technology, we designed a variety of application scenarios to solve several pain points in the market and to serve all participants in the art market. For example, our Intelligent Data Analysis Business – using block chain technology, combined with artificial intelligence and big data, it can store detailed information in the block chain, such as by categories of art, artists, individual collectors, auction houses, all kinds of institutions and so on. As a result, they all have their unique digital identities, which make tampering impossible, decentralization possible, and ultimately resolve the problems of origin and authenticity of artworks.
Secondly, the intelligent contracts based on block chain can help the artworks realize the transaction of point-to-point and ensure the validity and authenticity of the transaction. Under the constraint of intelligent contract and digital identity, the property of the art in the chain can be partitioned. Because the originally-indivisible artwork is digitized by digital assets, it now can be partitioned in a digital way. The digitized investment and transaction of artworks has become a reality, which consequently speeds up the circulation of artworks.
However, the information of the art circle is abundant in the chain, which provides a solid foundation for the online exhibition, public education and the popularization of popular art.
Q: What are the strategic plans and goals for the future development of ArtBankChain?
A: ArtBankChain was established in August 2017 and completed data mining in November. In 2018, it is expected that the first appreciation warehouse will be completed in May, the intelligent analysis flat will be completed in September and the art investment platform will be completed in October. In 2019, Art Mall is anticipated to launch in March, the second art museum will be built in June, and the art-lending platform will be ready in August.
The ArtBankChain team is consisted of art industry veteran practitioners, experienced Internet developers, researchers and followers of blockchain technology, as well as our marketing and operating staffs. We are together to solve the long-existing problems of the art industry and striving to promote a healthy, standardized and orderly market.
About Thomas James Gilbert
Thomas was born and raised in Plymouth, England. From an early age Thomas was always drawn to art, and therein the ability to express himself through creativity. Shortly after graduating from University of Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, he decided to follow a different career path – to learn more about the world of art and ultimately, the art of the world.
His path eventually led him to Asia, where he discovered cultures vastly different from his own, and he got the chance to learn more about the history of art, as well as understand more about art industry. Fascinated by galleries, exhibition curating and the art finance market, Thomas sought to create a new but safe way to promote art across the world. With his passion for art and the collaborative work of his international team, Thomas has ventured into art finance by founding ArtBankChain, a system in which art can be securely catalogued, digitised, bought and sold by both enthusiasts and industry professionals