In the land of digital art anyone can be an artist — or at least that was the impression during the height of the 2021 crypto bull market.
Anyone armed with photoshop seemed to be pumping out non-fungible token (NFT) collections, and finding authentic voices among all the noise was getting increasingly difficult.
If ever there was a definition of an authentic artist, however, then Sarana Haeata is it. And while the "digital" part may have come later, you can spot her signature style a mile off, be it in the form of a human or a badger.
But let’s start from the beginning: Haeata has Maori and Australian heritage, and grew up in Australia surrounded by her multicultural family where artistic pursuits were nurtured and encouraged. She started making art at a very young age, having gone to a Steiner school, where learning happens through creativity and craft. She also grew up with a father who was an artist.
Haeata never planned to be a professional artist, but unsurprisingly the roads eventually led her down that path. Over the years, she experimented with various mediums of art, including drawing, painting, murals and working with ceramics as well as having a number of solo and group exhibitions of her work.
Her pivot into digital art was also an unintentional one. When her husband took a job teaching kids in a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory of Australia, she found herself without access to her usual art supplies and started using her tablet to make digital drawings. And when a family friend eventually introduced her to crypto and NFTs, it made perfect sense to put her digital art on chain.
Crypto Twitter, although intimidating at first, eventually became the catalyst to Haeata's early commercial success. Allyson Downey and Alexandra Cavoulacos, the founders of Meta Angels reached out to Haeata after coming across some of her work on Twitter.
At the time Haeata was still mostly known under the moniker of Aslan Ruby. She was creating 1-of-1 digital pieces, which sold on the popular NFT marketplaces Foundation and SuperRare. Downey and Cavoulacos wanted Haeata to create the art for the MetaAngels 10,000-item profile picture (PFP) collection of gender neutral angels depicting diversity of ethnicity and race.
“This is what attracted me to the project," Haeata said of the Meta Angels mission. "I wanted to create a spectrum of race and gender in my art”, she recalls. And in true Web3 fashion, Haeata had a mere six weeks to complete the entire generative collection.
This might also be the right time to mention that outside of being a multimedia artist, Haeata is also a mum to four daughters. The fast pace of Web3 during the bull market was a lot for anyone to handle, and unsurprisingly Haeata describes these six weeks not only as an exciting time of growth and experimentation but also as the time that was quite challenging for their family.
“When the Meta Angels project came along, [my husband] quit his job, and we moved our family to a less remote location in Darwin. It was all hands on deck — we essentially stopped sleeping,” she recalls. Tom, Haeata's husband who was a teacher in his Web2 life, is now the other half of Aslan Ruby Studio.
When asked what it feels like from a traditional artist’s perspective to relinquish control to a generative algorithm after creating hundred of possible layers and combinations, Haeata draws a parallel to her time working with ceramics: “In ceramics you spend so much time working on a piece but you relinquish control the minute it goes into the kiln, and sometimes the color will change or the piece may have shrunk or cracked,” she explains.
Next came the collaboration with Geena Anderson and the Honey Badges, another 10,000-item PFP collection but this time on the Solana blockchain. “Honey Badges is a changemaking DAO focused particularly on funding groups who find it difficult to get government funding,” explains Haeata. It is obvious how passionate she is about the positive impact her art helps to create in the world.
Generative art made in collaboration with artificial intelligence (AI) has been raising eyebrows of late, but Haeata sees AI as yet another medium in which to experiment with her art.
“I have been experimenting with AI animation on Stable Diffusion and find it really exciting,” says Haeata. Although she notes that she does not get the same feeling of gratification from it as she would creating her original pieces.
So when does AI become art? When asked this question, Haeata replies, “AI might become art when you as an artist are able to have a signature style to it." She also sees a world where fashion brands will increasingly start using AI for their shoots and campaigns.
Haeata and her husband are no strangers to excitement. Before they entered the Web3 vortex, they spent almost seven months traveling around Australia and homeschooling their four kids.
For the next few months of 2023, they have settled in Alice Springs, where they now have a studio space. When BFF chatted to Sarana, she was fresh off the plane from San Francisco, where she was working on an upcoming collaboration with a winery. In the first half of the year, Sarana is set to finish her 63 Patron Saints collection, work on a fashion collaboration, appear in a documentary produced by Collab Land and finish a bunch of private commissioned works. Although Haeata recognises that things have somewhat slowed down in the bear market, it certainly doesn’t seem that way on the face of it.
Liya Dashkina is a VC, contributor to a number of DAOs, web3 consultant, chapter lead at the Australian DeFi Association and an advocate for women in web3.
This article and all the information in it does not constitute financial advice. If you don’t want to invest money or time in Web3, you don’t have to. As always: Do your own research.