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‘Who’s to Say Who the Hero or Villain Is?’ – Jim Wheat on the power of art to change perceptions

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On 14th June Jim Wheat (a.k.a Dollarsandart) will be dropping his first NFT piece from his collection titled ‘Heroes and Villains’, originally showcased in physical form back in 2015 in D.I.F.C Dubai and developed as time marched on.

Years in the making, Heroes and Villains is a bold, thought provoking collection, which explores the duality of the human experience, and invites people to dig deep and question their perceptions and views on the world. 

You may have seen Jim’s awesome announcement video, in which he shared that the first piece being released is ‘Twitter Trumps’ depicting the 45th President of the USA, Donald Trump. 

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has elicited responses from both sides of the coin, some critical and some celebratory. With such a controversial figure taking centre stage for his first NFT drop, we sat down with Jim to find out the story behind this piece and the collection as a whole. 

As you’ll see, it was a super interesting discussion, where we explored the role of art in expanding our minds, and Jim explained why he doesn’t think controversy is a bad thing, especially in the creative space.

We shared a bit of your story in our last blog Jim, but can you briefly tell us how your art career kicked off?

“Basically I went from hero to zero. I had a so-called ‘high powered’ construction job in Dubai, but when the financial crash happened I was just at the end of my 6 month probation trial as a General Manager responsible for over 3,000 people so they could show me the door at any time and I could leave any time. It gets to 5 months 4 weeks, and having just made 600 people from my own team redundant, there’s another redundancy and it was me. They put an unjustified $60k debt against my name and in Dubai when you have a debt against you, you can’t leave the country unless you take the perceived easy way out and flee, which wasn’t for me. So, with a commission agreement in place, and various suppliers aware of my predicament, I turned it around and they begrudgingly ended up writing me a commission cheque some 12 weeks later.

During that time, my partner and I went our separate ways because we’d grown into different people and then my father died. So I had these three things that happen; love, family, and job all taken from me in a very short space of time and I’d never felt so lost, vulnerable and isolated.

I’ve always been an explorer of both sides of the coin, and at that time I felt like I was on the wrong side of the coin. I had a debt against my name, my phone wasn’t ringing and I wasn’t the big corporate guy taking people for golf anymore. So what I did was rip everything off my apartment wall in Dubai, I smashed my TV off the wall, removed all my bog standard pictures and started spraying dollar signs on my wall  – its was an outlet at least, it was something.”

That’s a pretty intense way to get into the creative arts. And you weren’t someone who grew up interested in art were you?

“No, not at all. I morphed from this left-brain engineer to this vulnerable childlike artist who’d never painted or drawn. I kind of thought art was boring and sedate, and was for the kids in school who dressed differently and were a bit ‘out there’. That was my completely incorrect perception at the time because I was an engineer who was going to make loads of money and live the ‘dream life’ in Dubai. I’m so pleased to have had the chance to learn how wrong I was about art, and get into this space and continue to crash in, often uninvited!”

And where did the idea for Dollarsandart come from?

“I was in such debt in Dubai and the people I thought were my friends suddenly fell away because I wasn’t ‘the guy’ anymore. So I was in a really vulnerable place not addressing bereavement, not addressing debt, not addressing relationships, and I was feeling quite angry too and I wanted to throw the money and sand back at Dubai.

After my ‘T.V off the wall and spraying Dollar signs’ episode, I was realising that my American dream in the sands of Dubai has gone drastically wrong. A road trip to nearby Ras Al Khaimah was in order to simmer down  – I collected a bucket of rich, red sand and took it back to my apartment with thoughts of the sands of time and money running through my hands like sand – all that waste, all those corporate meals taken for granted. Sand was added to the dollars : Dollar – sand – art or Dollars and art was born that became my reason to be and a much needed from of self expression as dollars met sand.

My first collection in 2013, the ‘Money Collection’ comprised of 28 box framed originals each with their own story. On reflection, they were very vulnerable, dare I say childish, with a sticking and gluing collage of sand, everyday objects and an innocent dollar ‘$’ sign, snake-like in its form. From speeding fines to pure indulgence of endless brunches, and to my untouched yellow duster and old coins from the old coin jar. 

With a huge break showcasing the full collection at The Media One hotel in 2013 and giving away $64,000 of my work, this was just the start. I followed up in 2014 with the Intergalactics collection, another 28 box framed originals. But rather than crafted around frustration, this time it was about celebrating my childhood and space, and now the whole crypto world is heading to the moon with coins, right, so there’s still an intergalactic link now. With 30% of each collection being gradually sold, the remaining are now showcased aboard the QE2 and Meydan Hotel in Dubai where I enjoy being Artist in residence.”

Can you tell us about your upcoming collection – Heroes and Villains, and why you chose those for your first NFT?

“I feel like my Heroes and Villains collection is a good place to start as an NFT because it’s genuinely exploring both sides of that coin, where someone will pay $10,000 – $50,000 for a painting because Trump signed the dollar bill in it, but they’re looking at another one from a taxi driver and don’t think it’s worth as much. Or, perhaps, they’ll see the taxi driver’s piece as worth 100x as much because the taxi driver is the hero. But this collection isn’t about me passing judgement or deciding who falls into each category. Who am I to say who is the hero and who’s a villain?”

Is there a hero and villain inside everyone?

“100%. It’s just yin and yang, the duality of life. It also depends on your perception. If you’re the person who’s been given the new house and the new car, then maybe the boss who gifted you those things is the hero. But that’s not going to be the same perception someone else has. I’ll give you an example from the ‘Twitter Trump’ piece; the contrasting piece to that was me painting on a Pakistani labourer’s overalls, splashing it with pain, hanging it and framing it and selling it for $10,000 at the time. But who’s to say that that labour is an angelic saint who’s never put a foot wrong in his life, and who’s to say that Trump, who created all those jobs, is actually the hero or the villain. So you’re absolutely right, I believe all of us have a certain amount of hero and villain in us. If someone cuts me up when I’m driving on the road, they might be the villain in my story, but if they’re rushing to help a loved one, then they’d be the hero to that person. 

Another example is my old security guard in Dubai, a Sri Lankan guy called Damien, and he was one of those security guards who, to be honest, was pretty lazy. You’d never see him, he’d always have the sign on the chair saying ‘not at my desk, please call my number if you need me’ and he’s sleeping in his chalet with his cat. But I’d always talk to him and he’d gotten interested in my artwork. He came up to my apartment on one occasion and I’d collapsed on the floor because I’d overpainted, and hadn’t ventilated my apartment. He woke me up and threw water in my face and said ‘sir, you need to look after yourself, you’re not eating right’. He probably saved my life. 

So two years later when it came to Heroes and Villains, I said ‘Damien, I think you’re asleep in the day because you’re Spiderman at night saving the city’ and now one of the Heroes and Villains pieces is called ‘Damien Spiderman’. I bought his security guard’s shit off him for $100, which is more than he gets paid a month, and I put the mask of Spiderman over it with an old Avengers comic featuring Spiderman, and I did this whole piece of art for him, because to me he was a hero for saving my life and he was one of the few people who actually looked out for me while I was going through that time.”

Let’s talk about the piece you’re releasing on 14th June – Twitter Trumps. Tell us a bit about that. 

“Firstly, it’s worth saying that we’re releasing it on that date because it’s Trump’s birthday so it seemed fitting. And some people might know the backstory, but for those who don’t, I met Trump in Dubai and I thought I’d take a chance and ask him to sign a dollar bill. He said ‘I’ll sign it, but I keep your pen.’ I said ‘that’s a deal but I’m going to drop a 2 dollar bill as well, can you sign that too’. Amazingly he said ‘OK, I’ll do both’ and that’s where it started from. 

He signed it in good faith, he signed it knowing that the bill would go into an artwork from the Heroes and Villains collection. And admittedly he’s been on a rollercoaster ever since, I’m not disputing that fact. But there was one point where my agent in Dubai said, ‘Jim, are you sure you want to be associated with him?’ and I said ‘there’s no association, all I’m doing is capturing one of the most disruptive icons of our time’.

This part of the series is about exploring how Trump was melded and voiced and silenced, whether we agree or not. For me it’s not about making judgements, but asking questions. Is Twitter the hero for silencing him or are they the villains for muting freedom of speech? With Jack Dorsey’s first tweet in 2008 selling for multi millions as an NFT, who’s the hero there? 

So I always want to leave it to the viewers and the potential buyers to let them decide who they think the hero and the villain is, not just from what the fed-in mainstream or alternative media say. I think that’s from my own view point and in the art I do, I want to explore extremes, but as you start digging deeper into these stories you start to learn about the duality and complexity, not just in each art piece, but also the subjects of these pieces.”

Heroes and Villains is a very bold visual collection and quite different from your earlier works. How do you keep coming up with new and exciting ideas for your art?

“I’m very lucky that I’ve never had a writer’s block and I’ve never had a creative block where I’m wondering what I’m going to paint today. I get inspired by the things around me, and my experiences. 

But it’s also worth noting that I do a lot of commissions too. So I sit with clients and we talk about how I’m going to create a piece for them. And some of them tell me that they’ve been in jail or at rock bottom and they ask how am I going to get that into the artwork. Often they’re really ashamed of these experiences, but they also want them represented in the piece because it’s part of who they are. It actually becomes kind of like therapy for them. We get it on the wall, they talk openly about their own experiences and I talk about mine and it’s very cathartic for us both. So for me, art is always about the power of storytelling and how it can bring people in and help them to experience life in a different way.” 

Where do you see your artwork going in the future?

“I want to add more elements to my work, and bring it to life in new ways and find the whole story telling process cathartic and a real release given all I’ve been through. I published GO! Smell the flowers in 2010 before the Art journey started and penning the follow up along with finally getting my poetry out there – NFT is the perfect vehicle for this especially for those wanting to dig deeper. 

The 13th dollarsandart collection entitled ‘Tokenomics’ focuses the ups and downs of Crytpo and blockchain, tokens and the whole decentralised world we are rapidly approaching. You can actually see a sneak peek on my Instagram @dollarsandart, as I explore both sides of the coin in this exciting and fast-moving space.”

Huge thanks to Jim for speaking so openly with us about his experiences, and for sharing insight into his brilliant NFT art collection. 

If you want to hear more from Jim, he’ll be joining us on 14th June at 4pm for a live exhibition and Q&A, ahead of the drop of his ‘Twitter Trumps’ piece. You can watch the live event via Twitch, YouTube or Facebook. Keep an eye on our socials for the event links, and don’t forget to follow Jim at Dollarsandart too!

Twitter: @dollarsandart

Instagram: @dollarsandart

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