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The Life of a Crypto Artist: Pplpleasr on NFTs, Memes and 'Idea Sex'

NFT artist Emily Yang, aka pplpleasr, explains her creative process, and her path to becoming one of the leading lights of the crypto art scene.

4 min read
NFT artist Emily Yang, aka Pplpleasr. Image: Grant Kempster/Decrypt

Even two years ago, few would have believed someone could make it as a crypto artist. Today, Emily Yang (aka pplpleasr) has not only shown it's possible—but that you can become rich and famous doing so.

Along with Beeple, who sold an NFT at auction last year for $69 million, pplpleasr has become the face of the crypto art world. Her bright, whimsical creations have appeared on the cover of Fortune and become sought-after collectibles, while pplpleasr herself appears on the cover of this month's Vogue Taiwan.

Pplpleasr recently joined Decrypt's gm podcast to describe her path to becoming an NFT artist, and how she finds inspiration from the colorful (and sometime crazy) crypto community—a process she describes as "idea sex."

"Right now the space is a lot more about ideas, which I really love—and that's why I like networking with people in that space, too. I call it idea sex, which is just really talking to people, and new ideas are born from talking to somebody that you wouldn't have," says pplpleasr.

The road to NFT success

Yang wasn't always a crypto artist. In 2020, she accepted what looked like a dream job to be a digital artist at Apple, only to see the opportunity vaporize with the pandemic. Soon after, she encountered the world of decentralized finance (DeFi), NFTs and crypto Twitter, and quickly became drawn in—especially to its unusual energy and quirky meme culture.

"When people adopt mascots or icons, it's really just trying to sort of imprint that image in your head," she says. "And about the memes thing—memes have just fascinated me for such a long time, they're the fastest way to spread information." 

Pplpleasr got her first big break after designing an animated ad for the DeFi platform Uniswap; an NFT of the ad was then snapped up by collectors for more than half a million dollars. For her, the boundaries between art, culture and marketing and fluid—much as they were for pop artists like Andy Warhol.

As befits her artist moniker—which she came up with on a whim for her Instagram handle—pplpleasr's work is sunny and upbeat. Pplpleasr admits that the crypto world has its share of dark corners, and that she herself broods on sombre themes, but says that for now she remains focused on making the sort of positive art that has defined her brand.

This includes creating works that celebrate decentralization, which is enabled by blockchain and serves as a core value for the many crypto communities who are looking to build new types of governance and economic freedom.

Asked about the frosty reception that Beeple has at times received from the traditional art world, pplpleasr says she hasn't given it much thought, since her priority has always been the world of digital art rather than the posh galleries of New York and London. She is also quick to praise other artists emerging from the fast-growing crypto art scene, including CA CHAO and Dead Seagull.

Catching lightning in a bottle

Pplpleasr is quick to advise casual crypto fans not to dive into the art world or join a DAO in search of a quick buck, but to instead lean into the culture first.

"Think of DAOs like subreddits, or like clans and video games," she says. "You're joining something because you align with the vision of everybody else, and you think it's a cool community, and enjoy talking to the people in that community."

As for those who aspire to follow in her footsteps as a crypto artist, she credits much of her success to good luck and being in the right place at the right time. But not entirely.

"My advice to people is, you can be in the right place at the right time, but you still need to have first a high-risk appetite, and also be able to spot when something is coming or trending—and just sort of put yourself in a position where you can catch lightning in a bottle."

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