Pablo Picasso in his Paris studio
Pablo Picasso has arrived on the blockchain canvas—the result of a heady aspiration, colossal cooperation and the expansion of an entrenched music management firm.
An original artwork the famed artist created in 1958—a large ceramic bowl that’s been housed in the private collection of his granddaughter Marina Picasso and her son Florian Picasso, and heretofore never viewed publicly—is the inspiration for 1,010 unique digital works that hit the market Friday, January 28.
Five limited sets of 200 NFTs titled “Visage de Couleur,” which feature contemporary color ways complementing the original design of a “joyful” face, each will auction for 2Ethereum (roughly $5,000 at press time) via the Picasso family’s own market Manandthebeat.com, powered by Origin Protocol’s new Origin Story platform. One series of 10 “Visage de Lumiere” NFTs, whose hues are derived from the tones of the original piece, will be released via Nifty Gateway as a ranked auction for 24 hours. Portions of the proceeds will be donated to the organization Nurse Heroes and to Carbon180, a climate-focused NGO.
NFTs cannot be copied once minted, as each token contains a unique cryptographic signature.
The actual physical piece will be sold in early March by one of the world’s premier auction houses alongside a one-of-one NFT whose design draws on images from both the front and back of the ceramic (Picasso didn’t commonly paint the underside of his pieces).
All NFTs feature a new original song created for the project by John Legend, rapper Nas and Florian Picasso, a staple on the DJ and music circuit. Aptly titled Tomorrow, the song will be commercially released via music streaming services February 4.
The Picasso drop is the first to hail from Milk & Honey Labs, a new division of fast-expanding music and sports management firm Milk & Honey, which was founded in 2014 by Lucas Keller and represents creatives behind the music of Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Drake and numerous others.
And its origin story speaks volumes about the way MHL plans to operate in the NFT market—curating projects and connecting artisans the same way it does producers, songwriters, DJs and artists to create hit songs.
MHL co-founder and chief Alex Harrow and Florian Picasso’s manager Cyril Noterman struck upon the idea one day during a call, and Harrow stewarded the deal working with breadth of parties that also included Spin Artists president David Brady; Nicholas Guarino at ArtRedefined; Eric Galen of Greenspoon Marder; and Stuart Price, the hit-maker behind Due Lipa’s Levatating, who produced Tomorrow.
The process took a year, but the payoff was worth it.
“Not only did we come to be their NFT strategy partner and executive producer of the collection, but they were also going to provide us pieces from the Picasso collection that nobody had ever seen before,” Harrow says. “And we were able to build an understanding of the NFT marketplace, the important players, the landscape and where it was going to really cut down the learning curve.”
Milk & Honey Labs chief Alex Harrow
“A lot of music managers released NFTs and there were some pretty big failures, for some really large artists,” adds Keller. “What we learned in the last year is it takes a lot of work, a lot of thought to make these successful. There’s a community, specific key buyers, so much strategy that goes into launching these.”
Music was always going to be an integral part of the project, notes Harrow, who says Legend “was an immediate yes.” Nas, one of music’s most enthusiastic crypto adopters who earlier this month announced he would enable fans to invest in his music by buying shares in streaming royalties earned for two tracks, was also in from the get-go.
“Just as the sun makes it around the world once in time for tomorrow, so did the making of this song,” Price says. “John sat and looked at a Picasso image that Florian shared in LA, and was inspired to write the song’s main line and piano. Afterwards the song went to New York where the beat took shape, then to London for a different perspective, before finally coming back to LA for the strings, and Nas to write the missing chapter.”
The song is the opening piece from an Florian Picasso project, Price shares, “which will see him collaborate with a wide range of artists in an intertwined expression of music and art.”
Milk & Honey Labs’ next NFT drop will likely be in the February-March time frame, and it may or may not be another Picasso set, as “there will be many more” to come, Harrow says.
The company is also in various stages of projects with music artists, entertainers, influencers, graphic designers, brands and IP in the space. “We will be making metaverse plays, Web 3.0 plays, real-world NFT utility plays that aren’t based on selling fine art tokens of any kind. And we’re going to be working on blockchain gaming projects as well,” Harrow says.
Keller sheds some additional light. “The stuff I’m really chasing after the Picasso project is unreleased music from famous artists we can pair with visuals. I think that’s of extreme value. It involves working with estates, it involves working with record companies and it involves sharing with record companies.”
While some artists and managers have rushed into the crypto market because they don’t have to share earnings with their label or publisher, Keller says, MHL is taking a different approach.
“We want to be at the table making fair deals with everyone who participates. We are definitely being rights-holder friendly.”
Pablo Picasso in his Paris studio