Chuck Anderson's "Infinite Pressure" is a Line in the Sand
The Chicago-based artist, designer, and photographer’s 99-piece NFT collection marks a turning point in his career
It’s Monday evening, and Chuck Anderson is winding down from a maelstrom of activity from the multiple auctions tied to his latest project, Infinite Pressure. “It’s been four days of non-stop, 24-hour countdowns,” he says. “It’s been a wild, weird rush.”
Despite the dizzying experience, this is precisely the kind of moment for which Anderson has been primed. The 36-year-old artist, designer, and photographer, launched his career with the creative practice NoPattern Studio, which he founded in 2004 when he was 18. Strict deadlines and perseverance undergirded the studio’s ethos, and soon thereafter, reaped new collaborative initiatives. In 2005, Anderson, Benjamin Edgar, and a yet-to-be-nationally-recognized Virgil Abloh established THE BRILLIANCE!, an underground online publication.
Fast-forward almost two decades, and Anderson is entering a new phase in his prolific career. When ZORA’s own Dee Goens cold-messaged the Chicago-based designer in 2020, blockchain, Web3, and NFTs hadn’t even entered Anderson’s consciousness yet, as much of his baseline processes were etched on ink and paper.
The debut of Infinite Pressure on March 31, 2022 encapsulates Anderson’s drive to keep moving forward. With 99 works presented as 24-hour auctions—90 solo works and 9 collaborations with artists Gremplin, Case Simmons, Maalavidaa, OseanWorld, Ezra Miller, Jen Stark, Christian Rex van Minnen, Joshua Davis, and IX Shells—the NoPattern founder is harnessing the collaborative Web3 spirit and enabling the movement’s fiercest ambassadors to operate in their most authentic forms.
“My wife doesn’t participate in this world, she’s a lawyer,” Anderson shares. “And she’s asking me what things compare to Infinite Pressure. And I don’t have any examples of any other drops where someone put out almost 100 things and it was all auction-based. It’s a pretty unusual approach, and I would say, pretty risky.” Thankfully, it’s all paying off.
Yana Sosnovskaya (ZORA) : Let's start with a history: Can you share a story about your relationship with the internet?
Chuck Anderson: My eyes were opened when I was a young kid with an AOL CD. I was really drawn to the immediacy of being able to contact people. I grew up in the Midwest. I didn't go to college. After high school, I found myself living at home with my parents. This was pre-social media days. So I had to dig [the internet] for those lines of communication.
The way I got my career started was by reaching out to magazine art directors online. They never asked for accolades or a resume or anything. That was really beautiful—judging me only by my work. The internet is such a powerful communication tool because I could be living in the mountains, but as long as I got the internet and Photoshop, I felt powerful. That was probably 'it' for me—that moment of realizing what it means to connect to people.
YS: Was that the moment when THE BRILLIANCE! idea was born?
CA: Yeah, not long after. NoPattern was going for a year or so when Benjamin [Edgar]—a good friend of mine from high school—and I started THE BRILLIANCE! in 2004. Ben is a big brother figure to me; he started Boxed Water and he's got his own brand of object design. He also didn't go to school and was the template of someone who could be successful regardless. THE BRILLIANCE! was born out of our emailing every day, multiple times a day—the way that you would text with a friend now. There was such an element of discovery back then and, being in the suburbs, everything felt so cool. We’d find some Japanese fashion brand and think: ‘Whoa, I can't get this from Pacific Sunwear at the mall.’
THE BRILLIANCE! was born out of our emails. It was the same time that Hypebeast launched and we got lumped into that group. But we took a much more editorial slant and wrote about whatever we felt like. Virgil [Abloh] ended up emailing us and asking if he could be a writer. This is before he was Virgil, Virgil. He was just this other creative kid in Chicago. His emails really resonated with us so he came on and that was that. We were super. We were three kids from the Chicago suburbs who were intensely curious about culture and what it meant for the internet to be intersecting music, design, art, technology, and fashion at a time when there wasn’t another place to discover that stuff. That was the dawn of that time.
YS: How did you feel when THE BRILLIANCE! started picking up momentum?
CA: THE BRILLIANCE! never sold ads. We never did sponsored content. It's always been very utilitarian. There's something arcane about it. We liked the idea that it would be a timeless website. I think it is. It also aligned me with brands that I wasn't reaching through my work at NoPattern. It gave me a new framework, a new adjacency to another world and to culture. A lot of the brands today have been born out of the early New York streetwear scene. I couldn't afford any of that stuff. But we got to interview these people like Rob [Cristofaro] from Alife or Leah [McSweeney] from Married to the Mob. They were all very charmed by us. We were very respectful and we had a reverence for them.
YS: What attracted you to Web3 initially? Why did you start on that journey?
CA: It was unavoidable. A lot of artists have seen it as a clean break from commercial work. The funny thing for me is that I love my commercial work. I'm very proud of it. I'm very proud of the collaborations that I've done. I'm 36 years old now. I feel like I've earned the luxury to be more picky about what projects I say ‘yes’ to. NFTs and Web3 felt like such a cool opportunity to me. The very first introduction of NFTs for me was Dee [Goens] from ZORA messaging me, ‘Hey, your work would be really sick as crypto art.’ This is Nov. 2020. I wrote him back saying ‘I don't know what these words mean; I don't know what you're talking about.’
He piqued my interest, I looked around, and I spent a couple months researching. I bought a little Bitcoin on Coinbase. I bought some other token. Not long after FWB came into the picture and I saw the community elements of Web3, I was hooked. Hassan [Rahim], Ezra [Miller], David [Rudnick], Eric [Hu], Trevor [McFedries], and Shawna X were in FWB at the time and meeting some of the founding members was really cool. ‘These are my people now,’ I thought. ‘We're cooking with gas here.’
YS: Is there anything from the pre-social media/pre-Facebook era that you're missing?
CA: A lot of artists stopped caring about the presentation of their work on Web2. I hand-coded HTML for NoPattern. It's the perfect website. But, in these templated containers like Instagram, style gets lost. At least with Tumblr there was customization. If you feed your work to the machine, it'll spit it out to look the same way every time. With Infinite Pressure, I wanted to build something that you could sink your teeth into. I worked as a creative director at an agency for five years, I've got that muscle. I needed to stop doing these random one-offs and build something lasting. I think we've got a really great opportunity with Web3.
YS: Infinite Pressure has a fantastic name. How did you come up with it?
CA: Infinite Pressure describes the work itself; the endless amount of options and the number of elements within the work. It feels right. It represents the visual as well. I could work on it forever. I thought a lot about generative art for this project. Everything's handmade but I'm not fully in control of every piece on the page. I do relinquish some control. That concept creates pressure on us as humans. I have to make a decision as to when something's done.
YS: Yeah, that's the constant struggle with artists—the pressure of creating the next thing.
CA: Absolutely. It's just not a healthy or sustainable way to be. There's a definite NFT culture that takes that pressure off artists to be constantly grinding out work. I really do see Infinite Pressure as the first project in 18 years that feels like my new playground—a new sandbox for me to build within. And, while it's under the NoPattern umbrella, it is its own thing. Infinite Pressure is a more flexible container for ideas.
YS: You mentioned that you worked on the project for about six months and there are ninety-nine pieces. They're all handmade. You have a few collaborators. It's very obvious that Infinite Pressure is not your average NFT project. This is a truly artistic approach to creating very special pieces. Considering its uniqueness, who are the people collecting and buying from this project?
CA: Thank you. In August I tweeted about how I'd love to find someone to work with on turning Infinite Pressure into an Art Blocks project. That’s when Chain/Saw reached out to collaborate. At one point in September, I remember thinking that this is not an NFT project; the work will be delivered as NFTs in the end, but I need to approach it like I'm making work for a physical gallery.
I have a project called Crash Report that I did in 2019 before NFTs. The end result was a book of prints. I'm super proud of that book. You can see it on my site. I explored a lot of interesting concepts with that project. It led to a really cool collaboration with Jordan and everything. But, after I mailed people the books, that was the end of it. Whereas, with Infinite Pressure, I can give people the chance to sit with the work and appreciate it.
YS: Can you talk about your creative process? How did you approach the concept ideation behind Infinite Pressure?
CA: Imagine throwing paint at a wall. Imagine Jackson Pollock splashing paint. He can leave some of it up to chance and add human decision-making into the process. And that's very much how this goes. Digitally, I'm throwing paint at a wall.
It started with photography: I would take my photography and break it down into vectors on Illustrator; then I would convert all these messy shapes into geometric base shapes—ellipses, squares, and rectangles—and I'd break those apart again and blend them all together; and then I just had this crazy mess. I had my ingredients.
I can make things as busy or as simple as I want. Some of them get chaotic. But it lets me control the randomness in a way. I've tried to be very transparent and open about this process. I think a lot of artists get really precious about how they made their work. There's something about David Rudnick being very open about making the Tombs project on a trackpad and Photoshop CS3 that inspired me. To me, it's not really about the process; it's about the idea. If somebody wants to go in and rip me off, by all means, have at it. Please try and figure out how to innovate it or build something better than I did.
With Chain/Saw, I've been building a custom make-your-own Infinite Pressure piece that you can mint. It’s a really beautiful creation tool. I want to empower people to get inspired and become creatives. My daughter is four-and-a-half. She will sit and draw until a light bulb goes off. For example, I showed her how to draw a heart. I said, ‘Draw the number 3 upside down and then draw a V.’
Over the years I have had young people, often high school students, ask me questions and I feel a sense of responsibility to educate through my work. A lot of this project, after the initial auction part of it, is going to be about finding ways to help other people get into art and feel creative. Any artist that's in the position that I'm in has that responsibility to have to pass on what they know. I take that really seriously.
YS: Can you talk about how you chose your collaborators for this project? What was the framework you gave them?
CA: My prompt to all the artists was—it sounds a little corny—but to just have fun with it. Try and do something that makes you happy. Make the kind of work that brings you joy.
When I thought about the idea of pressure, the number nine kept coming to mind. I finally decided on the number of pieces [ninety-nine], and the number of collaborators had to be nine as well. It's like how musicians will say they have synesthesia. You know what I mean?
I knew right away that I could easily give an illustrator some pieces and they could draw on top of them. They could use the shapes to draw a character. That's where Gremplin came in. I gave him four different pieces and he saw a hedgehog in one of them. He saw a crow in another. Like the idea of sitting in the grass and looking up at the clouds. It was perfect.
It has all been amazing. I've been really blown away. There's been a few times I've gotten emotional seeing what they've sent over. I’ve been like, ‘Oh my God, I would've never expected this.’ It helps set the stage for that next phase of community and bringing people into my project. I'm really interested in building community. So I look at this and think, ‘Is there a way that I could use these works to be the foundation of something that's bigger than just myself in the future?’
YS: If you could use one phrase, and it can be concrete or abstract, to describe what Infinite Pressure is, what would that phrase be?
CA: There's the technical description of the project and the more abstract description. The technical one is very straightforward: Infinite Pressure is the name of my new body of work and exhibition of digital artworks that's going to be presented as NFTs; on a more abstract artful interpretation, I would say that Infinite Pressure is a line in the sand for my career. I've never done anything like this. I've never spent this length of time on a single project. I've never assembled a team or collaborators. In a nutshell, I would say that Infinite Pressure is proving that I can build something that I didn't know I was capable of building. I had to cut some things out of my life, creatively and professionally, to make this happen. I had to say no to things. I had to get a lot of four-hour-nights of sleep to hit deadlines. I didn't have to make this book. I didn't have to hand write all these envelopes. But, if I want to make something truly memorable, I have to put in this level of interest and care into it.
YS: Here are a few rapid-fire questions. Don't think, just pick an answer. West Loop or Bucktown Wicker park?
CA: Oh man, what year? Now, I would probably say West Loop. That's a tough one. They're both good and bad.
YS: Web1 or Web3?
CA: Web3 because it makes me think of possibilities. Web1 is wonderful but there's nothing left to dwell on. That Web1 aesthetic is so present in Web3.
YS: Print or digital?
CA: It's so hard without context but I must say print. I just have to. It's where my heart still is, and always will be, holding a magazine.
YS: No pattern or no color?
CA: No pattern. I can't imagine no color. Color is how I promote myself. There's only two black and white pieces in the whole collection. That's a no-brainer.