Finding phneep: Curio Cards' first NFT artist

Everyone who owns a Curio Cards set knows about phneep. He’s the artist that created the first ten Cards, Cards 14–16, and Card 20 (MadBitcoins). He’s the artist that created the first art on Ethereum, ever: Apples.

But who or what is phneep, really? Is he some kind of supernatural photoshop genius or just the most hardcore Mad Bitcoins fan on Earth? Why does phneep sound like the equivalent of a robotoid alien warning alarm? And how did the Curio Cards enigma even know what images to manipulate?

There are no real answers to these questions. Phneep would probably prefer it that way. So, here are some things you probably already know.

Phneep is Canadian

Phneep is from the land of the maple leaf, also known as Canada. There are several clues to phneep’s Canadian-ness, most notably his “Aboot” section on his website. “Aboot” is the Canadian way of saying “About.”

Keep clicking through phneep’s website, and you’ll discover his merchandise on teepublic, which includes T-shirts with “Flag mashups.” The flag usually getting mashed up is — you guessed it — the glorious “Maple Leaf.”

Then, there are the (oh, so many) hockey mashups. Hockey and Lacrosse are the national sports of Canada. Go Vancouver Sharks / San Jose Canucks.

Yet another hockey mashup, this time of the Winnipeg Oilers and Edmonton Jets. Any serious Oilers fan knows they’re the pride of Edmonton, not Winnipeg. Image from:
Yet another hockey mashup, this time of the Winnipeg Oilers and Edmonton Jets. Any serious Oilers fan knows they’re the pride of Edmonton, not Winnipeg. Image from:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has ever speculated that phneep may be British. However, his artwork has appeared in several locations around the coastal town Brighton, including on a seafront site owned by Swat Marketing, under a bridge, and next to a bicycle lane. It’s not clear whether phneep has any ties to the place, but he did once state in the Curio Cards discord, in his artist channel, that he was, “going to find some shoreline to read at now.”

Art by phneep IRL. Image from:
Art by phneep IRL. Image from:

If there was ever any doubt, though, just keep scrolling through his artist channel. A Cardholder suggested Mad Bitcoins (real name: Thomas Hunt) was phneep, to which the founder responded, “Sometimes I used to think that. Like Tyler Durdin. Instead of sleeping at night I make photoshops. But really he’s a nice Canadian fellow.“

So, phneep is almost certainly Canadian. Now, this could all be a ruse to protect phneep’s pseudonymity. But there’s no obvious reason Mad Bitcoins would lie about it.

Phneep, though, just might.

Because …

Phneep’s a prankster

While he probably is Canadian, phneep certainly has a wicked sense of humor. As he states in his Aboot: “I used to be the class clown, looking for laughs at the expense of authority at the front of the room.”

Today, the front of the room is filled with “Banksters,” the authorities of a broken financial system. As the self-proclaimed “master of 2002 photoshop functionality”, phneep satirizes these fiat peddlers in propaganda-style posters favoring Bitcoin. The posters are all reworked original war propaganda from WWI and WWII. Phneep’s also made countless pro-Bitcoin pieces out of movie and TV posters, classical artworks, famous logos, popular memes, and horror movie posters.

“Run a Node, Crush a Bankster” — from phneep’s 2015–2018 “Propaganda” collection. 
“Run a Node, Crush a Bankster” — from phneep’s 2015–2018 “Propaganda” collection. 

It’s hard not to crack a smile when faced with one of phneep’s reimaginations. Bitcoin terminology and culture are inserted so cleanly into the piece that it seems you’re viewing the original — and the fact you aren’t makes it ten times funnier. Amid the biting humor, the point hits home; bits of Bitcoin’s benefits and features are taught, or subconsciously programmed into your brain through striking imagery.

It’s tricky to tread the line between education and shitposting; a struggle phneep himself is aware of. How to find that memetic value balance is hard for anyone creating anything online, but especially when talking about Bitcoin. That’s because Crypto and internet culture just love a good shitpost. Just like phneep.

Arm wrestle. Image from:
Arm wrestle. Image from:

Yet even when leaning heavily into humor, phneep is helping Bitcoin catch more eyes. As an early Bitcoin adopter, phneep’s work hails from a time when crypto had zero traction. Reworking recognizable imagery was a sensible avenue to follow, because there were no movies or even culture about Bitcoin and crypto back then. And there weren’t many celebrities or stars, too — no well-known personalities with their own shows.

However, there was Mad Bitcoins.

So, in a world where only one man with a Mad Hatter Hat and a pair of motorcycle goggles from a Burning Man costume is championing Bitcoin daily on YouTube, what’s probably the next logical step to take?

Make movie posters starring Mad Bitcoins.

He’s mad about Mad Bitcoins

You might think phneep is a major fan of Mad Bitcoins. Before Curio Cards, he made a series of movie posters featuring Thomas Hunt’s alter ego. This included everything from photoshopped Mad Max: Fury Road to Nightmare on Elm Street, with Mad Bitcoins immortalized as the hero (usually).

Mad Bitcoins in “Crouching Bitcoin, Hidden Dragon.” It’s a classic. Image from:
Mad Bitcoins in “Crouching Bitcoin, Hidden Dragon.” It’s a classic. Image from:

Phneep also lists Mad Bitcoins’ website at the bottom of his Aboot page under “phriendly links,” so it’s safe to assume the pair are fairly well-acquainted.

Mad Bitcoins guided his cards

Phneep’s and Mad Bitcoin’s friendship extends into creative collaboration. In various interviews, Mad Bitcoins has talked up his involvement in guiding the creation of the phneep cards. He expanded on this in a recent interview with Podcaster Jake Gallen, describing his role as a kind of “collaborating artist” on several of the pieces, including the 1–10 phneep set. Hunt says he made use of his bachelor’s degree in history to create the story for the set. He also infused his own creative influences into it: Cards 2 and 3, Nuts and Berries, reference a line from his favorite song “Animals” by the Talking Heads, a band he greatly admires.

Hunt continues: “I worked together with phneep on what kind of art to use. He would send over an idea — I would send ideas back — he would change the piece. We had a kind of collaborative process … also just kind of suggesting ideas for a long-time. Even with the movie posters, like a suggestion to do a Blade Runner piece with Mad Bitcoins.”

In that sense, Mad Bitcoins was the instigator in the process, kicking things off with a suggestion, and then passing it over to the artist to do “the real creative work.”

Following those prompts, phneep drummed up a number of eye-poppingly clear, now-iconic artworks vividly encapsulating singular ideas and Bitcoin motifs.

Beyond Apples, Nuts, Berries, Clay, Paint and Ink, phneep craftily pays homage to classic, significant works of art across genres, in the form of a manipulated Mona Lisa and The Thinker, and a pile of books featuring Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson.

Card 10, Future, is an optimistic expression of the path ahead, especially for the arts, while CryptoCurrency, DigitalCash and OriginalCoin are Bitcoin-hijacked Coca-Cola, Wendy’s and Heineken logo pieces. Phneep’s numbering also set the tone for the set, giving it the feel of a kind of digital “baseball card collection.”

Phneep’s Cards are digital Bitcoin mastery — certainly made possible by the Mad Hatting Mad Bitcoins.

And yet, even if he’s a famous member of “various artists” whose work sold at Christie’s in a full-set sale worth $1.2 million at the time, the question remains — what is a phneep?

Phneep is a sound

According to the Curio Cards website, phneep is “onomatopoeic” for censorship. It seems to resemble the “bleep” typically used to censor profanity. In other words, when censorship happens, it can be articulated as “phneep.”

This sounds like it could just be another prank. Or, Phneep is perhaps referring to censoring bankers, or the fact that his work could be censored in an Orwellian, bankster-ruled world.

Phneep. There’s not much else we can say here.

This article was written and edited by Curio DAO contributors. To find out about becoming a contributor, go to Visit the Curio Cards Discord to get to know the community.

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