There are two ways an artist can become famous. The first is repetition: day-in and day-out, the artist creates, hoping that their body of work will someday be appreciated as culturally significant, which may only even occur posthumously, if at all.
The second way that an artist can become famous, as ThankYouX puts it, is by stealing a tank.
“The ‘art world’ is like Fort Knox,” he says over Zoom. “You can’t just walk up and say ‘Hey, I’m a really good artist. Can I come in and show?’ Everyone’s going to be like ‘No, get out of here!’ The only way to get into Fort Knox is to steal a tank and crash it through the wall. That’s when they notice you. That’s when you’re accepted.”
In the past few years, ThankYouX has had plenty of tank crashing moments, from reinventing his entire artistic style to curating a record-setting show at Sotheby’s.
But, long before he began crashing through walls, ThankYouX was simply known as Ryan, the Southern California native who worked a normal nine-to-five. However, he long harbored an itch to create, a drive reflected in something Andy Warhol once said:
"Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art."
This quote neatly sums up both ThankYouX's guileless endeavor into fine art and his excitement at being included in an exhibit curated by Aktion Art at The Bechtler Museum next to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Warhol himself.
“It’s surreal because I got my name from Warhol,” said ThankYouX. “When I was putting up all these stencils around LA, doing murals and wheat pastes, I originally wrote ‘ThankYou’ and signed it with a small ‘x.’ Different art blogs started calling me ThankYouX.”
“I was just like, ‘well, it doesn’t make sense, but maybe I should just own it.'”
Although the Warholian wheat pastes made the ThankYouX name recognizable, the reputation aged just as quickly.
“I basically used Warhol’s repetition tactic. It was good up until it wasn't, because I was just known as a ‘Warhol guy.’ All the people I painted with were like, ‘oh, you’re the guy who puts the Warhols up!’, and it’s like ‘yeah, but have you seen the other stuff I can do?’ No one did. They only saw me as the ‘Warhol guy.’”
To move on, ThankYouX went back to his graffiti roots, which stretch back to his teenage years.
“I wanted to do something different but was less inspired by what was going on. LA’s street scene was very watered down post-Exit From The Gift Shop. All of a sudden, everyone become a ‘street artist’ or had a ‘street art gallery’. It became this ‘fun’ word and I was just over it.”
Eventually, ThankYouX's art mentor, Roger Gastman, told the burgeoning artist to “Kill Warhol”.
ThankYouX went back to the studio to start from scratch. Inspired by Frank Stella’s patterns, he began devising what would become his signature ‘cubes’ while developing a a more abstract style.
This experimental style was first codified in 2015 when ThankYouX began creating large-scale murals that placed the cubes center-stage. However, it wasn't enough for him to rely on a single recognizable cue.
“Because I have a design background, I was planning everything out beforehand,” ThankYouX continued. “At a certain point, it started to feel inorganic. Planning every detail out took away from the magic for me. Then I was like, ‘Okay, what if I dove deeper and put these cubes under a microscope... what would that look like?’ That’s when I started dipping my toes into the full abstract.”
The abstract pieces took off, first at an exhibit in LA and then on social media, where the collectors began clamoring for more.
“I made something that I wanted to make and then people wanted it. That was always important to me because, when I was doing the Warhol stuff, I wondered, ‘Am I making something that I want to make, or because people want to buy?’ Now, I’m in the phase where I can make what I want to make.”
Around this time, ThankYouX often painted cube murals in startups in LA and San Francisco. Through these gigs, he began speaking to the founders, brainstorming ways for his art to work with technology.
Though they were — and remain — a sizeable hurdle for many established artists, NFTs were a pretty easy leap for ThankYouX.
“Even at my day job, I was spending all this time making designs for celebrities like Justin Bieber. Like, ‘what’s the most creative thing I could do for Pink?’” ThankYouX said. “So, it was always just pouring myself into someone else’s work until NFTs came around.”
ThankYouX’s NFT collaborations have ranged from photographer JN Silva to The Grammys and famed composer Hans Zimmer, the latter of which raised some eyebrows attached to well-connected faces.
“Sotheby’s reached out about the Hans Zimmer collaboration but the timing didn’t work out,” recalled ThankYouX. “I told them I’m not ready to do a solo thing, but what if I brought out and curated other artists? Everyone at that show broke personal sale records, which was really cool.”
For ThankYouX, that meant an eye-opening $334,000, paid in ETH.
Still, ThankYouX is a physical artist first and foremost; he considered NFTs secondary to his primary practice. This nuance is key, as it's helped ThankYouX “crash” art world institutions like auctions houses and The Bechtler, taking his fans along for the ride.
"In addition to my paintings, the museum has a room for me to project my NFTs," ThankYouX explained. "That's a special experience for me."
"I was telling people from my Discord which NFTs I'm gonna be showing there and the people that own that one are like, 'Oh my God, now I own a piece that's tied to a museum.'"