Rob Pruitt: Listen to the Panda

By Vinciane Jones, Verisart
Editorial is open for submissions:

The work of American post-conceptual artist Rob Pruitt (b.1964) is characterized by his playful and thoughtful reflections on popular culture. He works across a wide range of styles and mediums and doesn’t shy away from having fun or making political statements. Pruitt’s varied projects include an eBay Flea Market benefiting various charities, painting President Obama daily over his 8-year presidency culminating in 2,922 unique paintings, and Instagramming a daily calendar of personal and public events. The artist has had solo exhibitions at Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago and the Aspen Art Museum and his works can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum. 

Pruitt is known in particular for his Panda series which addresses issues of climate change and global responsibility while encouraging everyday activism. His debut NFT, Listen to the Panda, is the latest work to come out of this two-decade-long series. We spoke to the artist about his first NFT, his long-running Panda series and his interest in a diverse range of media and styles.  

Rob Pruitt’s inaugural NFT was minted on April 26 in exclusive partnership with Verisart and SuperRare as part of 10×10: 10 inaugural NFTs by 10 major contemporary artists over 10 weeks. Bidding closes around 1pm EDT April 29. 

Listen to the Panda 

Pruitt’s first NFT uses deepfake technology to animate the panda and give the animal a voice. In giving the panda the power of speech, this gentle creature whose existence is endangered by man’s assault on the environment is turned into a prophet. The panda utters the words of wisdom “some humans are not very good at being humane.” The panda’s child-like voice only serves to make the phrase, and the message it carries all the more poignant.  

Rob Pruitt, Bumblebee, Crickets, and an Endangered Species, 2020, acrylic, enamel, and glitter on linen, 78 x 58 ½ inches.  Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery.
VJ: The panda has been a motif in your work for two decades, could you explain why you were drawn to pandas initially and why you keep coming back to them?  

RP: Two decades ago I wanted to make art about the onset of global warming and our destruction of the planet. I chose the panda bear to be at the center of my telling these stories. A completely vulnerable and familiar character that I thought would be able to push emotional buttons with the viewer.  

VJ: What was the inspiration behind the words uttered by the panda “Some humans are not very good at being humane.”?

RP: While I have used the panda mostly to address issues of the environment, humankind’s insensitivity is so much broader and it’s all related in a way. So when the panda says “Some humans are not very good at being humane.” It has to do with the way we can’t even treat each other very well, let alone the planet and its other inhabitants.

VJ: Do you have plans for the next work in your panda series? 

RP: Well, I want to see how people respond to “Listen to the Panda” and if there’s an audience I think I’ll be interested in generating more dialog with the talking panda.

Rob Pruitt, detail from The Obama Paintings 1/20/2009 – 1/20/2017, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery.

Art as a force for good 

Rob Pruitt’s NFT is certified with a Fair Trade Art Certificate from Verisart, an award-winning blockchain certification platform. Fair Trade Art is an initiative by Verisart designed to bring together artists and social impact organizations to do good. The certificate signals that funds from the sale of the artwork are benefiting a charitable cause. 

With the sale of his NFT, Rob Pruitt is taking the opportunity to support the American Civil Liberties Union by personally donating 18% of the winning purchase amount to the organization. 

For collectors, Verisart’s patent-pending Certificates of Authenticity (COA) form an integral part of collecting NFTs. They provide confidence in the identity of the artist and the verified history of the artwork. Designed to empower artists to tell the story of their work, the digital certificates include additional images, videos and documents. 

Rob Pruitt, Suicide Painting XXXVI, 2014, acrylic on linen, 108 x 81 inches. Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery.

A diverse approach

Throughout his career, Rob Pruitt has refused to adhere to one style or medium with his art and lists painting, installation, sculpture, and even performance in his list of disciplines. His NFT is a continuation of this experimentation and interest in different mediums.

VJ: You work across a wide range of mediums and styles, how do you decide what medium or style is best suited to expressing an idea? 

It’s true that I’ve worked within a wide range of media and styles. These variations represent a long period of art-making and exercising my artistic voice. Now I think of it as my repertoire and revisit certain mediums or styles whenever it feels right.

Rob Pruitt, Cardboard Monsters, installation view from Crossing Views at Foundation Louis Vuitton from 2020-2021.  Courtesy of the artist.
VJ: Why are you interested in the NFT space? 

A few months ago, when I first started hearing about NFT’s, I had to look it up. It seemed to me that the artists who were already active all had a similar look. Probably coming from everyone using the same popular software. I just thought if I wanted to give it a try, an interesting place to start might be to forget what the other work looked like and just be true to myself and find power in the message and keep the image simple.

VJ: What upcoming projects are you working on? 

I’m working on new paintings about my Mom for an upcoming show at 303 Gallery in NYC opening in September and I’m finishing some paintings for Massimo De Carlo’s Frieze New York booth happening next month. 

Rob Pruitt, Performance Artist, 2020, acrylic on linen, 62 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo Gallery 
About the artist

Rob Pruitt (b. 1964, Washington, DC) works primarily in painting, installation, and sculpture to create playful and thoughtful reflections on popular culture. His Panda series addresses issues of climate change and global responsibility while encouraging everyday activism. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, the Kunsthalle Zurich, Zurich Switzerland, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Aspen Art Museum, and Dallas Contemporary. His work has recently been included in “Crossing Views” at the Foundation Louis Vuitton.

Rob Pruitt © Hedi Slimane, courtesy of the artist

Bidding for Rob Pruitt’s inaugural NFT, Listen to the Panda, closes at 1pm EDT on April 29.

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Verisart is a pioneering blockchain certification platform for artworks and collectibles. Verisart treasures creativity by empowering artists to tell the story of their work. Patent-pending Certificates of Authenticity enable trusted transactions by giving collectors confidence in the identity of the artist and the verified history of the artwork.

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SuperRare is a marketplace to collect and trade unique, single-edition digital artworks.

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