Friday Finds [Interview w/ Hobonickels Artist, Aleksey Saburov]

From Hobo to HODL

One might not think that a traditional hand engraver would incorporate bitcoin into their art, but Alex Saburov has brought his own master craft into the industry. He is world-renowned when it comes to “hobo-nickels,” the act of creatively altering small denomination coins that has existed for centuries. He certainly is a versatile artisan, who also has proved himself in partnerships with luxury knife and watch brands. His recent work, a beautiful silver hand-engraved Bitcoin watch, has gained great attention in the cryptocurrency community. We got to catch up with him today to snag his perspective on the blockchain space as a manual artisan.


The Creative Crypto (CC): Tell us about your background and how you entered the blockchain space, if at all?

I am a designer-engraver working for over 20 years in the jewelry industry. Throughout these years I have been involved in a variety of artistic projects for high-end companies specializing in luxury goods, such as the Corum Swiss Watches, Scott Kay Jewelry and William Henry knives. Special projects close to my heart are the traditional American so-called “hobo-nickels” – a true embossed metal sculpture on a coin, a folk art that became my passion.

As far as the blockchain space is concerned, it is still a big mystery to me of how this amazing phenomenon is as ubiquitous as it is! When it comes to cryptocurrency, like many folks out there, I’ve heard some news, sure, then read an article-and-half about it and watched a youtube video (most of it!), before realizing that the idea of money without a government body behind it is still utterly mysterious to me. Nonetheless, Bitcoin has this wonderful aura of changing times. It is exciting, futuristic, and it’s more of a concept than a tangible thing, which is always an interesting challenge for an artist to depict.


CC: What excites you most about the applications and prospects of blockchain, if any?

It may very well be the future, does it not? Just a decade ago, I imagined that the idea of a blockchain would have been laughed out of the room by most people in the industry. And again, it’s an interesting concept to explore visually.


CC: Tell us more about the hand-engraved Bitcoin watch.  What message were you trying to convey? What do the skulls represent exactly?

In tarot cards, “Death” or the Grim Reaper means change. For better or for worse. Bitcoin seems to have this apocalyptic sense to it, which can also be for better or for worse. It is an instrument of change, a possible “before and after” moment.

There has also been influence by the Flemish masterpieces depicting a skull, like the “Vanitas Still Life” by Hendrick Andriessen. Essentially, the painting depicts material wealth laid out on the table, with a skull in the middle as a reminder of how fragile and perishable it is.

Hendrick Andriessen’s “Vanitas Still Life”


CC: What are you working on now and what can we look forward to in the future?

My main focus is steam-punk, Gothic, and western motifs, with an occasional Norman Rockwell-type scenario of whimsical hobos, animals, and mechanical gadgets. The blockchain theme feels akin to cyberpunk, which is still new to me. Digital technology, futuristic concepts, etc… I will come back to it, because it is fascinating when I have something fresh to say or show on this subject.


CC: I didn’t see an option for customers to pay in cryptocurrency. Would you be willing to accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment, or no?

That is a very interesting question, which is not a hypothetical for me. I was offered very real payment in cryptocurrency from a reliable source, yet at that time I asked for a more traditional remittance because I knew how to “take it to the bank,” as opposed to Bitcoin which had all markings of hype.


CC: On a fun note, David Bowie was one of a kind, and the Bowie band actually received your art commemorated to him. Is there a life lesson you’ve been able to glean through Bowie and his art?

Yes, I am a fan. Also, my family happens to be acquainted with Gerry Leonard, the guitarist from the original Bowie band. When there was The David Bowie Tribute it seemed appropriate to commemorate Bowie’s genius in the best way I could, hence I made several guitar picks with Bowie’s portrait, which were presented to the Bowie band and the beautiful singer Lorde at the BRIT Awards 2016.

My own way of saying Thank You and Goodbye.


CC: For new creatives looking to get into the blockchain space, what would be your motivational message?

Stay clear of cliches. They are boring.  

This piece was authored by CC contributor Neil Mathew

Name: Alex Saburov

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