Micah Johnson may never have become an NFT artist if he hadn't attended a painting and drinking class in 2016 that revealed the creative side of him. -
Johnson is a former professional baseball player who was active in the league from 2015 to 2017, playing for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Atlanta Braves. After multiple injuries, including a broken wrist and torn shoulder, Johnson retired from professional baseball in 2018 to pursue a career in visual arts.
With a son in 2019, Johnson felt a new urge to try innovative new ways to sell his art and stumbled upon NFTs. Johnson, a black man entering the largely white space of blockchain technology, understood that he was something of an anomaly.
He learned more about NFTs through conversations on Discord and Twitter, and then decided to give digital art a try. In 2020, he sold the first NFT of his, an animated portrait of a melanized baseball player titled ".15 Seconds."
After overhearing a conversation in which a boy asked his mother whether or not astronauts could be black, Johnson created his now-famous NFT character, Aku, a black boy who dreams of being an astronaut who wears a space helmet from big size. The first Aku NFT was sold in February of last year and has been a recurring key figure in the artist's work ever since. "Aku: The Moon God Open Edition," a collection that shows the character in a space helmet walking through a corridor of black-figure art and astronauts, generated more than $2 million in sales during a 24-hour auction. And since then, Aku has made history as the first NFT character cast by a major film and television production company.
Johnson hopes to use Aku's success as an NFT character to create more opportunities for other black creators like himself.
"One thing I've always said is that every time you walk through the door as a trailblazer, the door usually closes behind you," Johnson told Fortune. “Especially as a black creator. So it's very important that you keep that door open and build Aku in a way that can help other creators, especially black creators, to come together."
In less than a year, Johnson has built a loyal following, with the combined value of his primary and secondary NFT art sales exceeding $19 million, according to Cryptoart.com.