See Inside NFT Sensation Justin Aversano’s Mystical New Tarot-Inspired Photography Show in LA

At a gallery in Los Angeles, photographer Justin Aversano recently debuted 78 new silkscreens, each featuring a portrait of an individual and printed on Egyptian papyrus. Ahead of the show, he also released every work in the series as an NFT on OpenSea, all of which swiftly sold out.

The enthusiasm that has greeted the drop speaks to Aversano’s continued domination of the photography NFT space, spurred on by “Twin Flames,” widely recognized as one of the earliest photography projects on the blockchain. The collection has traded 5,900 ETH (about $10.7 million) in total volume to date, while the sale of Twin Flames #83 at Christie’s in October 2021 raked in a whopping $1.1 million, making Aversano one of the highest-selling photographers ever.

Justin Aversano, Queen of Staffs from “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

The collection of works now on view at Gabba Gallery, through April 8, is meant to evoke a full tarot deck, with the photographer’s sitters standing in for cards from the Knight of Staffs to Eight of Swords, the Sun to the Moon.

As Aversano told Artnet News, the project, titled “Smoke & Mirrors,” took three years to complete, beginning in 2018 when he commenced photographing an assortment of artists, shamans, psychics, astrologers, family members, and known figures such as the Winklevoss twins.

Justin Aversano, portrait #53 from the series “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

“There’s all these people who are in the project because I either looked up to them or they’re part of my everyday life and they represent that card,” he said. “It didn’t have to be magic or have a magical connection. It just needs to be the real reflection of what that card means.”

The work is also a way to level-up the NFT medium: “Photographs are the ultimate thing that can be minted,” Aversano said. And especially so for “Smoke & Mirrors,” where the papyrus in use offers a tactile counterpoint or connection to the data being inscribed on the blockchain. It’s through this mix of media, Aversano hopes, that the collection might develop layers of new meaning for the viewer.

The decision to silkscreen the portraits came down to the photographer’s desire to “evolve through the medium.” Just as his previous series have tapped traditional photographic processes—polaroids for “The BirthdayProject” (2012), cyanotyping for “Twin Flames” (2017)—so this new collection reaches for another analogue technique to add pigment to his monochromatic portraits.

Justin Aversano, King of Coins from “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

“I like the idea of ​​applying color to make the photograph more than just the photograph,” he said. “It’s playing with mediums and what a photograph can represent.”

The colors for each silkscreen, Aversano added, have been selected by the portrait’s subject, who also had their pick of which photograph he eventually used. “I, as a photographer,” he explained, “let go and surrender completely to the subject.”

Justin Aversano, portrait #72 from the series “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

“It’s introducing people to the tarot in a fun, novel way with photography, just seeing the mixed media of how photography can exist. What is it—more of a painting or more of a photograph?” he said of the series and exhibition. “It’s about transcending something basic to make it something more thoughtful.”

See more images from “Smoke & Mirrors” below.

Installation view of “Smoke & Mirrors” at Gabba Gallery. Photo courtesy of Gabba Gallery.

Justin Aversano, Four of Cups from “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

Justin Aversano, portrait #41 from the series “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

Justin Aversano, The World from “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

Justin Aversano, Knight of Staffs from “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

Justin Aversano, portrait #64 from the series “Smoke & Mirrors” (2023). Photo courtesy of the artist and Gabba Gallery.

Installation view of “Smoke & Mirrors” at Gabba Gallery. Photo courtesy of Gabba Gallery.

Smoke & Mirrors” is on view at Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, through April 8.

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