In summary

A Los Angeles artist who once sold flowers with his immigrant parents on street corners breaks into the world of NFTs. In doing so, he’s also found a nontraditional way to generate wealth in crypto currency.

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Jesús Martínez finds inspiration on his morning runs around his neighborhood of Eagle Rock in Los Angeles: a sunrise, a street vendor or a landscape.

When the 24 year-old artist sits down at home, he goes to work on a tablet and stylus pen.

Martínez, who grew up selling flowers on street corners with his parents, recently made his way into the world of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which are unique digital assets bought and sold using cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin. The crypto artist’s biggest sale so far is a digital artwork titled “Genesis life,” which sold for $38,000 and is now valued at around $80,000.

As decentralized investing gains popularity, Martínez has also found a nontraditional way to generate wealth. He’s not alone. The Harris Poll found 25% of Black Americans and 15% of Latino Americans have purchased NFTs, compared to 8% of white Americans. And USA Today reported over summer that minority investors are more likely to outpace white investors in owning digital currency. 

A digital art piece by Jesús Martinez. Martinez sells the digital art pieces as NFTs. Image courtesy of Jesús Martinez

Martínez is still amazed at venturing into this world since, until a few years ago, he worked alongside his parents, who emigrated from Mexico.

“We would sell flowers on street corners or for graduations,” Martínez said. “I stopped selling flowers after high school, but that helped me learn about work and humility.” 

Martinez’s passion for digital illustration took hold in high school. Three art classes introduced him to graphics software such as Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop and After Effects. He went on to study communications at California State University, Northridge.

Martinez had heard about Bitcoin as early as 2012 but didn’t dive into digital assets until this year. He published his first digital artwork in May and has sold about eight pieces ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 NFTs. The most expensive was purchased by a collector who appreciated the story behind the artwork.

“The collector told me: ‘What made Picasso and Mona Lisa interesting was not the painting but the story behind the artists and you have a beautiful story and I would love to be a part of that,’” Martínez said. “That’s when he bought my piece for a lot of money.”

Jesús Martinez (center) in a photo with his parents, with who he sold flowers for many years. Photo Courtesy of Jesús Martinez
Jesús Martinez (center) in a photo with his parents, with whom he sold flowers for many years. Photo Courtesy of Jesús Martinez

The young artist said his work has caught the attention of other collectors. Among them Gil Weisblum, who is a web 3.0 advisor and part of the office of iconic fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg.

“Gil was among the first to say that my story is what is going to achieve record sales in the NFT space,” Martínez said, “and that would give me recognition as a crypto artist.”

Martinez now works full time on his digital art. He hopes one day to become a philanthropist to help worthy causes, such as building schools in third world countries or providing student scholarships.

Martinez is also serving as a strategic advisor for an initiative of Time Magazine.

Even in the world of cryptocurrency, Martínez strives to stay grounded. He hopes to buy his father, who works as a janitor, a new car.

“He has never had a new car,” said Martinez, the youngest of two children.

Martinez advises young people who are interested in cryptocurrency to investigate closely because these investments are risky. Don’t be afraid to ask experienced cryptocurrency investors for help.

“I recommend that you make sure you do your due diligence, spend a lot of time doing your research before investing money, and don’t just put money in because you read it online,” Martínez said “Take the time to read and (understand) why people are investing.”

This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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Jacqueline Garcia is a reporter covering poverty and inequality issues for our California Divide collaboration. She is based at La Opinion newspaper in Los Angeles, where she has covered issues ranging...