Former MLB Player-Turned-Artist Micah Johnson Seeks to Empower Black Kids Through Art

Nazia Safi
Published on
Micah Johnson. Image from NBC News.
Micah Johnson. Image from NBC News.

Micah Drew Johnson is a former professional baseball player. He played for the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Tampa Bay Rays before discovering his talent and passion for art. Johnson eventually retired from baseball and turned to art full-time.

He has since established a reputation for himself in the art world. Last November, Johnson dropped his first-ever NFT, sä-v(ə-)rən-tē, on the Async platform. His digital artwork garnered USD 117,278, the second-highest sale price for an NFT artwork at the time. His work won the NFT of the Year Award and was featured on a billboard in Los Angeles.

Christie’s ongoing Trespassing auction, which runs through July 22nd, 2021, features a programmable NFT titled Hi, my name is… by Micah Johnson. Bidding ends at 12:00 PM EDT. Before exploring the catalog, learn more about Johnson and his works.

Micah Johnson, Attention, 2021. Image from Art Angels.
Micah Johnson, Attention, 2021. Image from Art Angels.

The Transition From Ballplayer to Artist

Micah Johnson spent his entire life dreaming about baseball. He always wanted to make it big and eventually played professionally for seven years. During spring training with the Dodgers in 2016, manager Dave Roberts asked newcomers to share their hobbies outside of baseball with their new teammates. When it was Johnson’s turn to share, he said painting, even though he had only painted once in his lifetime. Johnson actually played the piano but was hesitant to share: he didn’t want to be asked to perform. 

“So what I did was, I said I like paint. There’s no way he’s gonna make me paint!” Johnson told ABC7. But to his surprise, Roberts asked Johnson to paint a picture of Dodgers spring training instructor Maury Wills. “It was really bad, but it motivated me,” Johnson said. “Guys were lying to my face telling me, ‘It’s good. It’s really good.’ I was surprised. It gave me some false confidence, and I kept working at it.” An artist was born.

In 2018, Johnson retired from baseball to work on his art. Johnson has since focused his work on the Black Lives Matter movement and has painted scenes from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Johnson’s artworks feature strong gestural charcoal lines combined with loose brushstrokes of vibrant colors. His works soon received attention and have appeared in three solo exhibitions.

Micah Johnson, sä-v(ə-)rən-tē, 2020. Image from Async Art.
Micah Johnson, sä-v(ə-)rən-tē, 2020. Image from Async Art.

The Auction Debut

In November of 2020, Micah Johnson dropped his time-sensitive photographic artwork, sä-v(ə-)rən-tē, via Async Art. The NFT centers on a closed door standing in a field. On one side of the door are two Black children named Jacque and Rayden. An astronaut stands on the other side. 

Every year on their birthdays, the artwork will display a QR code that enables the audience to donate for the boys. With the help of the yearly donations, the door will open a little to show the children getting closer to their dreams. When they turn 18 years old, the children will disappear from the work to signify that they have reached their goals. The bidding for sä-v(ə-)rən-tē started at $70,000, eventually realizing $117,278.

Micah Johnson, Hi, my name is…, 2021. Image from Async Art.
Micah Johnson, Hi, my name is…, 2021. Image from Async Art.

The Birth of Aku

Johnson’s brainchild, Aku: The Moon God, developed after he overheard his four-year-old nephew asking his mother, “Mom, can astronauts be Black?” The conversation inspired Johnson to explore the ongoing struggle toward equal opportunity and freedom for Black children. Johnson created a series of sculptures and digital art depicting Aku, a young Black boy wearing a shining astronaut’s helmet.

Aku: The Moon God made its auction debut with Nifty Gateway this February and sold for a whopping $1,000,000. The first-ever physical Aku sculpture also sold during the auction, fetching $305,000.

Aku quickly became a symbol of hope and inspiration. Johnson’s series received an overwhelming response from supporters and collectors across the globe. Aku gained so much popularity that the character has been optioned for TV and film projects, making this the first NFT to be optioned by a major production company. 

In the ongoing Christie’s sale, Johnson unveils a young Black girl in the Aku universe with his Hi, my name is… NFT. “Created with the help of the Aku community, this collaboration concludes by giving the final control to the owner of the work. This programmable NFT enables the collector to ultimately decide if and/or when to remove the character’s helmet to reveal their identity,” explains Johnson. The decision as to when the character reveals her face depends solely on the owner. The winning bidder will also work closely with the artist to give her a name.

Micah Johnson’s 2021 NFT Hi, my name is… is available with Christie’s until 12:00 PM EDT on July 22nd, 2021. For more information and to register to bid, visit Christie’s

Want to learn about other digital artists? Auction Daily recently explored the work and style of Michah Dowbak, also known as Mad Dog Jones.

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