Spanish artist A.L. Crego is a digital artist through and through. But it wasn’t until he merged his GIF art with the web that he truly felt his heart sing. He talks to Nina Knaack about finding both canvas and museum in the digital realm, the certifying power of blockchain, and why web3 has finally given the internet a soul.
“It is important to understand my GIFs as motion paintings, not as excerpts of video,” A.L. Crego emphasises. The Spanish artist has a profound fascination with his medium, but what makes his heart sing is its convergence with the internet. Although digital art has existed since the 1950s, when computing pioneer and artist Ben F. Laposky created the world’s first computer graphics, what it means to be a digital creator has changed enormously since the internet connected all those creators, alongside collectors, viewers, and everyone else, together.
Crego has always been a digital creator, though not always on a computer. Self-taught, he began his artistic journey as a photographer. Hailing from a small village in Galicia, North West Spain, the cultural activities of Crego’s youth were limited to an old cinema that screened films months after their release.
It was this “lack of opportunities” in his hometown that led Crego to explore other avenues of artistic expression. Books played a crucial role, allowing him to “meet diverse individuals, places, and experiences” that he might not have encountered in real life. The visual images that these books conjured in his mind ignited an interest in capturing moments in time that he has carried with him throughout his life and into his art.
For Crego, photography is a language that speaks volumes without the need for words. But despite his passion for the craft, Crego ended up leaving the photography school that he had initially leapt into, frustrated by what he saw as an old-fashioned approach to photography. Upon leaving formal education, he began to explore a medium that he saw as more expressive, and more suited to his own artistic era: street art GIFs.
And as luck — coupled with significant hard work — would have it, he quickly gained popularity online with his looping videos. All at once, Crego saw the best and the worst of the internet. On the plus side, his clips spread widely across myriad websites, used by celebrities, brands, and everyone in between, giving him audiences he could never have imagined. On the other hand, however, his work often went uncredited and uncompensated.
Blockchain was an obvious solution to this problem. Crego had been aware of the tech since 2014, but only explored it for himself when he saw it being applied to the cultural world that he inhabited. It was only a few years later that he fully engaged with the NFT marketplaces that would take the world by storm. In late 2018, he was invited to join Makersplace’s upcoming platform and minted his first works the following year.
As he puts it, he embraced the blockchain because it lets him verify the authenticity of his own work amidst a plethora of other creations. In turn, the digital realm has now become entirely sufficient for his art. “It is both the canvas and the museum,” he says.
After initially animating colourful street art, Crego now typically employs a black, white, and grey palette in his work, as seen in his Visual Massage and Amniotic Culture collections. He refers to this style as “GIFftillism”, a portmanteau of GIFs and pointillism, whereby Crego reinterprets the traditional practice of dot painting by overlaying animated white pixels upon a jet black background.
In this style, the digital artist creates visually spellbinding loops, using captivating repetition to convey the various maxims that inhabit his mind. Namely, those maxims are some 12,000 philosophical quotes that the Spaniard has written down in notebooks since he was 14 years old. “Philosophy is a significant influence on my work, as it offers me a way of re-thinking certain questions in life, which I also aim to do with my art,” he says, adding that his quotes often inspire the more figurative side of his work, whilst his abstract dimensions allow him to explore ideas about motion.
As well as the words that spell out his personal philosophies, the GIF artist also sources inspiration from books, poems, and musical lyrics. Unlike visual mediums, Crego finds that text suggests to him an original image of an idea, beyond the idea itself, allowing his imagination to take him to new heights. More concretely, Crego also draws inspiration from patterns of motion, light, and shapes, all factors which form the foundations of his work.
In his spare time, Crego is also a drummer, and the GIF artist often recreates the beat of his music in the pulse of his visual art; apt, since both GIFs and drums revolve around loops. But with a range of influences, only one thing really matters: whether they “provoke questions, encourage different paths of thought, and offer new perspectives through my art.”
“It is both the canvas and the museum.”
— A.L. Crego
To Crego, the internet is a canvas and NFTs act as a signature. “I can’t separate them,” he says. In existing, blockchain has empowered Crego to become more confident in sharing his art online. Previously, he was hesitant to upload his work due to concerns about theft and misuse; now, he can signal ownership of his works by minting them on the blockchain.
“The adoption of a new paradigm is typically a gradual process, much like the evolution of the web, which began as a novelty for a few and is now an indispensable part of daily life,” Crego says.
He foresees a similar trend occurring with blockchain as it continues to evolve and gain more widespread acceptance and applause. The technology, in his view, is a critical part of our digital realm, which first emerged as a network of connected users, then evolved into usable products, and now, he hopes, is becoming a space for unabashed creativity. “Web1 formed the nerves, web2 shaped the body, and web3 added a soul.”
“Web1 formed the nerves, web2 shaped the body, and web3 added a soul.”
— A.L. Crego
Artificial intelligence looms over the creative industries, but The Cotton Modules show how the tech unlocks new opportunities for those willing to tinker. The pair sit down with Clovis McEvoy to discuss music technology, ethics, and creative sparks that come from working with an AI vocalist — and it's so much more than imitation.
Sarah Zucker's GIFs have been viewed more than 7 billion times. She tells Nina Knaack why a GIF is like life, how her art makes the internet more human, and how they help her navigate our "terrifying transition."