A.L. Crego walks comfortably between the stillness of the picture and the rhythm of a scratched record, using gif loops to represent a hypnotic visual mantra.
Crego, who uncovered his passion for this art form after recognizing how the moving images made people think faster and more accessibly than other forms of art, creates images with a sort of sci-fi classical aesthetic, pieces that seem to be speaking for themselves as if they were culled directly from his own subconscious.
Now something of a heavy-hitter when it comes to the GIF-making industry, Crego has been approached by various DJs, artists, and agencies who are all interested in getting their own personal work made.
He has recently started to work with Augmented Reality apps, playing with the newborn “digital public space” and asking questions about the concept of museums, art, and even reality. For Crego, the GIF format is not only a way of creating and watching art but a new way of thinking.
His Tumblr page is a good place to start to see his work, which is largely surrealist in nature – another Spanish artist following in the footsteps of other great Spanish surrealist artists.
Brady Walker: My first question is around how you’re able to create so much — if you’re the kind of person who does dailies or what your practice looks like. You have a lot of series. So, I’m just wondering how things stack on each other, and how often you create, and how long?
A.L. Crego: Yeah. Nowadays, it isn’t provoked in the sense that let’s do a piece every day or something like this. It was more a consequence of a constant investigation. Because before focusing my work on GIF, I was working a lot in photo and video.
Back then, for me, art was what was in museums and things I see on school tours. I think I was 21 when I understood GIF format as something more artistic because, of course, I always saw GIFs on the web, the cats and the memes and all these things, but I was thinking by then, why are not you using this format for something more artistic? Because photo and video can be used.
So, I started to just experiment with a lot of things: with cinematography, about how to mix video and photo inside a GIF with a perfect loop. And suddenly, I find myself surrounded by tons of work and it was by then that I started to publish it on Tumblr. I started to do street art animations in 2014. But I didn’t know, I was just trying things.
Like, okay, I can animate this on street art walls on my computer, but I can’t in the streets. And then, I start to mix it with augmented reality. This was 2014, and all these years, from 2014 until 2018, I was totally immersed in the investigation, trying things and working in street art festivals. And during these years, I developed a workflow that still lasts nowadays.
It’s not that I propose to do a new piece every day. But every day, I have some new ideas or some old ideas. In the past, when you are painting, if you have an idea in the middle, you have to start another canvas.
But in digital art, if you already working on an idea and suddenly another different idea came from the same work, you can “save as,” and you have another project to work on. So, I do a lot of this because sometimes I’m working on ideas. So, I “save as” and put it in a folder for later.
Blockchain was a good point because I was having a lot of problems with people stealing my work, and I never had the option to prove that it was my work.
Art is something that everybody consumes. I had to start to think about how to connect this work with the blockchain. And it was, I think, in 2018 when MakersPlace finally contacted me to join them because I wasn’t really interested in studying the code side. I was more interested in the visual side, in the artistic side.
Thanks to MakersPlace, I started minting my work, and I started to fully understand how I can work with the blockchain more. Because by then, I had a lot of work waiting to be minted.
I understand the blockchain and the metaverse as a whole. For me, it’s very hard to divide. Same in the real life. I don’t divide museums from street art. For me, both are art. They are different contexts. But you can find good art in both places.
And nowadays, thanks to the platforms like Twitter and this concept with the blockchain that links to the IPFS, we know how to find great digital work.
BW: Can you tell me a little bit about your visual beats project, speaking of series of pieces?
ALC: Sure, thanks for the question because it’s a series I enjoy. Because since I started to work with GIFs, I realized it was an obvious thing. GIFs are beats, in terms of music, because I played drums too. I am a kind of musician. I don’t play in a band, but I play drums at home.
I realized that GIFs, despite being silent, can resound. Visual Beats was an idea about the musicality of GIFs, not the music of GIFs because they are silent.
But the musicality is about three things. The elements are the melodies. The background is a motion canvas that is the atmosphere of the song. And then the perfect loop is what creates the rhythm. So when you look at each of these pieces, they are all designed at 100 bpm’s, so they all have the same rhythm. It is a kind of symphony of silence.
I started to think about this series for the musicality and the concept of the perfect loop. It’s very hard to accept a GIF that is not seamless because it breaks this feeling. In a good GIF, you can’t find where it starts and where it ends. Our brain tries to find the stitching point, but it can’t.
This idea came after a previous series I did that they call Hypnotic Machines. That was pretty similar because the technique is the same.
It’s frequency modulation, a very old technique, but I’ve been playing with it a lot for the past two or three years. In Hypnotic Machines, the focus was more on the geometric noise, the constant motion that has a lot of elements, but all of them simultaneously.
BW: I’m curious how you’ve seen your collectors display your work. Especially the Visual Beats. I love them. I just pictured myself getting five screens, and they’re all kind of in sync. How do you think displaying GIFs works best?
ALC: I have one Meural at home that is from 2016. They gave it to me because I helped them back in the day to make some GIFs. I was thinking in 2016, I want to see my GIF in my living room. I searched for digital canvases and found two companies. One Japanese and one American. Japanese never replied, but the American one was Meural. They replied three hours later.
I always say that GIFs depend on the web. Because GIFs are from the web. The Internet is their natural ecosystem. And I value that a lot because working with GIFs is like working with a website.
There is a lack of information about the technical side of GIFs. Because people try to render a GIF, and maybe they don’t know how it works from the inside. They have GIFs that are 90 megabytes, for example, and this is crazy. If you are rendering a GIF of 90 megabytes, just do it in a video.
But when you import a video to a digital canvas, you will have this little jump at the end of the loop, and I hate that. Imagine someone watching Hypnotic Motion and it stops for one second every time. It’s not hypnotic.
For me, my favorite screen to showcase is your phone or your computer. The web is the canvas.
BW: When you are designing pieces, how do you decide on aspect ratio, just based on whether this is for a phone or a computer?
ALC: Actually, yesterday, I was talking with a friend about that. Sometimes, yes. Landscape or portrait. But, for example, for exhibitions or some curated works, I always ask first about the screen. Because I want to adapt.
If I am working on my own idea, I don’t pay too much attention to this. Some ideas require landscape if you want something more narrative. And some ideas feel more poignant or powerful if they are vertical.
But I will adapt to the screen I am creating for. I find some kind of joy in this kind of challenge. Imagine they say, “No, we have three screens, but we’d like to work with three different pieces simultaneously.” I will think something about three pieces that complement each other instead of doing three individual pieces.
BW: I was looking at pieces and series like Dendrites and Helix. Then your earlier work was animated street art. Even your pieces that are figurative, in the sense that there is a human or animal present, things are reduced to their barest architectural simplicity. Can you speak about this tendency to reduce down and then build from the reduced form?
ALC: It goes hand in hand with how I understand the GIF format itself. The more I understood the format, the more I reduced the number of colors and got the most minimal I can while keeping a strong visual.
And one thing that you said is true, and it’s funny. I’m a very bad animator. I didn’t study animation in a way that refers to human anatomy and these things. So when I started animating street art, many street artists use the human figure. So, I had to learn a bit about how to move a human.
But with time, I try to avoid human figures or animals because our brain very well detects the movements that it already knows. So if there is a frame that suddenly is not as your brain expects, it will look bad. It’s like, Ah, something is wrong.
So, I try with time to avoid these kinds of movement and instead focused on natural movements like the wind, the water — more organic movement.
It was also about reducing the number of colors. And this is related directly to how the GIF format works. Because in GIF format, the more colors you have, the bigger the file.
This took a lot of experimenting. Two or three years ago, I started to focus more on black and white, pure white. Because I only use one color, I can have huge GIFs with a very small file size, which is nice for the web.
Imagine you paint a canvas that is bigger than the door to your studio. You can’t take it out. If you do a very big GIF, people won’t use it because it requires a lot of time.
This is why I’ve been going more to geometry and pure white. Instead of black and white, I like to say black and light. Because even blacks are light on a screen. Black is the lack of light. Until 15-20 years ago, light was used to illuminate the pieces. Nowadays, the pieces are light. We are only working with light.
BW: Can you tell me about your Agnosic series? From what I can tell, it’s among your most figurative work, at least of recent, and it’s also your priciest Tezos series that I was able to see at a glance.
ALC: It was born when I was finishing Hypnotic Machines and starting Visual Beats because in these two series, I was focusing more on the abstract side and playing with frequency modulation.
So, I was studying this technique, and I thought, let’s do something semi-figurative. Because I play a lot with the lack of faces, for example, with identity, privacy, all of these things. So, I thought about agnosia. It is a mental illness that causes people to be unable to recognize faces.
I thought about this term, and I thought, this technique, the frequency modulation, that’s something like this because it deludes you into the basic shape without losing the shape of a face. And at the same time, using this technique that I started to call GIFtilism — it’s a semi-joke. I’m playing with the new paradigm opposing pointillism. Because pointillism was about using the minimal element of traditional art with the point.
But if we translate this concept into digital, I invented GIFtilism because the element of digital art is a square. It is not a point. And a square is created by 4 points that create a plane. So playing with GIFtilism, I start to create agnosis figures that are created only with black and white. I use this technique while trying not to lose the shapes. And I think all of them, you’ll recognize somebody, but you don’t see somebody.
It’s a paradox. They don’t have faces, but I know all of them. I know because I don’t know them.
And I would like to say that it also was a kind of a strategy because, on Tezos, 1/1 are not really valued and not very usual. And I start this past year trying to break this because I don’t agree that our art or the price must depend on which blockchain it’s on.
But from my point of view, I think I’m not playing dirty because my work is recognizable, and it’s mine. It’s not, okay, let’s use Tezos for these things, and let’s do Ethereum for more profit. And it’s working because some Ethereum collectors discovered me on Tezos and now they are collecting from Tezos.
I think diversification is a keyword with decentralization. For me, they are brothers.
BW: Are any particular pieces that you feel the strongest emotional connection to?
ALC: I don’t write songs, but I think of my pieces as songs. Some of them are stronger. I try not to involve my emotions in a piece because we are human. Somedays, you think, Oh, this is my best piece ever. And you see it the next day, it’s like, Oh no, this is shit.
Sometimes, I make pieces and let them rest. Maybe a week later, I go check. And if the piece still punches me in the face as if it wasn’t mine, these are the ones I choose to mint.
I think a lot about the future. Some pieces are key to understanding where you will go in the future. I have a lot of plans, and I produce a lot of work, so I try to mint pieces that will show where I’ve been and where I am going.
I can’t mint everything I do. It would be crazy. It’s like I don’t write everything I think. I write a lot, but I don’t write everything. I have some nice thoughts, but they don’t deserve to be written.
The pieces are the same because I produce fast. Because I know my tools, and I can do a piece in one to two hours or a week, depending on the complexity. And sometimes this happens. Like, okay, let’s rest for one day, two days, three days, and when you feel it, let’s check.
And because I think the pieces that I mint will make sense in the future, it helps me to explain later, This piece is when I established this style. It’s like minting a map of something I did. You ask very nice questions. I must say I’m enjoying this a lot. Thank you.
BW: Thanks. I’m having a great time getting these downloads from you. If you could give any piece of advice to your 20-year-old self about art making or creativity, what would you say?
ALC: Nice question, but I am very stubborn, and I would say to my 21-year-old self, keep it up. Really. Because I learned a lot of things in street art, face-to-face with people, about how to deal with the concept of the artist and the concept of the real person.
But by 21, I was thinking almost exactly the same [as I am now] in the terms of the artistic, or I was starting to. But nowadays, I see all the people working in digital art, and I think that I am starting all over again because there are people who are out of this world, that I feel, Wow, how can they do that?
I am aware that if I have success, it’s not only for my work. It’s also because of how I try to translate my ideas into words. What I do in art is an excuse to do philosophy in some way. Because I love philosophy. I like to theorize and think about technology, sociology, economics, and politics. But I feel sometimes, if I explain that in words, I lose time when I can explain it in pieces.
For example, I would tell 21-year-old me to keep it up but don’t feel down when others make you feel down. It happened to me. If I don’t succeed in something, I accept it. But if other people are the ones that are pushing you, when you know that you are on your own way, try to listen less to these people.
I listened to some people that I considered master artists, but I was wrong to do that. Digital art is something new. And the old rules, the old advice, some of it doesn’t work anymore. We have to invent new advice. And I think this is what I’m trying to do too.
When I explain something on Twitter, it’s not to attack anybody. Sometimes people ask me things, and I have to explain what I’m doing because it’s working for me, but maybe not for others. Sometimes, it’s more about building our own advice by failing a lot. Because I love failing. It’s like, okay, I failed, let’s try again. That’s better than affecting what successful artists did before you. It worked for them, but maybe not for you.