Ahead of being featured in the MakersPlace-curated digital art exhibit at the Cleveland MOCA, MakersPlace sat down with graffiti artist turned animation director, Diego Bergia to learn more about his practice and the intersection of street art, videogames, animation, and web3.
Can you tell me about the piece FREEWAY DEGENZ? Are the characters in the piece real graffiti artists? Is it based on an actual piece, like your LA River Saber homage?
Yeah, well, it’s based on what was called in the 90s the Freeway Heavens. It might still be going on. Around that time in L.A., the highway signs were being bombed pretty often. GK and Chaka were doing it a lot, and the MSK crew. A lot of writers were getting up on these freeway signs, which is still just crazy to me. Imagine fucking cars whizzing by underneath you at 90 miles per hour or whatever. That’s some ballsy shit I could never do. So it’s not based on a specific piece, just a time and place.
Where did the name Lepos come from? I did some research and learned that, in Latin, lepos denotes pleasantness, charm, and grace. Greek also has its own lepos, which means husk.
That’s funny because I found those after the fact. Well, the Latin one for charm made me stick with it. Originally it was just from getting high one time and watching a horror movie called Night of the Lepus. It’s just a bunch of like these crazy, giant rabbits. I was pretty young, and I just thought it was the fucking weirdest word.
Anyone in the NFT space is familiar with the ubiquity of video game plans in just about every pfp roadmap. You’ve been working on a video game concept around Lepos and your friends in the graffiti world (Revok, Ces, Bates, and Giant) for over a decade. Has the “roadmap” approach piqued your interest?
I would love to make a video game and anyone that looks at my stuff can clearly tell that it’s videogame ready. I have a library of all the sprites and artwork that I’ve made. It’s program-ready to become a game. But roadmaps are a serious thing, and I wouldn’t put one out unless I knew I could deliver.
I don’t make NFTs as a full-time job. I wish I could live off of them, but I don’t right now. But if I could pay the bills and set aside money for a programmer, then that’s what I’d do. Before NFTs, promotion was a big consideration, but that seems to have changed a bit with web3 because you don’t necessarily need a company to do that for you.
The obstacle over the past 10 years has been that videogame studios are all about their own IP. You can’t pitch a game to a studio like you can pitch a TV show to a TV studio. It’s not the same. So that’s why I never really got anywhere then.
But back to the question. The roadmap thing I just would take it too seriously. Roadmaps are essential for certain projects. But a lot of people are just doing roadmaps to get people to buy their shit. And I would never do that unless I knew for sure I was going to deliver a game. Right now, I just don’t know if that’s a possibility. But yes, it’s a fucking game already. It just needs to be assembled and programmed.
How did the concept for The Primary Invasion come about? It reminds me of Burroughs’ Word Virus concept, but one that suits an artist more than Burroughs’ writerly linguistic terrors.
Honestly, it’s just from painting, brainstorming, and smoking a bit of weed. It just came to me once like, what if there was a new color? What would it do? It would probably open up people’s minds. People’s creativity would go crazy and it would probably change the world for the better. But then I started thinking about other ways it might affect people. Maybe it would tweak a part of people’s brain and make them go haywire. So in my story, everything starts off amazing but then soon it turns to chaos. That’s when humanity needs to be warned that this new primary color is dangerous and should not be looked at.
That sounds eerily parallel to a crypto story.
I know right? Yeah, that’s a crazy way to think about it.
This might be a dumb question, but what does the new primary color look like?
I just know that our brains wouldn’t be able to process it. And it would probably fuck us up.
How do you represent it in the game world?
Before the playable part of the game starts, the player gets a color wheel that keeps spinning until it lands on the color that the player wants to use as representing the new primary color — because if you look at the new primary color, you’ll die or go crazy or whatever. So it could change every time you play.
Are there any other projects that you’re working on? I know you work in a lot of different styles, so it seems like the sky’s the limit as far as your versatility goes.
I am a traditionally trained animator, and I also do 3D animation. So another way I get to collaborate with these great artists that I’ve always admired is to animate their stuff. I did some work with Buff Monster, taking his work and animating it, so it doesn’t look like my stuff. And I’m working on something with Dalek again.
And for work, I’ve created some games. I did an installation game with FAILE for the 2022 All-Star game that the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse; it’s still there. I did another game for Holt Renfrew, which is a high-end department store here in Toronto. I’ve had a lot of great jobs that, you know, are not web3, but they pay the bills.
Do you remember the moment your web3 cherry popped? What brought you into the space initially?
I remember exactly. I saw this documentary, Feels Good Man, about Pepe the Frog. Pepe was basically this guy’s Lepos, but it got hijacked by incel culture, and it was just totally out of his hands. Anyway, at some point in the documentary, there’s some guy leaning up against this lambo talking about how he’s made millions off of Pepe jpegs, and I was just like, “What the fuck?”
It took me a month or two to dig in, but I got on Clubhouse and started meeting people. And that’s when I started to get my head around it in early 2021. Then I marinated for a bit more before I did crypto bombing, and that was the first piece I did.
How has the opportunity that NFTs pose for digital artists affected how you conceptualize and execute new work?
It really hasn’t. My art actually hasn’t changed that much at all. I guess my recent pieces have been inspired by the space, but it hasn’t changed much. That Saber piece — the L.A. River piece — was done before I knew what an NFT was.
But I guess it’s made me think of collections. I never really thought of producing a collection with my art. So that’s one thing that I’ve changed.
Who inspires you most in this space that weren’t on your radar before web3 popped off?
Of the artists that I hadn’t heard of, I’d say Coldie, XCOPY, and Pop Wonder. All these guys have such a great style, they just stick to it, and they’re beasts. They just go at it, and their style is really their style. And that’s inspiring.
Do you own any NFTs?
Yeah, I’ve got some. I’ve got a Coldie about one of his Decentral Eyes pieces. I have some fun PFP ones that — the kind you buy for fun. But the ones I love the most are the ones I’ve done with my friends. And artists that I admire, like my collabs with Buff Monster, Mumbot, or Dalek. I’ll keep those forever. I don’t have anything crazy — like, I don’t own anything that’s over 1 or 1.5 Ether. I don’t have any baller pieces that I would call my holy grails or anything like that.
Do you have a holy grail NFT?
Everyone that I mentioned I would want. Buying a Pop Wonder or XCOPY would be great. I’d love to acquire a CryptoPunk. They’re as OG as it gets. I don’t care if there’s never any utility. I’d actually rather they never have any. They will most definitely stand the test of time.
Immediately following my interview with Diego, he sent me this:
“Crazy coincidence, check this new hit that got painted on the exact sign I put in my piece.”
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