- Fractal Encrypt
About The Artist
Bitcoin Full Node No. 4 is a beautiful and highly original piece of laser cut art that intricately depicts the 2020 Bitcoin Halving like nothing you’ve ever seen. I first clapped my eyes on this wonder when I bought a copy of Knut Svalholm’s second book, Independence Reimagined, which features it as the cover art. So when my friends at 21ism asked me to interview its creator for the next block, I did an impromptu body-popping set in my lounge before firing up Zoom. Who wouldn’t? It’s Bitcoin Full Node – made of wood!
My conversation (the recording of which is available here) with artist FractalEncrypt took place on an early Saturday morning in January 2021. He was at home sipping on hot coffee and eager to spill the beans about his work, his creative journey and the interplay between his imagination and the world of Bitcoin.
THE INTERVIEW 1/4
"The software that I was using was called Mandel Bulb 3d – it’s an open source project whose original creator disappeared and it’s now maintained by the community."
I wanted to firstly know where his interesting pseudonym came from. “The name actually came from a long standing love of fractals, both fractal geometry and the creation of fractals” he said, before pointing out the parallels between the open-source fractal generation software he used and Bitcoin in both its genesis and ongoing development.
Using the computer’s processor, he was able to generate fractal patterns in the similar way to how a modern Bitcoin miner can generate bitcoin. He ended up having so much fun with the process that it became a speciality of his, leading to what is now a central theme in his creations.
But where did his creativity originate and his artist journey begin? “I think my parents noticed at an early age that I just liked art, they sent me to some painting classes. And it just kind of sparked something in me. I was four or five years old at that point. And some of the things that the teacher taught me in that class, I still remember to this day – it was just amazing”.
His teacher helped him to look at the true colours of skies beyond boilerplate blue, and how light and shade can change in a scene over time. Hearing these insights and applying them to a fresh canvas at that young age had a transformative effect – giving rise to a lifetime of creative pursuits on a multitude of mediums.
He’s made jewellery, T-shirts, worked with vinyl, 3D and CNC machines and enjoyed early grassroots success making and selling LSD blotter art as tiny framed pieces in the car parks of Grateful Dead concerts. One design featured a mandala with the recipe to make 31,000 doses of high-grade LSD.
"One of the things that’s powerful to me about art is that it’s a way to tell stories – you can actually encode information inside images. Depending on how explicit or non explicit you are, it can protect that information. So if they take away the internet or burn our books and go Fahrenheit 451 on us, we actually have art that encodes this information."
He’d hit a resonant note – people loved them and he quickly sold out. His sharp business sense and entrepreneurial spirit led him to renting RVs and doing full-scale official vending booths up and down the US, travelling to all sorts of places and meeting like-minded people.
"We’d have conversations and build connections through music, art and community – that was very powerful."
Whilst our man’s formative years saw him drawing with pencils and paper, he ultimately jumped into digital media as the bridge to his more recent focus with laser cutters. At first, he was a little reluctant to use computers to make art. “I thought, oh, digital arts is cheating”. But serendipity found him at a makerspace in Miami which was home to a laser cutter. He was tempted, and enrolled in a course on it to learn more about it. “I went in, they showed me how to use it. They said you can pick any picture on the internet and we’ll cut it”. So he chose his own art which his tutors helped him to import onto a computer and Adobe Illustrator.
"It was kind of intimidating – it’s got all these buttons and weird stuff."
Undeterred, he went home that weekend and was amazed with what he could do. “I was able to draw on an infinite canvas. I used to have huge paper sheets taped to the wall. And now all this stuff is happening in the background, and I’m actually able to focus on the creative part of it, rather than how I hold it up so I can draw on it.”
This moment of revelation for him came in 2012 and resulted in his falling down the digital art rabbit hole, only re-emerging to kick ideas and sketches off in a small notebook. Despite having mastered AI, “everything still starts in paper and pen” for him.
THE INTERVIEW 2/4
In 2012, Bitcoin was a toddling three year old, so I wanted to know at what point after finding the digital path did he catch wind of digital money.
"They say it has to touch your life a few times before it actually clicks. I used to be a moderator in an underground web forum and a lot of people would chat there about the dark webs and bitcoins. I remember the Gawker article coming out when Bitcoin was $7 – I think it crashed from $70 to $7 at that time."
He was curious and thought the concept was interesting, but didn’t think any more about it until a fan of his work from Brazil reached out to him in 2015 wanting to buy a piece of his with Bitcoin. He agreed, and after a quick tutorial from the same customer on how to set-up a wallet and accept the bitcoin, the transaction was done – netting our artist 3.1 BTC (at the time worth around $200 each). The experience was so seamless, he forgot about it until a friend asked him whether he knew where he could get some Bitcoin from a few months later. Fractal remembered he had some but hadn’t paid it any attention since his sale. When he checked the new Bitcoin price “I just about fell out of my seat” – his $660 art sale was now worth $2,000.
Another nudge from the same friend later that year was the final impetus he needed to give it a more serious look, but not without a mucky encounter with shitcoins.
"I lost all that money and time. Hodling shitcoins is like the worst idea you could ever have. I learned that the hard way."
Not long after, he spotted an opportunity for selling digital art in the form of NFTs, and was encouraged by other artists’ seeming success with the concept on Ethereum.
“I became very interested in that and started doing some investigations of it, playing around with smart contracts – it seemed interesting”. This was in early 2018 and he was struck by how it was suddenly possible for digital art to be monetised when copy & paste buttons are built into every digital device. “I thought oh, this is gonna be a revolution”.
But he soon had concerns about trying to lock stores of digital value into what he describes as Ethereum’s “weird Rube Goldberg” type network. He decided not to pursue it, but is optimistic about revisiting it at some point with Bitcoin-hosted options.
THE INTERVIEW 2/4
"I was not really ready for that kind of reaction.
He carried on with business as usual, making art and exploring his craft before plunging himself into a seven-month journey of dedicated focus to create his Bitcoin Full Node sculpture. After he started carving it, he spoke to another well-known and established artist in the space, Cryptograffiti, to bounce ideas off and gain some valuable mentorship. This gave him the confidence boost he needed to continue with his project, resulting in a phenomenal end product.
How have people responded to it? “It’s actually been overwhelming. I took a risk, went off on my own and offline and started working on this. I went low time-preference [but] just wasn’t sure if there’s any payoff at the end. You don’t really know how the world’s going to react. But it was truly amazing.”
He posted a video of his mocked-up creation on January 3 2020 – the Bitcoin Genesis Block Anniversary – despite not having quite finished it. “It was just the pieces laying on top of each other.” But more than 30,000 people saw his video and he was showered with attention.
As luck would have it, at the same time, a large Bitcoin conference was happening in his local area and they let him put the piece out on display. One of the speakers purchased it. He couldn’t believe it.
"Oh my God! This is just crazy."
His gamble had paid off and the success spurred him on to create piece Number 4, dedicated to the Bitcoin Halving in May 2020.
“That’s a major event that we all just witnessed. It’s neat to be able to iterate within a series because it’s laser cut, because each one is done individually, no two have been identical, each one has iterations and changes, although there’s dramatic changes between the first one through three”.
Bitcoin Full Node Sculpture
THE INTERVIEW 3/4
For piece number four, he wanted to add some new elements to avoid replicating his previous pieces too closely, and to add some interesting new features. I wanted to know where the idea to create a Bitcoin Full Node that depicted Bitcoin as Mayan wheel-style circular timepiece came from. Did it just come to him or was there a moment that spurred it?
“It was at a San Francisco Bitcoin conference in 2019. Somebody described Bitcoin like a clock and when I heard that statement, it just set off some fireworks in my head. I started to see it not only as a clock, but also as a calendar. If you look at some of my previous art, my old drawings I’ve done a lot with Mayan calendar-inspired things, using glyphs to tell stories and different layers, I thought there are enough layers in Bitcoin to create a piece – so the seed was planted there.”
It turned out that the conference was just down the street from Haight Ashbury – the neighborhood at the epicentre of 1960s hippie and counterculture. During the break, he took a walk over to the old Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury.
“It’s funny how everything connects”, reflecting on his time on Grateful Dead tours, and pointing out that the worlds and communities of psychedelics, music and computer communities intersected there too.
If his Full Node as a standalone art piece isn’t stunning enough already, he has hopes to make it functional at some point as a fully-enabled GUI that can connect to an actual electronic node. “At the very base level, my idea was to create a design that you could plug into a Bitcoin Core full node. When you have your Bitcoin Core full node running, Bitcoin has a graphical user interface. But instead of using the traditional graphical user interface, I’d plug this in, and you could use it to search through transactions, create transactions and look up specific transactions”.
"I came up with a couple iterations that I was very happy with – and here we are."
THE INTERVIEW 4/4
He’s not messing around either – not only does the piece include the full issuance schedule and Bitcoin consensus rules, he’s set-up a GitHub page mapping out his incredible vision for bringing his working GUI idea to life. Art-loving coders take note – he wants to make this happen.
The current piece itself consists – naturally – of 21 layers that gorgeously combine to tell a complete story. For me personally, one of the most beautiful aspects is how the issuance schedule is depicted, with air gap-style cut-outs that begin with 10,500 million bitcoin, with spaces thereafter halving in size as the calendar tracks each subsequent halving era. Another is the Merkle Trees, which Fractal loves too, describing this element as a rabbit hole itself – densely packing in the most information of all of the layers.
“Merkle Tres are basically a data structure where, in essence, each new block references all the information in the previous block” he explained. “And if it’s not perfect, then it doesn’t go in the chain. So Merkle trees are extremely important to the way that Bitcoin functions.”
He decided to include 21 trees to represent 21 million bitcoin, split into three clusters of seven trees, each connected by blocks. But not just any old blocks, though – he used Archimedean and Platonic solids, giving a unique shape to each block as a testament to the uniqueness of each Bitcoin block.
Other features include three pillars to represent what he describes as the ‘social, technical and financial components’ of Bitcoin.
The social element speaks to community, peer-to-peer level engagement, game theory, human emotion and other praxeological areas.
The technical component seeks to explore what’s under Bitcoin’s bonnet – how it works, what it uses, SHA-256, ECDSA, linked time stamping and equations from the original Bitcoin White Paper.
The financial component draws on what Fractal learned from Bitcoin luminaries like Saifedean Ammous about Bitcoin’s monetary policy and properties – divisibility, fungibility, portability, digital scarcity, and more.
So much more. Look for yourself. It’s a masterpiece. And I for one plan to be in the auction room with my paddle ready when Fractal puts this up for sale on 5th February 2021. See you on Scarce.City
To learn more about FractalEncrypt’s story and hear what he has planned for the future, check out my audio interview with him on the 21ism podcasts page. This incredible piece of Bitcoin art is being auctioned for sale on 5th February – a date chosen by him and the team at Scarce City who are hosting the auction in order to coincide with the release of this interview. If you want to get a chance to own it, the auction runs for 24 hours until 6th Feb 3:33pm EST.
Check out FractalEncrypt’s article going into all the details of his Full Node on Bitcoin Magazine.
Thanks, FractalEncrypt, for taking the time to speak with me.