Life is Surreal
West Lebanon, IN, USA (2022)
About: (Preface: I'm including the original text from when I completed this project in July of 2022, and will follow up afterwards with my current thoughts in relation to AI - as of September 2023)
For some backstory, I wanted a way to tie together some of the keywords that the community had gathered, but REALLY did not want to paint some typical Midwestern mural, with various livestock or historical snapshots collaged together (or God forbid, the name of the town in a postcard-esque style).
With the recent emergence of ML and AI in art, I tried incorporating that into my brainstorming sessions. I spent a full day thumbnailing sketches, running those through various iterations of Disco Diffusion, making some tweaks and changes and sketching/changing compositions for it, and finally came up with an image of these non-chicken chicken-flower things.
At least, it conveyed a similar feeling to seeing some chickens grazing in a field. I was trying for something pastoral and this somehow seemed to capture it.
So, after a video call with the community, in which they chose the initial sketch version, I set to work cutting out various aspects and painting in my own details and changes in Procreate. After a few more changes upon arrival at the wall and a week of painting, this was the outcome of the piece.
I call it, “Life is Surreal”.
Big thanks again to Tetia Lee of The Arts Federation - TAF and the community of West Lebanon, Indiana who provided me with more food than even I could eat in a week and an air-conditioned fire station to cool down in between my hourly sun baking sessions.
Thoughts as of September 2023:
When planning out this mural, the "AI" of the time had just come out as publicly available as pre-planning started around January/February 2022 and the negative aspects around what has come to be known as AI Image Generation had not yet come to light. Likewise, Image Gens with pay-to-play models such as Midjourney or Stable Diffusion didn't yet exist (or were still in Beta stages). Due to this, I was unaware of how the image gens were trained and that they were built upon not only publically accessible and creative commons images, but that they were largely built on and taking advantage of private and otherwise stolen/unlicensed artworks. I would love to say that this image wasn't affected by such instances of widespread theft as the only name used was that of the late 19th/early 20th-century illustrator, Franklin Booth; A name which didn't seem to correlate with any of the resulting imagery as he worked in black and white, but for some reason when combined with my sketches, created a kind of oil-paint-esque feel to the resulting imagery. Honestly, at the time, I thought that it was kind of a collective view on the public images up to this point when combined with my prompt, but I think that's probably less the case now. 

At the end of the day, the entire situation is a bit troubling and confusing for me. For a long time, I had just taken this artwork offline, despite putting so much time and effort into it, and working nearly 2 weeks of 12-15 hour days in 100+ degree heat (Fahrenheit) to finish the actual painting (even going so far as to work through the night one day to avoid the heatstroke which had taken me out of commission the previous day).  I was even happy at the time to experiment with something so different, and the final work, being over 50ft wide, is obviously taking a lot of my own diffusion-esque input as the resulting image from Disco Diffusion was only 1024px x 512px.  I really felt that I had made something original, and without exploiting or hurting anyone else. Yet, purely by association with the term "AI", the months of collaborating with TAF and locals of West Lebanon were tarnished.

Today, in September 2023, I wouldn't use present-day Image Gens for any current projects because of how they're currently trained and how even when prompting long-dead artists, the generators themselves are still influenced by stolen works. I hope that these "tools", as they're being referred to by some, are rebuilt from the ground up with ethics in mind. Until then, this piece holds a very complicated place in my heart. 
(the full prompt used is available here​​​​​​​
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