Laura-Beth McDonald is a visual artist and project manager living on the Lekwungen Territory in Victoria, BC. Her community-focused art uses creativity to bring people together and find connections. She is the founder of the Esquimalt Community Arts Hub and part of an artist collective exploring graffiti as placemaking.
With their project entitled “Automatic Landscapes: Exploring the Art of Jean Paul Riopelle through AI” to be displayed at the Malahat Skywalk from June to September, 2023, Laura-Beth McDonald and Juan Ramirez are giving the public an opportunity to (re)discover the work of Canadian painter Jean Paul Riopelle .
Their project centres around a series of workshops, where participants can learn about Riopelle’s life and work and use the artificial intelligence-image generator Midjourney to reimagine the artist’s work in a modern-day context.
Using descriptive language prompts and activities designed to educate participants about AI capabilities, the final exhibition will consist of large-scale art installations set within the stunning Vancouver Island landscape of Malahat Skywalk’s mature arbutus and Douglas fir forests. Visitors will experience the Riopelle-inspired works, while learning more about the artist’s life and artistic repertoire.
Community engagement is a core part of the project because the entire final exhibition is created from images generated in a series of workshops with young people, students and artists.
Laura-Beth and Juan held exploration and learning sessions with young people at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, students at Frances Kelsey Secondary School and artists from around the province hosted by Arts BC. They also intend to hold a final session with students at North Island Secondary School and with Creative Coast, a Vancouver Island-based arts organization with a mandate to increase access to art and technology across the region.
During the sessions, participants completed a variety of hands-on and virtual educational activities that included creating magazine collages to mimic the working process of AI-image generators, such as Midjourney. Groups also tried to “reverse engineer” a simple image using descriptive language and sequences of word combinations that were then fed into the AI-image generator.
The sessions taught participants about the benefits and drawbacks of tools such as AI-image generators, yet allowed everyone to experience the magic of seeing words turn into stunning visuals, all contextualized within the style of Jean Paul Riopelle and Canadian painting.
RELATION TO RIOPELLE’S WORK
During the engagement sessions, Laura-Beth taught participants about themes in Jean Paul Riopelle’s work and shared images from his collection to inspire workshop participants. Juan provided language prompts that shared a connection to Riopelle’s technique, subjects and art historical context, while encouraging participants to think about what Riopelle’s work would look like today or even 100 years into the future.
Focusing on Riopelle’s deep connection to nature, the engagement sessions also highlighted the Malahat Skywalk and the breath-taking natural surroundings where the final exhibition takes place. Participants were given a virtual tour of the Skywalk and invited to image the final pieces set within the forested landscape of Vancouver Island.
AI-generated images are a controversial, but important topic and one in which Riopelle would have likely engaged, being somewhat of a modern-day rebel himself. Throughout the project, we were able to not only have in-depth and meaningful discussions about the ethical use of AI-image generators, but also use the tool as an incredibly accessible, fun and enjoyable way to (re-)imagine the work of a celebrated and beloved Canadian painter.
The project was structured to bring participants of all ages together and allow then to see their words transform into works of art, all inspired and contextualized through the lens of Jean Paul Riopelle.
We are excited to see the final outdoor exhibition come together in a truly unique and supernatural experience.
Realized within the framework of the centenary
The creation of the Foundation was inspired by the dream of Jean Paul Riopelle, who wished to pass on his passion for art, his vision and inspire the next generation of artists to explore, innovate and surpass their creative potential.