@pocobelli Published August 4, 2023

What’s your background and how did you get into AI art?

I’m an Italian-Canadian artist based out of Berlin. I moved to Germany from Canada in 2016 to pursue my ambitions as an artist, and discovered blockchain NFTs in 2020. I studied studio art at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. Midway through my studies I started taking classes in English literature and found there was more ‘brain food’ in them, so I eventually did a Masters in English on J.G. Ballard’s experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition. Trying to decode this cryptic text, I learned many of the philosophical underpinnings of Surrealism and associated traditions (e.g. Dada), which themselves were often literary. Sade, Lauteamont, Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few examples, all had a deep influence on the Surrealists. So I never felt like I deviated too far from the visual arts studying Ballard, as his biggest influences were artists, particularly the Surrealists. In other words, as an artist, I felt like it was full-circle to study a writer whose main influences were artists.

Although I had began seeing and even experimenting a bit with AI art back when Google Deep Dream was released in 2015, I didn’t really take AI art particularly seriously until I saw the work of Str4ngeThing on the Tezos blockchain in 2022, shortly after I had began my Artist Journal YouTube channel, where I discuss interesting art that I see in the NFT scene. After a few shows of discussion, where Str4ngeThing would respond on Twitter, I decided to setup Midjourney and Stable Diffusion to see what I could create.

“Sybil” by Pocobelli

What drives you to create?

At the core, I see art as a form of qualitative knowledge that reveals aspects of reality that science cannot because it’s limited to quantitative data. So ultimately I see art as a means of investigation, with the primary objects of study being ourselves, i.e. human nature, and the world.

There’s also a sense of trying to do something meaningful with our brief time on this planet. I could have pursued money, and might have done quite well, but there’s an overwhelming sense inside that there are bigger stakes at play — that it’s more important to do something relevant with my life — than whether I live in a big house or not. And so when I make art, one of the main goals is to make something that’s relevant, asking myself the hard questions: Does the world need this work? Am I contributing anything to the eternal conversation of art history by producing this work? Am I producing anything that deserves to be remembered? Because if the answer is no to any of these questions, then the work probably isn’t ‘relevant’ in my books. It’s a high standard, but it’s what I strive for.

What does your workflow look like?

Most of the time I start on the smartphone, whether it’s using Midjourney on the Discord app or making digital works in Sketchbook Pro. Beyond that I use a multitude of various apps, sometimes just for one tiny little obscure tool, to get to my desired result.

I enjoy using appropriated imagery, such as screenshots and art history as starting points for a work. By using images from our common visual vocabulary I feel like I’m more likely to make a work that relates to the viewer while speaking to the greater issues that society in our time is dealing with. Again, these decisions are made in the quest of relevance.

It’s often important for me to be using multiple hardware and software tools. I use an iPhone, iPad, and Mac laptop, often for the same piece, for example. Working with your fingers on the phone, a stylus on the iPad, and the mouse on a laptop, all have their different impacts on a work.

I also place a lot of importance of the idea of exporting and using different software tools to achieve works that are not possible otherwise. In the digital sphere, using different programs is akin to using different mediums and brushes in physical painting. Without those tools certain results simply aren’t possible, so software is incredibly important—crucial—in the creation process, as the oil painting medium was for renaissance painters. AI is just an extension of this—another tool that produces results only it can produce.

“Centaur” by Pocobelli

How do you imagine AI (art) will be impacting society in the near future?

I think AI art is going to produce some of the most beautiful artworks ever made. In the last year I feel like we’ve broken the most new ground visually as a result of AI artworks, so I feel the impact will be massive.

The process in creating AI art is much more akin to an editor than a writer. For example, creating an AI artwork is very similar to a newspaper editor asking a reporter to write a story. The editor then edits the article they receive back, changing the headline, adjusting the article text, removing paragraphs, adding sentences, fixing grammar and punctuation etc.

This is a completely different way of working, which is enabling people with no technical training in drawing or painting to become serious artists in their own right — and I fully support this. Many people have a great eye, but simply never had the opportunity to pursue their passion in the visual arts. In some respects, I see AI as a second chance for almost everyone to become an artist. Critics often say AI uses a lot of previous art as its source content, but so does techno and hip hop, and nobody is questioning the legitimacy of those music genres.

So yes, AI art will help us tell the visual stories about ourselves and our time in ways that only it can. And in that respect, the cultural impact it will have will likely be quite profound and long lasting.

“Maenad” by Pocobelli

Who is your favourite artist?

My favorite artist is actually a writer, J.G. Ballard. Ballard’s conceptual foundation impacts me far more than most visual artists, although if I had to pick some, I would say, Sigmar Polke, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Max Ersnt, Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte.

My favorite AI artist is Str4ngeThing, for his originality, prolificacy, and hustle. All of these things are required to become a successful artist, and I admire his intense focus, and attempts to do new things to dazzle viewers on a daily basis.

I also like the work of Tu’ukz out of Brazil, who has created several innovative compositions that use color in a way that I’m not sure we would have ever seen had the work not been created with AI.

Another standout is Graphica who has used AI to create incredibly interesting compositions and textures.

“Charlene” by Robert Rauschenberg, 1954

What is your favourite prompt when creating art?

I use the ‘blend’ prompt more than anything, so I actually rarely use words in my AI art. My favorite thing to do right now is to take artworks I’ve previously made from my Screen Memories series and blend them together using Midjourney, and then processing them afterwards, often using different apps on my phone, including sometimes Instagram filters, for example. Another thing I’m doing is blending earlier unfinished versions of artworks, which is also producing very interesting results. The possibilities really are endless once you get going with AI art making.

Do you have a specific project you’re currently working on? What is it?

Yes, I’m taking renaissance artworks that I had painted over previously and am now blending them all together. The results have been surprising and interesting for me, and may even influence my current ‘manual’ processes. One of my main themes an as artist is what I call “traveling through the mediums”, from digital to physical and back—everything in conversation — and right now I’m dialoguing between AI and my manual digital creations and both are influencing the other.

I also continue to work on the Screen Memories and Related Images series (both non-AI art series), as well as a small follow up to The Peloponnesian War art book I finished in 2021.

AI Frenzy” by Pocobelli

Would you tell us about the AI Surrealism exhibition in NYC?

Yes, it was a very well put together show by Anna Dart, Roger Haus, Exquisite Workers, Superchief Gallery NFT, and the team were among the most organized I’ve ever worked with in the arts. I made a work “In The Studio” where I combined Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, and Hieronymus Bosch as part of a challenge. I thought “AI Surrealism” was an excellent and very professionally run show.

In The Studio” by Pocobelli, exclusively for AI Surrealism, 2023.

AI Surrealism show by Exquisite Workers Superchief Gallery NFT at the Oculus, NYC, 2023 with Marina Ahmadova, Abyssinto, Georgina Hooper, Pocobelli, and 95 other artists.

What does it mean to be an AI Surrealist for you in the times we live in?

AI software might be the most disruptive art tool since the invention of Photoshop. It provides a unique opportunity for people with little drawing talent and excellent judgement to create stunning works of art in a completely new manner. The exponential speed at which the technology is improving will only increase its ubiquity and importance as a major new art-making tool.

AI Surrealism show by Exquisite Workers Superchief Gallery NFT at the Oculus, NYC, 2023 with Pocobelli, KRAN, Danielle King and 97 other artists.

AI Surrealism show official flyer by Exquisite Workers Superchief Gallery NFT. Exhibition of 100 AI artists curated by Anna Dart and Roger Haus.

Would you tell us about your Youtube Weekly AI Channel?

I’d wanted to start an artist journal for a few years, loosely based on David Bowie’s private detective figure in the album Outside — I imagined this guy in a trenchcoat walking down rainy streets talking into his tape recorder. I tried a few times with mixed results, and in August 2022, I made another attempt at it on Spotify discussing all of the interesting art that I was seeing on the Tezos blockchain. I posted the first one to Twitter and was pretty surprised that I actually got a response from a couple of people, so I made another one, where I mused out loud that it should probably be a YouTube show since I was discussing art. Again, surprisingly to me, I got a couple of responses that said, “Yeah, put it on video”, and so I did, and that’s how it started. Had those people not responded I don’t think it ever would have made it to video.

Now it’s been almost a year and I’ve been continually surprised by the enthusiasm for the show, but it makes sense. As an artist you struggle to get any attention at all, so when somebody starts making videos discussing your work, it’s natural to be excited about it. As Poppel said a while ago, “Look Mom—I’m on TV!” It became this feedback loop between Twitter and YouTube, where I would make the video on YouTube, post it to Twitter, and then the artists would often retweet and share it to their feeds, which in turn helped grow the show, so it’s very much a win-win for everyone involved.

So all to say, it’s been a lot of fun. We just passed 1000 subscribers and there continues to be a small but growing audience for the show. I release a show Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and we do a Twitter Spaces on Wednesday, so it’s been a time commitment, but it’s all worth it, and I really do think there’s an unreported revolution going on in the digital art scene, so there’s something worth discussing in it. I call it the second generation of digital art, as many of Today’s digital artists grew up with video games, and it seems to have been a massive influence on artists’ work, which you can see in genres like pixel art, which we cover heavily.

Anything else you would like to share?

Yes, the key thing for beginners is simply to spend time with the software. If you’re going to be on your phone, you might as well be learning something, so I would just suggest to try things out and be patient. Before you know it, you’ll stumble across an art process that interests you and generates positive results.

Operational Reasons” by Pocobelli

by @dreamingtulpa