by Doug Leunig
Big Picture’s very first mural titled, Abraham Blue, was unveiled in 2018 to a large crowd at the Peoria County Courthouse at the location where Lincoln made his historic speech against slavery in 1854. It was a proud day for the City of Peoria and mural artist Doug Leunig because the mural, with various blue hues, was much more than a beautiful portrait honoring this historic event. The 50-foot-high face of Abraham Lincoln, who himself suffered greatly from depression throughout his life, was a statement about the importance of removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Abraham Blue 2023 is a striking and realistic digital image created by using a variety of apps including artificial intelligence throughout the creative process. Abe is also now able to communicate with viewers through augmented reality about the significance of Lincoln at this very place in Peoria, as well as the significant role the community played in helping Lincoln in his ongoing battle with depression.
Viewers of the mural can download an augmented-reality app and experience Lincoln talking about the speech he made at the Peoria County Courthouse in 1854, his ongoing bouts of melancholia, and how the people in his life helped him address his mental health challenges and rise above adversity.
The reimagined Abraham Blue was made possible through a donation from The Carle Foundation and a grant from the State of Illinois, facilitated by Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth.
Abraham Blue 2023 by Doug Leunig
I created Abraham Blue as a symbol of hope for rising above adversity with the help of community. Lincoln was a complex and often troubled man, but he was also a survivor. He overcame many challenges in his life, including suicidal ideation, with the help of his friends and neighbors as he openly shared his sorrows. The power of human connection and the importance of seeking help when we are struggling is as relevant today as it was in Lincoln’s time.
In this portrait, I wanted to capture the strength and resilience of Lincoln’s character. His slight smile was inspired by a photograph taken by Alexander Gardner. It was one of the images I chose as a model in an artificial intelligence creation software called Midjourney. As an artist, I always have been quick to adopt new technologies and consider the computer to be my current paintbrush. I think Lincoln with his avid interest in new technologies and being the first president to be photographed would approve.
Additionally, with the help of a collaborative team designed an augmented reality feature into the work of art that will educate and guide others suffering from depression and PTSD who are willing to seek help. Through no fault of his own, Lincoln suffered mental illness and would not have been able to survive if he hadn’t reached out for help by talking about his despair.
Lincoln’s story is a reminder that having a mental health condition is not a weakness. It is my hope that this public art portrait will encourage others to break the stigma surrounding mental illness and seek help when they need it. Lincoln’s life shows us even the biggest difficulties are surmountable. Mental illness is a challenge that can be overcome with the right support.
Let’s stop the stigma and start talking openly and honestly. Let’s utilize all the tools we can gather to tackle this global epidemic of mental illness. One of those tools we can use is the arts. The arts have the ability to heal ourselves and our community. The arts create joy. The arts foster collaboration. The arts are self-expression. All of which gives us the power to rise above adversity. The arts have the power to heal. My hope is that we wield that power to solve the puzzle of mental health to become the best example of what works in Peoria works in the world.