When Greta Thunberg delivered her “Our house is on fire” speech in Davos in 2019, she galvanized hundreds of thousands of school students to strike for the climate. The address was unique and powerful in her urgency, but what did it look like in color? What shades, textures and shapes could be attributed to her words?
An artist tried to answer this question by transcribing Thunberg’s voice in a painting that will debut at Sotheby’s next month.
Jack Coulter – who has synaesthesia, a neurological condition that merges the senses – has based his work, Future Generations, on a line of Thunberg’s discourse that calls for the safeguarding of “living conditions for future generations”.
The artist, whose fans include Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway, forged a career by putting music on canvas: he painted Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto live alongside the London Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, and was commissioned by the estate to Freddie Mercury to represent the track Mr Bad Guy. But this “was very different from anything before,” he said.
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“There is an enormous amount of doubt and ignorance on the part of world ‘leaders’ about the climate emergency,” he said. “As a young man, he seems to scream into space. I am 20 years old and I am terrified for my future; I can’t imagine the fears of future generations. I don’t want to look back thinking that I could have done more ”.
The Northern Irish artist said he was “fed up” when he started talking to Thunberg about the painting. In addition to her words, she transcribed the British band’s music in the 1975 adaptation of the speech, which sets a similar essay by Thunberg on an ambient arrangement. “The additional musical element was an important aspect of the final visual of the painting. It was inspiring, hopeful, destructive, melancholy and assertive all at once, ”Coulter said.
The work will be part of the Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction between 7 and 13 September and it is estimated that it will reach 20,000 pounds, with the proceeds going to the Greta Thunberg Foundation. It will also be exhibited in Sotheby’s galleries on New Bond Street.
“Greta is the voice of our generation,” Coulter said. “[She] is independent and I am an independent artist. It was a very organic and truthful process. We are currently facing the most important problem that humanity has ever faced; there is a deep sense of dread. It’s as if our actions don’t make a difference or don’t help. Still, that’s not true at all. Together, the little things can become the big things. In the world of auctions, this painting is an opportunity to help. “
The artist walks a path traveled by many famous names before him: the likes of David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh and Joan Mitchell have all been linked to synaesthesia and have intuitively translated sensory experiences into great visual works.
“At the heart of my process, I’m reacting to sound in real time,” said Coulter, whose early work was based on the timbres of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday. “I try to represent exactly what I am experiencing, whether it is a certain shade, tone or shape. The colors that resonate from specific sounds are so powerful ”. Capturing the overall feel of a track was just as important as bringing his colors to life, he said. “I built an almost visual vocabulary to combine painting and music.”
Speaking of the artwork, Thunberg said: “Our current society is on a collision course with our life support systems. The world we thought we knew no longer exists. The present and future living conditions for life. on Earth as we know it they are being sacrificed so that a small number of people can continue to make unimaginable sums of money. Humanity is approaching a precipice, but it is not too late to turn around. For this to happen, we must be ready. to change everything. ”Coulter’s painting, he said, aims to” raise awareness of the climate crisis. “
Lisa Stevenson, head of curated sales at Sotheby’s, said: “The noise that Jack Coulter transmits through painting is nothing short of unique and it is very exciting to see this piece at Sotheby’s less than a year after its auction debut, which he has seen collectors all over the world compete for his work ”.