When Greta Thunberg handed her over “Our house is burning” In her speech in Davos in 2019, she urged hundreds of thousands of school students to strike for the climate. The title was unique and strong in its urgency, but how did it look in color? What shapes, textures, and shapes can be attributed to her words?
One artist sought to answer this very question, by transcribing Thunberg’s voice in a panel that will debut at Sotheby’s next month.
Jack Coulter—who suffers from synesthesia, a neurological condition that mixes the senses—founded his work, Future Generations, on a line in Thunberg’s letter calling for the protection of “the living conditions of posterity.”
The artist, whose fans include Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway, has shaped his career by putting music on canvas – he painted Mendelssohn’s violin concerto along with the London Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, and was commissioned by the Freddie Mercury estate to depict the track of Mr. Bad Guy. But this, he said, “was very different from anything before.”
“There is a tremendous amount of skepticism and ignorance on the part of the world’s ‘leaders’ surrounding the climate emergency,” he said. “As a young person, it’s like you’re screaming into the void. I’m in my twenties and afraid for my future. I can’t imagine the fears of future generations. I don’t want to look back to think I could have done more.”
The Northern Irish artist said he was “tired” when he started contacting Thunberg about the painting. Besides her lyrics, he transcribed music from the British band adapted in 1975 for speech, which puts a similar essay by Thunberg on ambient arrangement. “The additional musical element was an important aspect of the final visual look of the drawing. It was inspiring, upbeat, devastating, sad and resolute all at once,” Coulter said.
The work will be part of Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction between September 7 and 13 and is estimated to fetch up to £20,000, with proceeds going to Greta Thunberg Establishment. It will also be shown in Sotheby’s on New Bond Street.
“Greta is the voice of our generation,” Coulter said. “[She] Independent, I am a freelance artist. It was a very organic and honest process. We are currently facing the most important issue humanity has ever faced; There is a deep-rooted sense of dread. It’s as if our actions don’t make a difference or help. However, this is not true at all. Together, the little things can become big things. In the auction world, this painting is an opportunity to help.”
The artist walks a path taken by many famous names before him – the likes of David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh and Joan Mitchell, all linked by synesthesia, intuitively translating sensory experiences into great visual works.
“At the core of my work, I interact with sound in real time,” said Coulter, whose early work was based on Bell Miles Davis, Daisy Gillespie and Billie Holiday. “I try to portray exactly what I’m experiencing, whether it’s with a certain degree of shade, color or shape. Colors that resonate with certain sounds are very powerful.” He said capturing the overall feel of the track was just as important as reviving its colors. “I have created a semi-visual vocabulary to integrate drawing and music.”
Speaking of the artwork, Thunberg said: “Our current society is on a collision course with our life-supporting systems. The world we thought we knew no longer exists. The present and future living conditions of life on Earth as we know it are sacrificed so that a few people can continue to make unimaginable amounts of money. Humanity is now approaching the abyss, but it is not too late to turn around. For that to happen, we must be ready to change everything.” Coulter’s panel, she said, aims to “raise awareness of the climate crisis.”
Lisa Stevenson, Head of Coordinating Sales at Sotheby’s, said: “The hype that Jack Coulter is conveying through the paint is nothing short of unique, and it is very exciting to see this piece at Sotheby’s less than a year since it was auctioned, which has seen collectors have a lot of fun. Artistic. The world competes for his work.”