When Greta Thunberg gave her “Our House is on Fire” speech in Davos in 2019, she galvanized hundreds of thousands of students to strike for the climate. The address was unique and powerful in its urgency, but what did it look like in color? What hues, textures and shapes could we attribute to his words?
An artist has sought to answer that question by transcribing Thunberg’s voice into a painting that will debut at Sotheby’s next month.
Jack Coulter – who suffers from synesthesia, a neurological condition that mixes up the senses – based his work, Future Generations, on a line from Thunberg’s speech that calls for safeguarding “living conditions for future generations”.
The artist, whose fans include Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway, has carved out a career putting music to canvas – he painted Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto live alongside the London Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, and was commissioned by the Freddie Mercury estate to portray the Mr Bad Guy follower. But it “was very different from anything that had happened before,” he said.
“There is a huge amount of doubt and ignorance on the part of world ‘leaders’ around the climate emergency,” he said. “As a youngster, I felt like I was screaming into the void. I’m in my twenties and terrified for my future; I can’t imagine the fears of future generations. I don’t want to look back thinking I could have done more.
The Northern Irish artist said he was “fed up” when he started communicating with Thunberg about the painting. Along with his lyrics, he transcribed the music for the British band’s 1975 speech adaptation, which places a similar essay by Thunberg in an ambient arrangement. “The additional musical element was an important aspect for the final visual of the painting. It was inspiring, hopeful, destructive, melancholy and affirming all at once,” Coulter said.
The work will be part of Sotheby’s Contemporary auction from September 7-13 and is expected to fetch up to £20,000, with 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’m 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 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, small things can become big things. In the auction world, this chart is a chance to help.
The artist is following a path trodden by many famous names before him – figures like David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh and Joan Mitchell have all been linked to synesthesia and intuitively translated sensory experiences into great visual works.
“At the heart of my process, I react 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 describe exactly what I feel, whether it’s a certain nuance, a tone or a shape. Colors that resonate from specific sounds are so powerful. Capturing the overall feel of a track was just as important as bringing its colors to life, he said. “I built an almost visual vocabulary to merge painting and music.”
Speaking of the artwork, Thunberg said, “Our current society is on a collision course with our vital 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 being sacrificed so that a small number of people can continue to earn unimaginable sums of money. Humanity is now approaching a precipice, but it is not too late to turn back. For that to happen, we have to be ready to change everything. Coulter’s painting, she said, aims to “raise awareness of the climate crisis”.
Lisa Stevenson, Head of Organized Sales at Sotheby’s, said: “The sound that Jack Coulter conveys through the painting is simply unique, and it is very exciting to see this piece at Sotheby’s less than a year after its debut at auction. , who have seen collectors around the world vying for his work.