We are getting towards the end of the run of Sunderland Museum & Winter Garden’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing exhibition. It closes on 6th May so it really is your last chance to view right here in the North East. I’ve been so immersed in the project and eagerly seeing audiences’ responses – that it’s dawned on me; Leonardo da Vinci was just a man…. a super talented one, but just a human none the less. His legacy and the impact of his work, has given him this almost super human status across so many sectors.
Then I got thinking that I wonder in 500 years from now, who are the artists that we might be celebrating (in a similar way to 2019’s Leonardo 500 campaign) for their works and legacy? Which artists are walking amongst us as fellow humans, who might someday hold this super human Leonardo-esque status?
Copyright Royal Collection Trust
And if that’s the case, I wish we could find them and champion them now, when they are living. So a month or so ago, I caught up Sunderland lass, artist and curator Michaela Wetherell and I posed her the question….”who do you think could be classed as the NEXT Leonardo da Vinci?”.
Da Vinci was an innovator, designer, maker, artist, activist, entrepreneur, inventor….he saw the world a little differently and created work that enabled us to begin to see the world and its potential through his eyes. It was an interesting concept exploring who exists today, who is doing things a little differently like Leonardo da Vinci in society when he was alive.
So I set Michaela a challenge…. I asked her to guest write a blog post using her own opinion and an Instagram call out in the wider artist community for suggestions, to answer the question – “Who could be seen today as the next Da Vinci”?.
Michaela Wetherell: a guest blog post edited by The Culture Vulture.
I’m a born and bred Mackem; totally and unashamedly proud of where I come from. I was raised in a little pit village called Shiney Row where I totally and utterly fell in love with the arts. In Shiney Row, culture wasn’t exactly at the main point of conversation and you couldn’t imagine having a career in the arts – it just seemed impossible. Even when growing up in the 90s where “girl power” was seen as the feminist battle cry – you could be just like Barbie and grow up to be whoever you want to be! It seemed impossible coming from a place where culture seemed dead.
But luckily for me, I was blessed with parents who took me to museums and galleries when I was young and the art bug bit me HARD!! After years of making, learning, creating, researching, educating, volunteering to freelance I finally made a career out of it and became a curator based in the North East.
I share this because I was lucky; today education in the arts is becoming harder and harder to reach. University funds are immensely expensive, arts education in schools is being cut so museums and galleries are hugely important to educate and inspire not only young minds but everyone who believe art is not for them, just like it did to me.
So I was thrilled to hear that Sunderland was selected as a place to display selected drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. You can’t get any bigger than Da Vinci and the thought of schools and locals coming to see this exhibition made my little art heart sing! If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet…. you should!
Da Vinci was a pioneer of everything! Maths, Invention, Art, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography just to name a few!! You name it he did it!
Copyright Royal Collection Trust
Many people will argue that no one could come close to Da Vinci’s genius…..but I beg to differ.
There are so many incredible artists out there who are pushing the boundaries of art, technology, science and socialism just like Da Vinci did, so here I am in this blog post sharing with you some of the local, National and International artists who could very well be The Next Da Vinci.
IDA4 – The Rebel.
There has always been a lot of speculation surrounding Da Vinci’s sexuality and his role as rule breaker and activist. Like many artists, he used his voice to push forward his version of the world, challenged the rules and norms and look beyond. But do we view his art as political? Is it considered in today’s terms activist art?
Many artists use their work in a similar way that Da Vinci did – to put forward a proposition, have their voices heard, use their arts to break the rules and to create a social commentary about the society at the time.
Chris Fleming or IDA4 is a graffiti artist who focuses his work on the LQBTQ+ communities and social commentary. He has created work about Trans Identity, celebrates drag queens and has created amazing mural street art around the North East and beyond.
In 2014, on the day the Sochi Winter Olympics Ceremony was showing across all media platforms, Chris created a street art graffiti piece in the centre of Newcastle of a man being arrested by the police with the Olympic rings as cuffs. This was a protest against newly reformed laws on gay propaganda. Chris’s work is meticulous; he creates his stencils before he even finds a canvas and creates layers upon layers of spray paint to get the depth and texture info his forms. Like Da Vinci, Chris uses anything he can get his hand on to spray on. Street walls (permitted of course), Studio doors, canvas, cardboard! And just like Da Vinci his work makes me smile and is often instantly recognisable.
Future Da Vinci – Members of Thought Foundation Art Club
I currently work as a curator for Thought Foundation in Birtley. A huge part of our vision in the arts is not just learning new skills but reinforcing that you do not have to be an incredible painter or drawer to love and learn where your creativity flows.
We have an amazing Educational Officer (I am sure she hates it when I call her that) Amanda McMahon, who is an incredible woman who runs art classes every Saturday morning. These little ones come in with such enthusiasm and passion to learn and explore through art. Creating new work, taking creative chances and seeing how their work with progress week to week; I see these young humans as little Da Vinci’s in the making.
Leanne Pearce Billinghurst – Traditional portraits with a contemporary twist
You would think breastfeeding in 2019 would not lead to controversy. But still in modern day society, you hear stories of women being shunned to bathrooms, made to feel uncomfortable and of course, the fact a female nipple is still censored online. Yet artists have been painting women and child breastfeeding for centuries, celebrating the female form and representing the bond between Mother and Child! In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci painted Madonna Litta’ a painting of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding Christ – a painting that I’m sure was controversial at the time but is considered a “high power work”.
Leanne Pearce Billinghurst is a modern day artist that combines traditional portraiture like Da Vinci but with a contemporary twist often using the subject of breastfeeding. Leanne takes the traditional overused, overseen images of the male gaze over the female body and creates beautiful large scale paintings of breastfeeding mothers. Her paintings are not of saints and noble figures, like Da Vinci’s female portraits often were, but women in their day to day lives breastfeeding children. Leanne’s work celebrates breastfeeding mothers, just like Da Vinci did in the Madonna Litta’ and challenges those in society, who believe an important, natural function should be hidden away.
Cack Handed Kid – The Skull King of Newcastle
Da Vinci was fascinated with anatomical studies; he would study and draw from Doctors’ studies and morgues. His detailed studies are something of wonder and show unintentionally the macabre of the time where anatomy wouldn’t normally be shown to the public. Anatomical studies in art have evolved throughout art history and today the obsession is still strong; with skulls featuring heavily in tattoo art, fashion design, symbols etc.
Cack Handed Kid is partly responsible for flying the flag across the North East, keeping the anatomical obsession alive – his artist skull designs and illustrations are printed around Newcastle and he’s a talented tattoo apprentice. Out of all the artists who use the human anatomy in their work I LOVE Mr Kids work.
I love the macabre anatomy details of his skulls with the precision of his pen and the detail he can draw. The reason why I love his work is so much is that it has a pop culture funny twist connected to them. Of course, I want to see the inside of Mickey Mouse head and Felix the cat, who wouldn’t!?
Jonpaul Kirvan – The Mad Scientist at Ampersand Inventions
I can imagine Da Vinci’s mind being abit like a hamster on a wheel full of never ending thoughts and ideas, just going faster and faster, whilst always on the go. That Da Vinci style of mind, is exactly how I think artist, director, building manager and all around creative, JohnPaul Kirvan’s mind works too. If you know JP you wouldn’t think he creates his own work as he’s normally running around Commercial Union House, keeping the building on its feet and supporting other creatives. But when you see his work you can see his personality all over them; he takes found objects and repurposes them to create works that explore literary escapism. In his practice, he creates large installations where he collects objects and images and creates chaotic, cluttered and wonderful spaces.
JP believes that the most important aspect of the creative process is the process itself of designing, devising and making – just like Leonardo da Vinci. When beginning to create an installation he starts with the idea and concept and allows himself to be led connecting multiple ideas, binding them together into something larger and more meaningful than the individual elements.
Zara Worth – The Next Generation.
I have been a fan of Zara Worth for many years now and I have had the pleasure of working with her in the past. Last year she had an exhibition at Vane gallery in Newcastle called FEED’. FEED’ brought together a body of work created since 2016. Concerned with our relationships with hand-held technology and social media, Worth’s practice has been described by curator Tyler Robarge as ‘swipe-specific’: using online culture and technology as subject and medium for artworks with on- and offline lives. Throughout the exhibition materials and methods of creative production point to themes of value, presence and self-image in the social media age.
Like Da Vinci you cannot put her practice in a box. In her work, she has used video, photography, painting, technology, found objects, collage and textiles to name a few! And just like Da Vinci, she is an academic at heart and uses this within her own drawing practice.
My favourite work in her recent FEED exhibition was “The artist’s presence.”; two chairs face each other and when you download the app you point the phone to a certain point on the chair and Zara appears. The work explicitly references Marina Abramović’s performance ‘The Artist is Present’ (2010) in order to question notions of real ‘presence’ in the digital age. I love this piece because in the hologram she looks like an oil painting that has been digitally been removed from a painting, bringing together old and new ways of seeing art.
Much like Da Vinci, Zara uses technology and innovation in her work to ask questions of the present and the possible. Da Vinci not only used technology in his practice- but he was a master innovator, creator and designer.
Da Vinci is not overly known for being a sculptor but he certainly did dabble, as he did with everything! He was captivated by objects and people’s “form”. When I was researching for this blog post, I knew I wanted to look at sculptors and this amazing artist popped up straight away; Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark! Her work explores the playful theatricality of sculpture, examining the space between objects modelling the real and its ability to usurp the ‘original’ as self-sustaining fictions. It also raises important social comments around whitewashing not only in sculpture but in all art history – by presenting and celebrating the diversity of humans and differing races which has always existed.
Another artist I discovered when considering the ‘next Da Vinci’ was Pippa Young; she’s an artist, like Leanne, who uses traditional drawing and painting with a lovely contemporary twist! Pippa’s works are hyper realistic portraits with a missing imprint on each piece of work. A missing hat, an “unfinished” collar, the portraits are reminiscent of some of Da Vinci’s portraits, full of realism, character, representations of people and an often haunting vacant stare out communicating directly to the audience.
I learnt about Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s work when studying for my MA in Curating at Sunderland University. We were learning about New Media artists and honestly, I was not connecting with the movement at all… until I learnt the name Rafael Lozano Hemmer and I was hooked! Rafael is a Mexican Canadian electronic artist whose works branches to architecture, technological theatre and performance. My favourite piece of work he created is Pulse Room.
Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs. The bulbs fill the space with an interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects a pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of the heart. When the participate let’s go of the interface all the lights turn off and then starts flashing then the other heartbeats move down the room until it disappears. I love this piece because it blends technology, shared experiences and human connection brilliantly just like Da Vinci did.
Da Vinci used mathematical calculations and design techniques to create work and inventions that are equally considered pieces of art work and mathematical genius. I tried to look for a modern day artist, that could be considered in the same way and my research led me to Bathsheba Grossman and her work blew me away. Bathsheba creates sculptures using computer-aided design and three-dimensional modelling. They use mathematics in creating these extremely beautiful but precise works just like Rafael Lozano Hemmer, uses new and growing technology within their practice creating pieces that are experimental and innovative. Some of the pieces are actually quite functional – like interesting bottle openers.
So that’s the “Future Da Vinci list” and ones to watch out for! I hope that this blog has inspired you to learn more about these artists and beyond!
All my love Michaela xx
Well what a list and I’ve certainly discovered and fan girled over several new artists in the process of editing it. So much talent there – and some of the above are quite ordinary people, a human just like Da Vinci, who have achieved some extraordinary things.
I’ve got so many take away messages –
- Da Vinci’s legacy lives on inspiring and permeating past, present and future artists, people and projects.
- The world is just filled with fantastically talented humans – the above list is not exhaustive and is just a hint of some of the talent that exists out there and some of the people who are real trail blazers in their own right.
- That artists can be more than one thing….”oh so you’re just an artist” – why yes, I’m a designer, innovator, maker, creator, visionary, artist, inventor, rule breaker, academic, researcher, opportunity seeking business person….Leonardo da Vinci evidences how cross sector artists are, how they don’t feel the same fear trying something new, experimenting and that artists have the power to reimagine and look beyond normative restrictions of possibility.
- Art is a fearless social commentary – it does not shy away from newness, truth seeking and challenging narratives. It enables audiences to see the world through different eyes and at the very least, question their own reality and perceptions.
- Da Vinci experimented and was fearless in the face of failure – he did many versions of his work and in some cases, these “sketches” that we visit and love at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens today, are the very same, as that sleepless night when you’re consumed with a new idea and at 2am and write, scribble or draw in your note book. He continuously learnt, bettered himself, was hungry for knowledge, disproved his own theories until he got to the truth and remained in a constant state of personal development until he died. Growing and learning never stops.
- He absorbed influence from society, innovation and new learning of the time – but at the end of the day, Leonardo da Vinci put out the work, into the world, that he wanted to and meant something to him…..now I’m not commenting on status of privilege here (and his means of doing so), I’m commenting on the core value and self-belief of being able to do that. Being able to fall in love with your own ideas and art and make them real.
But the main take away, I have from above – comes from a friend who has established the mantra and hashtag #bemoremary – in relation to her little girl who is absolutely as fearless, full of character, creative and just all round lush. Whether you’re an artist, creative, art lover or a fellow (or future) Culture Vulture, I want you to embrace some of that Da Vinci mindset and BE MORE MARY!
Who knows…may be little Mary from Sunderland is the next Da Vinci?!
You can still catch the end of the exhibition run at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – tickets available from here!
Until next time Culture Vultures. xx