‘Godson Of Andy Warhol’ Completes Unfinished Michelangelo Painting Using A Phone

Arts & Celebrities

A contemporary artist who crams his canvases full of pop culture iconography and whimsical googly-eyed Crustaceans has turned his quirky aesthetic on an unfinished Michelangelo painting from the 15th century.

The painting, “The Manchester Madonna,” depicts the Virgin Mary sitting on a rock with a book in hand and two young boys, Jesus and John the Baptist, at her feet. Two angels stand to her right, and the outlines of two more can be seen to her left, though those figures are incomplete. Parts of Mary’s black cloak also have yet to be filled in. ​​It’s unknown why the Italian painter, sculptor and architect never completed the work, which dates back to around 1494, seven decades before his death in 1564.

China-based electronics maker OnePlus tasked multimedia artist Philip Colbert with finalizing and modernizing the tempera on wood, which adorns a wall at London’s esteemed National Gallery. Colbert didn’t alter the actual Michelangelo work, but “finished” it in digital form using its new OnePlus Open foldable Android phone. For a few hours, one of the gadgets projected his hyper-saturated version onto a National Gallery wall next to the original.

Colbert’s vibrant reimagining keeps the Virgin Mary, Jesus and John intact, but replaces the two unfinished angels with robotic avatars wearing futuristic headsets, wires peeking out from their metallic limbs. On their shoulders and heads sit bright red lobsters, Colbert’s self-described alter-ego and one of his signature characters. In a 2018 interview with Forbes, the artist summed up his aesthetic as a “sort of hyper-pop cartoon lobster world.”

Throughout Colbert’s modern pastiche, emojis appear, including the face with hearts for eyes, the crying face and more than a few winky faces, appropriate for a Renaissance image that’s been playfully updated with a connector cable stretched across the bottom.

“​I like to blur the boundaries of reality and fantasy, and that was my starting point,” the Scottish-born artist, who’s been described as the “godson of Andy Warhol,” said in an email interview. “I like to think Michelangelo would be excited about my homage to his masterpiece, and on a bit of trip looking at it.”

The OpenOne campaign aims to demonstrate the value of the company’s latest device as a pocket-size creative studio. Colbert conceptualized, sketched and rendered the creation in his East London studio and the National Gallery, in a car and on an airplane.

“I could ride the wave of creativity wherever and whenever it struck,” the artist said. “It’s the future of creating and working.”

Celina Shi, chief marketing officer of OnePlus Europe, said once the company chose Colbert as its artistic collaborator, it took a hands-off approach.

“We wanted to give him the freedom and space to be creative, but also to utilize his experience and complete ‘The Manchester Madonna’ in a way that’s authentic to him,” Shi said over email.

Colbert’s 21st-century take on Michelangelo goes beyond the OnePlus collaboration to call attention to the ever-increasing convergence of art and technology. Technology tools from apps to generative AI have increasingly become artists’ sidekicks, and tech has enabled scientists to discover hidden art secrets dating back centuries.

Recently, for example, digital imaging techniques removed the censoring veils from the first ever frontal nude portrait by a woman, allowing viewers to see it as the artist originally intended. And X-rays helped reveal new insights into how Leonardo daVinci painted “Mona Lisa.”

“I truly believe that art is for everyone,” Colbert said, “and anyone can engage with the masterpieces of the past.”


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