Sheffield street art project draws city closer to masterpieces of Venice

On Friday October 18, amidst the regeneration work in Sheffield’s Exchange Street on the site of the former medieval castle, there will be an event to celebrate the little-known connection between Sheffield and the Italian city of Venice.

Sunday, 6th October 2019, 24:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 13:45 pm
The Basilica of San Marco by JW Bunney

Making Masterpieces in Sheffield and Venice is a day of drawing and creative activities and is part of the Big Draw Festival 2019.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Ruskin, one of the greatest thinkers, writers, art critics and philanthropists of the Victorian age and the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jacopo Tintoretto, an extraordinary Venetian painter who created vast, epic scenes.

As the United Kingdom’s industrial cities expanded, Ruskin believed the workers should be able to become inspired and uplifted by nature and art.

Work created by Sheffield-based street artists Alex Ekins and Fem Sorcell

To this end he set up the Guild of St George, a philanthropic and educational society to apply his ideas.

Then through the Guild he founded the St George’s Museum in Walkley specifically for Sheffield’s workers.

He filled it with a collection of artworks, illustrated books, minerals and artefacts all chosen to reflect his exploration of beauty and to inspire creativity and to be a haven from the busy, noisy and dirty industrial work environment.

And now, as part of this year of international celebrations, Yorkshire Artspace and the Guild of St George are co-creating a Big Draw Festival based along Exchange Street in Sheffield, in connection with a simultaneous event in Venice.

Palazzo Contarini Fasan, photograph by Antonio Perini

Our partner in Venice is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which houses over 60 masterpieces by the great Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto.

Ruskin admired Tintoretto’s work so much that he commissioned the Venetian painter Angelo Alessandri (1854 -1931) to copy some of Tintoretto’s paintings and included them in his museum.

They are all still part of the Ruskin Collection, displayed at the Millennium Gallery.

After seeing Tintoretto’s work in Venice in 1845, Ruskin said: “I have been quite overwhelmed today by a man whom I never dreamed of - Tintoretto.

“I always thought him a good and clever and forcible painter, but I had not the smallest notion of his enormous powers.”

And: “I have been upset in all my calculations by that rascal Tintoret - he has shown me some totally new fields of art and altered my feelings in many respects… and I shall work differently, after seeing him, from my former method.

“I can’t see enough of him, and the more I look the more wonderful he becomes.”

Making Masterpieces in Sheffield and Venice is inspired by Ruskin’s passion to encourage people to draw in order to see the world more clearly and appreciate its beauty.

Myself and fellow Sheffield-based street artist Fem Sorcell will invite the public to decorate the hoardings on Exchange Street in the style of and inspired by Tintoretto.

We are both known internationally for our combination of murals and photographic paste-ups. If you wander around Kelham Island or visit the Gaard café, you will see our work.

All ages are invited from 10am to 6pm to help us create the new street art mural along the hoarding next to the Yorkshire Artspace Exchange Place studios.

You will be able to paste or spray an image on to a mural inspired by the epic Venetian masterpieces of Tintoretto.

At the same time in Venice, people will be drawing and making their own artworks in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which is home to a fantastic collection of Tintorreto paintings.

In the evening from 6pm to 9pm images of the day’s mural making and the other creative activities in both Sheffield and Venice will be projected onto the back of Exchange Place studios alongside images from the Ruskin Collection, Tintoretto’s paintings and scenes of both cities.

Making Masterpieces in Sheffield and Venice is a free public event for all ages which takes place at Exchange Place Studios, Exchange Street, S2 5TR on Friday, October 18.

Just turn up. Part of the Big Draw Festival.

*Find out more about the Big Draw Festival at Alex’s website is