The emotive art of synesthesia painting
by Sigourney Young
Living with synesthesia has given me a unique way of seeing the world. Everything is a little more colourful, but also a little more stimulating. Instead of just having one sensation, I am gifted with many. When I hear a sound I experience both the hearing of it, but also the seeing and feeling. I see the colours that the sound creates in the air around me, and I feel the textures of it within my body. The heaviness or lightness of the beat in my chest and arms can feel like a mysterious force out of my control.
Synesthesia and the studio experience
For those with synesthesia, the stimulation of one sense leads to an involuntary, automatic triggering of another sense. Either in the mind’s eye or in the physical body. For me, hearing sounds leads to an associated colour experience in my mind and a physical experience in the body. Through my life, I’ve been involved with music but my go-to for listening has always been having a familiar TV show or podcast on in the background. I realise now that the steadiness of speech is like a breath of fresh air compared to the sometime overwhelming intensity of music!
Today, my studio brings me into contact with hundreds of songs every year, and with each, I have an intense relationship through the painting process. This experience is a great joy and privilege, and can also be a little intense.
I was reflecting on this recently and realised I’d never shared what it feels like to create a piece or the actual experience of translating a song into colour. Hopefully, this takes you into a little deeper into my world.
What happens in the mind of a synesthesia painter
As I create each piece I am slowly developing an understanding of my own experience. For a synesthete, our experience is normal, it’s not something we reflect on often. But in creating my art I need to become aware of the experiences in my mind and body. To be able to properly articulate what I see in my mind’s eye and translate what I am hearing. It is a task that takes reflection, and practice.
When I first started painting I could only tell you the general colours I experienced through the song, and I couldn’t tell you why. Now with over 700 paintings, I am able to create a nuanced and developed interpretation of a song to share with each commission and on my archive. I can pinpoint dozens more colours, and tell you exactly what sound within the song it was that created them. I am creating a unique language of my experiences through colour and I love that I can give such insight to each piece of music.
A taste of my process captured in 2017. You can see recent styles in my archive.
Beyond synesthesia, music also creates an emotional reaction. I listen to so many songs and every single one has so much meaning to the collector. When creating a piece, that meaning is front and centre, and as I listen so intently to every note and chord, I can’t help but imagine the moments and stories behind the song. The big and small moments in someone’s life that this song has filled with colour. With every song, I am more drawn to the stories behind them, and that’s why this year I’m focused on collecting your stories to celebrate the meaning of music around the world.
Feeling music in my body
Painting is also an intensely physical experience. As the paints and paper are prepared, these movements serve as a little ritual before I begin. The paintings are most often done live to the music, as the song plays on repeat and it feels like I’m being propelled forward by the music as I move the paints with the flow of the song.
I can also feel the song within my body. This is an aspect of my synesthesia I’m still exploring, and I haven’t yet developed a language to describe it in the way I have the colours. Some sounds are energising, some feel like heaviness, or a familiar, comforting texture. They are physical textures, like gravel or velvet, and I hope that I can explore this more in future works.
Creating meaningful art
My life with synesthesia connects me deeply to the sounds and meaning of music, and I’m so glad that translates through to my art. When you send me your song I get to share my unique experience of the world interpreted by years of practice and reflection. We both get to know the music a little better.
If you have a song, a voice or a sound special to you, I would love the opportunity to realise it in vivid colour, and to translate my synesthesia experience for you.
January 28, 2019
I’m a synesthesia artist that will be forever found with paint on my nose, dancing around the studio in my yoga pants. I love travel, gluten-free brownies and working from the home studio I share with my husband. My goal? To bring you into the world of synesthesia and to create a space online that celebrates the colour and meaning of music.
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