For those in the arts, few moments are more blissful than those spent “in the zone,” those times when the words or images or notes flow unimpeded, the artist functioning as more conduit than creator.
Viewed in this light, artist Melissa McCracken’s chromesthesia—or sound-to-color synesthesia—is a gift. Since birth, this rare neurological phenomenon has caused her to see colors while listening to music, an experience she likens to visualizing one’s memories.
Trained as a psychologist, she has made a name for herself as an abstract painter by transferring her colorful neurological associations onto canvas.
John Lennon’s “Julia” yields an impasto flame across a pale green field.
The bold daffodil and phlox hues of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” could have sprung from Monet’s garden at Giverny.
McCracken told Broadly that chromesthetes’ color associations vary from individual to individual, though her own experience of a particular song only wavers when she is focusing on a particular element, such as a bass line she’s never paid attention to before.
While her portfolio suggests a woman of catholic musical tastes, colorwise, she does tend to favor certain genres and instruments:
Expressive music such as funk is a lot more colorful, with all the different instruments, melodies, and rhythms creating a highly saturated effect. Guitars are generally golden and angled, and piano is more marbled and jerky because of the chords. I rarely paint acoustic music because it’s often just one person playing guitar and singing, and I never paint country songs because they’re boring muted browns.
Her favorite kind of music, jazz, almost always presents itself to her in shades of gold and blue, leading one to wonder if perhaps the Utah Jazz’s uniform redesign has a synesthetic element.
Certainly, there are a large number of musicians—including Duke Ellington, Kanye West, and Billy Joel—for whom color and music are inextricably linked.
View Melissa McCracken’s portfolio here.
Wassily Kandinsky Syncs His Abstract Art to Mussorgsky’s Music in a Historic Bauhaus Theatre Production (1928)
Goethe’s Theory of Colors: The 1810 Treatise That Inspired Kandinsky & Early Abstract Painting
The MoMA Teaches You How to Paint Like Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning & Other Abstract Painters
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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