Spotlight on Synaesthetic Artists

Spotlight on Synaesthetic Artists

Unique thinking is a common trait among most people in the creative industries, but there are some artists with a condition that causes them to actually think in a completely different way to most people. Synaesthesia is a condition in which a person receives stimulation through one sense followed by an involuntary and immediate response from an entirely different sense. For example, someone with Synaesthesia may smell something and perceive the smell as a color. Or they may see an image and in response they’ll hear a sound. In recent years psychologists have discovered that, on a neurological level, synaesthetes’ brains actually process sensory inputs in a unique way. Pretty interesting, right?

One of the most famous synaesthetes is Wassily Kandinsky who would hear colors and see sounds to produce his highly creative and abstract paintings. Today he is recognized as one of the first true abstract artists. In fact his work was so influenced by his interpretation of music as color that renowned art critic, Roger Fry, called his art, “visual music”, saying his pieces evoked a visual representation of a symphony. Other prominent synaesthetes include: poet, Charles Baudelaire; multimedia artist, David Hockney; and Russian author of “Lolita”, Vladimir Nabokov.


Paintings by Wassily Kandinsky.


Philippa Stanton is a contemporary artist who uses her synaesthesia to interpret tastes and aroma into abstract paintings. Her work is an interesting look into the mind of someone who processes tastes and smells in a unique way. I asked her a few questions to find out how she goes about creating her artwork.


Philippa Stanton, Voice Portraits series (from top): Judy Garland’s voice; Edith Piaf’s voice.


Philippa Stanton, Redroaster Coffees series (from left): Guatamala ground coffee aroma; Rwanda coffee taste; India monsoon malabar coffee aroma.


Could you describe how you use your synaesthesia to create your work? 

I use my synaesthesia to create my artwork by shutting myself away and almost meditating on one thing at a time: either a sound, a taste or a smell. I close my eyes and watch the images I get as I’m experiencing a sense and then I take down detailed notes and very rough pencil sketches. These then develop into painted sketches where I work out the strongest visual element that I want to show in my painting. When I’m happy with the composition, I then start painting the canvas.

Who are some fellow synaesthetes you admire? 

David Hockney is probably my favourite synaesthete. I have huge admiration for the way he works, for how he lives his life, and for how he describes his work in such a simple and down-to-earth way. The color and movement in his landscapes have great feeling, and I also adore his stage designs.

Also, I like a lot of Kandinsky’s work as I almost feel that I can “read” his pictures and hear them. Some of the shapes he uses have a definite resonance to sound shapes that appear in my mind.

Mark Rothko was a complete inspiration for me. When I saw his paintings for the first time as a teenager, my art teacher said, “I think he paints what he sees when he closes his eyes”, and a whole new world opened up for me!

How do people react when you tell them you have synaesthesia? 

Most people are intrigued when I tell them I have synaesthesia, or sometimes they’re simply confused. I also meet with a lot of skepticism, especially from men for some reason, but I think this is because it just doesn’t seem logical and appears to have no practical use. Although I don’t quite see it like that!


Philippa Stanton, Red and White Wines series: Rosso Toscano ‘Ciclope’; Côtes du Rhône; Rosso Toscano ‘Ciclope’ Bouquet.


Philippa Stanton, Shakespeare’s Globe series: sound of applause at Shakespeare’s Globe.



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