Colour is an integral element of abstract art. Colour affects us on a visceral level, seeping through our senses and tapping into our sensibilities. Likewise, music has the ability to communicate emotions and evoke associations. From the very beginning of abstract painting, numerous artists have seen a relationship between musical notes and the visual harmonies of colour.
Synesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Its most common form is believed to be coloured hearing: sounds, music or voices seen as colours. Research suggests that about one in 2,000 people are synesthetes, and some experts suspect that as many as one in 300 people have some variation of the condition.
Synesthetic art is an attempt to understand the relation between the experiences of born synesthetes, non-synesthetes, and an appreciation of such art by both groups. These distinctions are not mutually exclusive given that art by a synesthete might also evoke synesthesia-like experiences in the viewer.
Synesthesia has been a source of inspiration for artists, composers, poets, novelists, and digital artists. In Michael Smither’s latest exhibition, Shared Harmonies at Artis Gallery from 11 August – 6 September 2009, the artist explores the links between colour and music theory. In his journey of discovery, Smither follows the celebrated tradition set by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) who have also been preoccupied with mapping the connection between the spectrum of colour and sound.
Smither’s latest collection of work continues to explore the inter-relationship between the vibrations of individual notes and their corresponding colours. The bold, exuberant paintings and sculptures in Shared Harmonics are primarily made up of horizontal bands of radiant colour. Each colour represents a note in the octave, and the width of the band relates to the vibration length and note.