By Bryanna F. Drew
Beacon Gallery’s “Synaesthesia: Abstract Art & Creative Writing” is an exhibit featuring works by writers, poets and artists, some who have synaesthesia and some who do not.
For those unfamiliar with the term, synaesthesia, it is the perceptual phenomenon where the stimulation of one sense automatically and involuntarily stimulates another. A person who has synaesthesia, or a synesthete, can see sounds or taste colors. Sometimes individual letters and numbers are associated with specific patterns or colors; a smell can prompt a specific sound to the synesthete’s ear; shapes can have their own tastes, or sounds can have their own textures.
The focus of this exhibit is on abstract works of art accompanied by short poems or stories reacting to these pieces of art. Color and texture were unifying themes in the art pieces, while emotion was the biggest unifier between the pieces of writing.
Some of the brightest pieces in the show were by artist James Varnum. His use of watercolor and alcohol inks brings a flowing vibrancy that perfectly embodies the concept of synaesthesia. The black and metallic lines flowing through the colors create a wiry, almost technological overlay to his pieces that puts an interesting spin on this idea of synaesthesia. It almost makes one wonder about the possibilities of creating a synthetic experience, possibly through something like virtual reality devices, to show those who do not experience it, a taste of how it feels to experience this phenomenon.
A personal favorite of his pieces from the show was “Earth Currents.” Varnum’s use of alcohol inks gives the blues and greens and purples in the piece vivid coloring. His use of a cold color palette along with the flow of the ink creates an oceanic feel, while the black, silver and gold lines that glide over the ink brings about the impression of a baleen whale entangled in jellyfish tentacles.
The writing accompanying many of the pieces brought the works to life. One that stood out was a short piece of prose by Daniel Shkolnik detailing the lives of occupants in an apartment. The artwork accompanying it was a piece by Anya Leveille, titled, “5 Rue Auber.” The piece is predominantly a cream color, with bits of deep green, dark red, pink and a rust color, that look as though they are layers of wall paint that have peeled away and shown little pieces of each coat.
Shkolnik’s short story is of the same name as the piece of art and personifies each layer of paint as another tenant in this apartment. “We roomed together thirteen months at Rue Auber, like five ghosts haunting one another,” he writes. “We put up with each other’s nocturnal noises and emissions, and one another’s kitchen habits. We came to know each other well, while never actually having met.” His piece has quite a romantic impression to it; the way he describes the past tenants has a supernatural feel that certainly evokes the era of romanticism, maybe even drifting near the gothic side of movement.
Artists in this exhibit come from all backgrounds; some have degrees in the arts, others in the sciences. Some of the pieces come from the knowledge of living with synaesthesia, some come from the imagination, but all of the pieces stimulate the senses. This show gives us an interesting merge of two very different fields: science and art. Synaesthesia is studied by scientists and psychologists to know why it happens, what is physically happening and the psychological effects. The documentation of this phenomena in these ways is very important but scientific research can only go so far. Where artists come in, some synesthete, some not, is where we can catch a glimpse into seeing an interpretation of this phenomena for ourselves.
(“Synaesthesia: Abstract Art & Creative Writing” continues through July 29 at Beacon Gallery, 524 Harrison Ave, Boston. For more information, call (857) 277-1700.)