Synes­the­sia,

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

Arthur Wes­ley Dow, who pro­moted draw­ing and paint­ing as “vis­ual mu­sic,” the re­sult of which can be de­tected in some of O’Ke­effe’s early nonob­jec­tive char­coal draw­ings and in her ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled paint­ings, such as Blue and Green Mu­sic (1921); Mu­sic — Pink and Blue No. 2 (1918), and Mu­sic – Pink and Blue No. 1 (1918), the last of which is in the show.

For its sheer bright­ness and color sat­u­ra­tion, Red Mu­sic (circa 1965) by Ribak can hardly be con­tained on the wall. Far re­moved from his early de­pic­tions of so­cial re­al­ism and dif­fer­ent in tone from his circa 1975 stripped-down, black-and-white piece called Rhythms (Rhythms 43), this large-scale work has el­e­ments in­te­gral to Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism and Color Field paint­ing. More cal­cu­lated in ex­e­cu­tion and more fre­quent in mak­ing mu­si­cal as­so­ci­a­tions, Mandelman — Ribak’s wife — ex­e­cuted a se­ries of small paint­ings that, as Udall writes, “saluted [Bach’s] abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late mul­ti­ple tex­tures in mu­sic.” Most strik­ing is Black Quar­tet #15 (circa 1970), in which she po­si­tions more than 10 large black rec­tan­gles within a field of yel­low into a com­po­si­tion that mea­sures no more than 10 by 12 inches. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the densely painted black shapes with that of the un­painted bor­ders con­veys a feel­ing of airi­ness and move­ment, sim­i­lar to a Bach fugue.

Burch­field, known for in­fus­ing his work with wavy, ner­vous lines, is well rep­re­sented in the ex­hi­bi­tion. In terms of un­seen en­ergy gen­er­ated in na­ture and by the in­ter­ven­tions of hu­mankind, Burch­field’s paint­ings at­test to the artist’s keen aware­ness of sound and move­ment in his daily life. A note­book en­try by the artist in 1917 con­joins sound and color: “The awe­some Au­gust north that looms with the cricket cho­rus is the first im­pres­sion of the hideous black mid­win­ter north push­ing into sum­mer.” In The Moth and the Thun­der­clap (1961) Burch­field paints a ca­coph­ony of sight and sound sen­sa­tions that come close to pure ab­strac­tion. Only the wings of the moth sur­rounded by dis­torted plant life and the il­lu­mi­nated light­ning bolt sus­pended from a tur­bu­lent sky above seem grounded in re­al­ity. Of the artist’s storm paint­ings, Udall writes: “Fu­eled by the syn­ergy of mul­ti­ple sen­sory stim­uli, they en­abled Burch­field — who once de­scribed a storm’s fury as ‘ris­ing to a hideous shriek now sink­ing to a half mourn­ful half evil moan’ — to con­vey that in­ten­sity in vis­ual form.”

Al­though Burch­field never iden­ti­fied his vi­su­al­iza­tions of sounds as be­ing synes­thetic, his work is clearly grounded in synes­the­sia. Be­gin­ning in 1917, he al­tered his artis­tic style to al­low “spe­cific pat­terns for dis­tinc­tive sounds of in­sects and birds, and he gave hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tics to inan­i­mate ob­jects,” writes Nancy Weekly, Burch­field scholar and Charles Cary Rum­sey Cu­ra­tor of the Burch­field Pen­ney Art Cen­ter in Buf­falo, New York, in the cat­a­log. “Through­out his life, the artist also cred­ited the sig­nif­i­cance of mu­sic and nat­u­ral sounds, such as wind and vi­bra­tions of tele­graph wires, to his abil­ity to pro­vide ad­di­tional lay­ers of mean­ing to large paint­ings that con­veyed vivid mem­o­ries.” Weekly refers to Burch­field’s sym­bolic vis­ual no­ta­tions as “au­dio-cryp­to­grams.” Tele­graph Mu­sic (1949) is a good ex­am­ple, in which the tele­graph wires are ren­dered as a con­tin­u­ous se­ries of short, un­du­lat­ing lines that echo the life force em­a­nat­ing from the ground be­low and an­i­mate two homes seen in the dis­tance.

Dr. Vi­laya­nur Ramachandran, be­hav­ioral neu­rol­o­gist and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Brain and Cog­ni­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego, sug­gests that synes­the­sia is seven times more com­mon in those con­nected to the arts than among peo­ple in the gen­eral pop­u­lace. If this is true, then Santa Fe must be teem­ing with synes­thetes. But in the cat­a­log, Udall notes, “Any­one who has ever heard a sound that evoked a cer­tain color, or whose imag­i­na­tion linked a mu­si­cal tone with a num­ber has ex­pe­ri­enced synes­the­sia.”

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