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May 2015

Melissa McCracken

McCracken Karma-Police-McCracken-962x644Most people can only enjoy music one way: listening to it. Others, who have the neurological phenomenon called synesthesia, can experience music, and any other sensory event, with multiple senses.

Those with synesthesia may link colors to specific words or numbers or may see colors when they hear different sounds, including music. Melissa McCracken gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to experience this multiple sensory effect by painting the music the ways she sees it.

The Kansas City-based artist creates colorful paintings that replicate what she sees when she listens to music, with each painting representing a specific song. PSFK spoke with McCracken about her life, her sensory experience, and her art:

PSFK: When and how did you decide you wanted to paint music?

McCracken: The first song I ever painted was an original by my brother’s best friend when I was 18. We had sat one night talking about my synesthesia as it hadn’t been too long that I had known it was different, and he was playing some new songs he had recorded. As I was describing the colors of a few, I just thought it would be much easier to paint them.

PSFK: What does your artistic process look like?

McCracken: When I create, I like to build outward. I’ll listen to a song over and over again until I get a good feel of it and keep layering the canvas as I go. I’ll choose parts of the song that seem to have the most impact and mold them together.

PSFK: What was your favorite piece to work on? What is your favorite aspect of painting?

McCracken: My favorite so far was “Gravity.” That song always had a very clear image to me and wasn’t as sporadic. It was very calculated and soft to create so I felt more sucked into it. My favorite aspect of painting is at the end of final steps of the process; that’s when each piece starts to feel like the tiny little world I had imagined. Once I feel like it’s complete, I’ll listen to the song again just looking at it, and if I get sucked in, I know it’s finished.

PSFK: How do you choose which songs to paint?

McCracken: I’ve always chosen songs that are close to me. Usually ones with very specific looking parts or some sort of crescendo. A lot of my earlier works were of ones that I had been connected to for a long time that I could finally let out.

PSFK: What would you like our readers to know about synesthesia and how it shapes your perspective?

McCracken: I’d like them to know that synesthesia is in no way distracting or inhibiting. It just gives a new personality and perspective to the way I see the world. If anything, it’s helpful in aiding memory and making things stand out more to me. I’ll notice parts of songs that I might not have otherwise noticed because they’re so vibrant in color and form.

PSFK: What would you like our readers to take away from your art?

McCracken: I’d like for the readers to take away a new perspective of different types of music. It’s interesting when someone enjoys my paintings but dislikes the music I chose. I understand that not everyone will have the same taste in music (or in anything) but it’s nice knowing that I could show beautiful parts of a song that otherwise could go unnoticed or unappreciated.

If you want to purchase these beautiful pieces, canvases and prints are available at McCracken’s Etsy store or you can keep up with the artist’s latest works here.


Grayson Perry

Grayson perryGrayson Perry, CBE is an English artist, known mainly for his ceramic vases and cross-dressing. Perry's vases have classical forms and are decorated in bright colors, depicting subjects at odds with their attractive appearance

Perry's work refers to several ceramic traditions, including Greek pottery and folk art. He has said, “I like the whole iconography of pottery. It hasn't got any big pretensions to being great public works of art, and no matter how brash a statement I make, on a pot it will always have certain humility ... [F]or me the shape has to be classical invisible: then you’ve got a base that people can understand”.

His vessels are made by coiling, a traditional method. Most have a complex surface employing many techniques, including “glazing, incision, embossing, and the use of photographic transfers", which requires several firings. To some he adds sprigs, little relief sculptures stuck to the surface. The high degree of skill required by his ceramics and their complexity distances them from craft pottery. It has been said that these methods are not used for decorative effect but to give meaning.

Perry challenges the idea, implicit in the craft tradition, that pottery is merely decorative or utilitarian and cannot express ideas. In his work Perry reflects upon his upbringing as a boy, his stepfather's anger and the absence of proper guidance about male conduct. Perry's understanding of the roles in his family is portrayed in Using My Family, from 1998, where a teddy bear provides affection, and the contemporaneous The Guardians, which depicts his mother and stepfather.

Much of Perry's work contains sexually explicit content. Some of his sexual imagery has been described as "obscene sadomasochistic sex scenes”. He also has a reputation for depicting child abuse and yet there are no works depicting sexual child abuse although We've Found the Body of your Child, 2000 hints at emotional child abuse and child neglect. In other work he juxtaposes decorative clichés like flowers with weapons and war. Perry combines various techniques as a “guerrilla tactic”, using the approachable medium of pottery to provoke thought.

As well as ceramics, Perry has worked in printmaking, drawing, embroidery and other textile work, film and performance. He has written a graphic novel, Cycle of Violence. Perry frequently appears in public dressed as a woman and he has described his female alter-ego variously as “a 19th century reforming matriarch, a middle-England protester for No More Art, an aero-model-maker, or an Eastern European Freedom Fighter,” and “a fortysomething woman living in a Barratt home, the kind of woman who eats ready meals and can just about sew on a button”.

In his work Perry includes pictures of himself in women's clothes: for example Mother of All Battles (1996) is a photograph of "Claire" holding a gun and wearing a dress, in ethnic eastern European style, embroidered with images of war, exhibited at his 2002 Stedelijk show. One critic has called Perry “The social critic from hell”. In 2011 Grayson Perry curated the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum.