Tàcharan: Auto-Ethnography Through Painting: Colour choice and Synesthesia

Something which influences my painting which I have not discussed in previous blog posts about Tàcharan is the influence of synesthesia on my choice of colour.

Synesthesia is a neurological difference in which a person’s sensory perception gets crosswired. So, for example they may associate certain numbers with particular colours, or they may experience tastes in response to particular sounds or bars of music. The types of synesthesia I experience are: Emotion-Colour synesthesia, Pain-Colour synesthesia, and misophonia. Emotion-Colour and Pain-Colour are cross-wirings of my perceptions of pain and emotion with my perception of colour.

A completed painting shows a cyborg baby in an antique bassinet. Birds are entering and exiting through the open window. They have knocked over a flower pot that lies broken on the floor. One bird is pulling on the wires connected to the cyborg baby's arm. Another bird near the closest directs the viewers gaze to an empty tiginaagan concealed in the shadows of a closet. On the wall behind the bassinet are three paintings of flowers and a child's growth chart. The composition of the painting is top heavy, and the viewer's eye is moved around an area of negative space created by an empty wall behind the bassinet, putting the entire painting slightly off balance.
A completed painting shows a cyborg baby in an antique bassinet. Birds are entering and exiting through the open window. They have knocked over a flower pot that lies broken on the floor. One bird is pulling on the wires connected to the cyborg baby’s arm. Another bird near the closest directs the viewers gaze to an empty tiginaagan concealed in the shadows of a closet. On the wall behind the bassinet are three paintings of flowers and a child’s growth chart. The composition of the painting is top heavy, and the viewer’s eye is moved around an area of negative space created by an empty wall behind the bassinet, putting the entire painting slightly off balance.

Colour synesthesias can be associative or projective. People may simply associate their synesthetic colours with particular sensory experiences (emotion, pain, music, letters, and so on). Or they may actually see the colour projected in their field of vision when they experience a particular sensation. In emotion-colour or personality-colour synesthesia this often takes the form of seeing auras.

My colours are associative, most of the time, unless I have a migraine or have been in meditation. The colours are consistent, so I get to know what each colour mean for me. For instance when I hit my hand with a hammer while carving last summer I realized that I was in pain because every time I thought about my hand I associated it with a particular shade of the colour orange. That shade of orange is associated with blunt pain and dangerous or abusive people. This was fun to explain to the emergency technician who asked me to rate my pain when I went in for an x-ray.

Misophonia is a cross wiring of sound and emotion, where certain sounds trigger strong emotional responses. People most often notice they have this when they feel irrationally angry or anxious in response to particular trigger noises. These are sometimes called Bad Sounds as opposed to the more medicalized “trigger sounds”. Common bad sounds include lip smacking, electrical noises, high pitched beeping, dogs barking, coughing and so on.

For me this cross-wiring is most noticeable with sounds that trigger negative emotions, but once I became aware that this was a thing about me that was different I began to notice some sounds that are cross linked to positive emotions as well. Perhaps this difference in perception is due to needing an explanation for illogical “negative” emotions while being more willing to accept “positive” emotions without requiring an explanation for why they are happening. I also sometimes feel trigger sounds as exerting a kind of pressure on my skin, usually on the side of my body which is closest to the sound. I don’t know if this is common to other experiences of misophonia or not.

As I mentioned in previous posts about Tàcharan I began the painting by trying to process an emotion that is related to being dehumanized. I didn’t have a name for this emotion, but I did have a colour, and that colour (a sort of muddy greyish teal) figured prominantly in the underpainting for Tàcharan. In this section of the wall you can see that underpainting coming through in the shadows beneath the more brownish brushstrokes on the surface:

a close up of brush stokes of greenish grey paint.
a close up of brush stokes of greenish grey paint.

Tàcharan also includes colours I associate with anxiety, despair, anger, and fear. The curtain in the corner is a shade of light red associated with anger or outrage. Sometimes I see it as a bar across my vision when I have a meltdown, or as sparks in the corner of my vision when I am about to get a migraine and every little sound is making me want to hit something with a hammer. The lace curtain approximates the staticy mix of black, grey and white I associate with a panic attack. The slightly muddy yellow of the giraffes on the growth chart, and the salmon orange three are two different shades of anxiety or danger. The yellow brush strokes shown below are the shade of yellow I associate with despair:

These emotion/colours are perhaps to be expected in a painting that is about dehumanization. A colour which took me by surprise as I painted it was the colour I ended up choosing for the bassinet. I chose a bright leaf green that I associate with curiosity and wonder:

a close up of leaf green brushstrokes
a close up of leaf green brushstrokes

I started using this colour as an underpainting, to give the changeling and its surroundings a sense of strangeness. This is likely intuitive to me because experience that sense of making the familiar strange is an experience I associate with curiosity and intellectual pursuits. However I intended to overlay the sense of strangeness with colours more in line with my overall themes. However, I found myself wanting to keep the green, opting to add shading and highlights in shades of the same colour instead of pulling the colour more towards the yellows and creams found in the rest of the painting. I suspect that this desire was born out of a need for a counterpoint to the unremitting oppressive feelings entangled in the themes of dehumanization.

In a similar vein of wanting to present counter hegemonic symbols that provide avenues of resistance to the dehumanization of indigenous and Autistic people I painted the tiginaagan in colours I associate with home, and family. The dark forest green is a an emotion of being in a stable homelike space. The scarlet red I associate with the friendly recognition of plant species that I know or have a relationship with. I also associate it with the one positive thing that I know about my Grandmother: that she knew a lot about plants.

A close up of a painting of a tiginaagan. It is dark forest green with crimson ribbons.

I don’t want to portray my painting as a simple one to one code with my synesthesia, where each colour I use can be broken down and “translated” to their associated emotion. I choose colours for utilitarian and aesthetic reasons too, not just because of which emotion they invoke in me. However the association of emption and colour has an undeniable influence on how I paint, and how I use the process of painting to connect with and process emotion. I hope that sharing this provides some insight into one lived experience of being an Autistic artist.

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