Synesthesia: The Strangely Normal Way of Seeing the World
The rare neurological condition helping BSP create truly unique and innovative artwork.
Ever thought what your favorite song would look like painted on canvas? Or how your best-loved painting would be characterized into music? Synesthetic artist Francesca Brigandy, more commonly known as BSP, is answering at least one of these questions with her captivating and distinctive art pieces.
Synesthesia is a rare condition affecting the senses most people have little knowledge about, defined by experts as a neurological condition in which perception from one sense evokes sensation in another. It often ends up at the back of people’s minds, thought of as the condition where people hallucinate sounds and hear colors. But there’s much more to it than that, and for synaesthetes, it’s their unique, but also to them, strangely normal way of seeing the world. For some they wouldn’t want to perceive it any other way, this is especially true for BSP—in fact she describes it as a “superpower.”
BSP’s synesthesia allows her to visualize sounds as colors when listening to music, giving her a unique polychrome perspective, and she has experienced this for as long as she can remember. When she grew older, she started to realize that her circumstance wasn’t the norm and was scared to talk about her experience because of what people might have thought.
Now an adult who spends most of her time expressing her personal, intimate, and extraordinary perception of sounds through the medium of painting, she’s more than proud of her unique perspective. Being involved in a documentary with the University of Cambridge and meeting many other synesthetes, who not surprisingly also happened to be creatives, initially helped her see she was not alone. Although also realizing that no synesthetes have the same type of synesthesia.
BSP’s artwork encompasses two artistic disciplines, painting and music, which she blends together beautifully culminating in colorful visual portrayals of her music, on canvas. After seeing her perform at The Tate Modern in London myself, the finished visual representation of her music is given even more meaning when seeing it performed; the paint splashing against the canvas, and the brush strokes waving in time with her singing, adds an extra layer of narrative and obvious passion I’ve never experienced with a painting before.
BSP describes the technicalities of her performance as well as how synesthesia affects her creativity in her own words …
“Each artwork will then be assigned to a different sound, which I can activate by painting on it. In this way, while you see me performing, you feel what I perceive in my mind all the time. My synesthesia has a vast effect on my work—it is one of the prominent forces within the creation of my art and I couldn't create without it.”
BSP’s synesthesia only works this way, so she cannot, for example, harmonize visual art into music—her perception is very much a visual extension of the auditory world, not the other way around. It’s for this reason that she “literally lives a life immersed in color.” For any boring, regular non-synaesthetic (that’s me), her vivid and passionate self-description of her lived experience makes it slightly easier for us to imagine …
“I am physically, intrinsically, extrinsically within a polychrome world. I have lived for so long this way, it would be a terrifying prospect to live without synesthesia. Imagine having the inability to hear, see, or breathe properly—this is how prominent it is for me. It enhances my creativity, and if I didn't have it, I probably wouldn’t create such unique art.”
Put like this, having synesthesia is every artist’s dream, allowing for a genuinely different vision of the world, something which every artist at their core, is trying to express. BSP does think she would still be creative without it, but acknowledges the extra motivation, passion, and skills she would need to foster.
With such a unique artistic insight as well as raw talent, it’s no surprise her work has been catching the eyes (and ears) of the art world, granting her a growing number of accolades and openings leading to a now flourishing career. She has performed at, and is having work exhibited in, some of the highest profile galleries in the UK (if not the world)—The Tate Modern and The Barbican. And her own documentary “The Blending of Senses” being broadcast on Sky Arte Italy at the beginning of this year, with the help of SoundSight, granted her a sponsorship opportunity with art materials brand ARTdiscount—who supported her during the making of this documentary.
BSP does point out one disadvantage of being a synesthetic artist and having her artwork so closely connected to this sensory condition; that being that sometimes she can be defined by her synesthesia, with it being such a prominent aspect of her practice. She reminds us that she still has talent and value either way, and although it definitely “gives [her] something more,” she does have so much more to offer beyond the synaesthetic experience.
In fact, when she was asked what famous song has the best colors or visuals in her opinion, she said she doesn’t make paintings anymore visualizing pop songs “because everybody with synesthesia is doing it.” So, although she used to do it, to add even more uniqueness to her work and really stand out from the crowd, she decided to stop.
There’s no doubt BSP’s multidisciplinary art is as distinctive and idiosyncratic as it is talented, certainly not conforming to the classic painting standards usually seen within the art world. Because of this, she is on course to be a figurehead for synesthetic artists, using her condition to pioneer the way we think about visual art, music, and their synergy.
“I think that having synesthesia is helping me, and the best thing is to have an imagination that goes beyond the ‘standard’ perception. I can create all these shapes and colors in my mind that nobody else can see, and sometimes I feel privileged to have such an opportunity.”
*Feature Photo: Francesca Brigandy, BSP, by Valentina Giora