What If You Could Hear Colors? Jack Coulter Shares His Story

Synesthesia may sound like an amazing gift, which it probably is, but artist Jack Coulter sheds light on how it's not always easy to bear
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Harrison Williams
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Synesthesia may sound like an amazing gift, which it probably is, but artist Jack Coulter sheds light on how it's not always easy to bear

Jack Coulter is a 21 year old abstract artist hailing from Northern Ireland. Although just 21, his work can be found in the homes of major celebrities including Samuel L. Jackson and Keith Richards. His abstract pieces of art are bold and colorful with the power to provoke a multitude of emotions. He's saved lives with his work, but like many talented artists his story is one of loneliness and isolation due to a condition that is difficult for many to understand and even harder for Coulter to live with. His art has become a way for him to express his condition and as a form of art therapy he has captivated people all over the world.

Coulter has synesthesia, a rare condition that involves a neuro-sensory misalignment that occurs when the stimulation of one sense, such as hearing, causes the stimulation of another, like sight. There are various degrees of this condition, but Coulter possesses what is called chromesthesia, an idiosyncratic strain also referred to as sound-to-color synesthesia. What this means is that sound produces vivid colors for Coulter whenever he hears them, which causes him to actually hear in color. This produces a sensory overload that, if you can imagine, might be difficult to experience 24/7.

“I was afraid to speak up. I thought that many would think I had a problem or something. I felt isolated enough – I didn’t want that kind of attention,” Coulter recalls from his childhood. “I rarely spoke as a child. I was painfully shy. I was so quiet that trying to explain a sensory, cognitive neurological phenomenon seemed like a terrifying prospect.”

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The synesthesia condition is something that has been romanticized due to it's supposed unique affect it has on the creative mind. Artists like Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Pharrell Williams have stated they experience a colorful sensation when hearing sounds, but it seems as though Coulter's experience is more that just that. He recalls moments in complete silence that he would see streaks of color due to him being able to hear his heartbeat. He describes a dream from when he was younger and how he would see colors floating in a dark abyss, later on in life he realized that this was because of raindrops on his window. 

Art served as way for Coulter to express all the emotions he felt during his daily life of experiencing a sensory overload. It's easy to see how most other people in the world wouldn't be able relate to a young boy who was hearing colors. As he found his medium, he began to create these magnificently brilliant pieces of art that have touched viewers in a special way.

“One girl told me that my art saved her from committing suicide,” reveals Coulter. “She said that coming across my work changed her mind. It made me cry. I couldn’t believe that something I had created in my garage had the ability to save someone’s life. To this day, I still think if I hadn’t created that painting, she wouldn’t be alive today. A girl also got my one of my paintings tattooed on her neck. That was very surreal, to be honest. I asked her if she really wanted it permanently on her body, but she insisted.”

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Coulter also did the artwork for SOAK and her album Before We Forgot How to Dream, nominated for the Mercury Music Prize this year. His work is produced in the most unconventional ways as he says he rarely uses a paintbrush, instead he uses his hands, broken bottles and sticks. If you would like to find out more about Jack Coulter and what inspires him to make such extraordinary works of art, read the complete interview with the artist via Dazed Digital.