January 14, 2016

Imagine if you lived your life in shifting scales of vibrant colour. Not the kind of colour we experience in our day-to-day lives, but a technicolor, hallucinogenic spectrum.

21 year-old artist from Northern Ireland, Jack Coulter lives this reality as a result of a rare neurological condition called synesthesia. Jack’s reality is washed in kaleidoscopic hues where listening to the sound of falling rain can induce a series of repeating colour formations.

Using found objects such as sticks and broken glass, Jack seeks to recreate his hallucinations on canvas. We spoke with him about painting as a form of self-expression and his experience working with SOAK on the artwork for her debut album.

UO: When and how did you first realise you had synesthesia?

My first synesthetic experience was as a child. I was silently sitting alone one day, when the sound of my own heartbeat resonated colour to me. Colour induced hallucinations were a prominent aspect of my childhood.

My synesthetic experiences as a child were very chaotic, I naively thought it was just a normal part of growing up.

UO: How did you first arrive at painting as a form of self-expression?

Growing up, I was forever searching for an outlet to fill this gaping void in my chest – I always felt very frustrated as I couldn’t express how I was feeling.

My aunt Christine was an abstract printmaker. I was vastly exposed to her work as a child. My mum had her work exhibited in every room of my house growing up, alongside works of post-war 1940s abstract expressionism.

I have a specific memory of being at one of my aunt Christine’s exhibitions as a child, I could ‘hear’ her paintings. She was an incredible colourist, the paintings truly resonated with me. I sadly lost my aunt to suicide the day before I began art college.

UO: You use a range of materials for your work, including sticks and glass. What do you love most about using these objects to create your work?

I love the freedom. I never use a paint brush, it limits expression in my opinion. At the beginning, I could only use what was at hand in my garage – second hand paint, sticks, glass, vintage bricolage. My process has risen from using what was present.

UO: Can you talk us through your creative process, if you have one?

I never approach a canvas with a pre-conceived idea or notion. Painting feels natural, it just makes sense to me. I know exactly what to do, it’s a strange feeling. I usually paint to my own original musical compositions.

UO: What role does painting and art fulfil in your life?

Once I fell in love with art, it all changed. I discovered that within abstraction, I could fill what was missing. It is an intangible feeling. The moment that I discovered the psychoanalytical release held within abstraction, the void was filled.

I treat my life as a canvas. I find beauty, solitude and serenity in the strangest things.

UO: Can you tell us about the experience of working with SOAK for her debut album, ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’

SOAK (Bridie) chose six of my images for ‘before we forgot how to dream’. The images she chose were very old, I created each of them when I was 15 years old. They were dormant for years, now they will forever exist on her album.

Her songs are heavily seeped in emotionality, as is my artwork. The audio/visual connection on the album is coherent. I am very happy to be working with such an incredibly unique artist.

UO: What is the most rewarding aspect about living your life in colour?

The fact that I am living physically, intrinsically, extrinsically within a polychrome world. It’s a beautiful poison one cannot share with another, an embodiment of personal idealisations held within life’s iridescent chromaticity.

UO: Are there any particular sounds that trigger certain colour formations? Such as a favourite song or an everyday noise?

The sound of rainfall is a prominent trigger for consistent formations, especially when I am dreaming.

My colour induced hallucinations occur when various senses are all stimulated simultaneously. If I feel overwhelmed within a specific moment of senses, they occur. For example, If I hear something beautiful paralleled with seeing something beautiful, colours rhythmically appear in front of me. Emotional ambience held within musicality is a persistent stimulation.

UO: How do you feel about sharing your artwork with the public, particularly in the vast world of social media?

Painting has always truly existed as a means of expression for me, now various individuals in the public hold very personal relations towards my work. I was once told by a young girl that my art saved her from committing suicide. I have over 50,000 followers on Instagram, I sometimes forget that they are real human beings, even 10 people following you on the street would be overwhelming. The internet makes the world a lot smaller, yet simultaneously very grandeur. It’s a strange parallel, it plays with my mind.

UO: What do you want to do and achieve now?

As long as I can create art daily, I’m happy. If my art reaches insane heights, either on a commercial or expositional scale, I know that it won’t be more satisfying than the simple act of painting. I paint to mend my heart.

And finally…

I’m listening to.. David Bowie, as everyone should be – what an incredible loss to the world.

The last film I watched: Even though I’ve seen it countless times, persona – Ingmar Bergman. I just love persona’s harrowing depiction of love and death, held within the confines of beauty.
My favourite book of all time… This is such a hard choice, I’ll name a few of my favourites: Naked Lunch, Widow Basquiat, The Interpretation of Dreams, The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Illuminations – Arthur Rimbaud and Live or Die – Anne Sexton