When I was small, I seemed to see and feel things a little differently to everybody else, or so my mother seemed to think, though I was quite unaware, most of the time, of what other people did and felt.
Certain colours gave off a particular feeling and smell, the sounds of peoples' names prompted colours and shapes. I would be compelled to pick things up, if they were a certain colour, to feel them with my fingertips, or even my lips. Music always had colour and form, as did the sounds of words.
Sometimes I would see a coloured haze around peoples' head or bodies, and colours or noises would give off a sensation of smell. I didnt really think much of this, or the fact that Mum remarked on how odd it was when I remarked upon the colours of things which she only saw as black or white.
You are a strange child, she would say
I was much older when I read about the term synaesthesia, and it seemed to sound very much like the way I responded to things, as if the hard-wiring of my senses was a little bit off, or turned up to excess. At certain times I would have very strange reactions to things, to various physical sensations. Nabokov wrote so synaethetically, that when I read "Speak, memory" I understood the language implicitly.
After I had children, my synaesthesia seemed to diminish somewhat. I figured that I probably had sensory overload, and my brain had closed down certain areas which were not immediately important.
Last week I managed to get to my studio.
The moment I closed the door behind me I felt a beautiful feeling come over me. I welcomed the smells, the traces of the indigo dying from last summer still hanging as a base note, the aroma of gum turpentine very faint. Cineraria leaves which had been simmering, the fragrant little cigarettes Shoufay smokes.
But today I have a small parcel: inside it is a CD and some pictures of paintings, originally Venetian, but currently in Paris. I begin to feel that strange soft buzzing in my face and hands.
I put on the music.
It is Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.
It is so known yet unknown, so beautiful that images immediately seem to swell out of nowhere into my head. I hold my large fat brush, with Titian's girl beside me, and spread the colours: Ultramarine blue, a golden Olive green, Viridian, Indigo, turquoise. Light flickering on underwater skin.
As I paint I seem to fragment into some multidimensional world, where I am in the pastoral scene described by the music: edges of land and sea, indigo shadows, bright cliffs and undulating landforms. Birds.
There is light coming in the windows as I spread the layers of paint onto the surface. As I change colour, I become aware that I can smell them, sharply. Not the actual scent of paint, but the sharp smell of the colour itself: the Olive Green smells like rotting food, the Ultramarine sharp and salty, high and sweet, Indigo smells like the darkest tone of a rose.
I look at the detail of the sash in the Titian painting: he has used Ultramarine for the highlights of the fabric, and a golden shade of Olive green for the shadows, like shot silk. The same exact two colours i am using.
The Fantasia continues in my head. It has been quite some time since I found myself in this state. I wonder then, if Titian and the Venetians ever had the same sensation.
Closing the door behind me when I leave, the real world floods in.
I sit with the children later that afternoon and eat watermelon, wondering if I should share the sensation of falling into colours and sounds today,
but find I haven't the words.