New Mexico emerging artist Reyes Padilla's inaugural exhibition with Beals & Co., titled “Synesthesia,” is about the artist’s sensory fusion in which sound is simultaneously perceived through sight. “Synesthesia" literally means “joined perception,” and is a fairly common neurological phenomenon where the stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another. While some synesthetes are plagued by excessive stimulation, others, like Padilla, utilize their concurrent senses to fuel artistic endeavors. Wassily Kandinsky, David Hockney and Billy Joel are part of a long list of notable artists and musicians with synesthesia. Read more about Padilla's exhibition here, and get to know the artist from the Q&A below.
Q&A: Reyes Padilla
How would you describe your experience of synesthesia and when did you first realize it was a unique sensory condition?
My experience is constant. I see every sound I hear and just assumed everyone had the condition. I learned it was unique when I first moved to Albuquerque and snuck into a music appreciation lecture at UNM and the professor happened to be talking about it. I was surprised that it had a name and was not a universal trait.
Do you feel plagued or blessed by synesthesia?
Mostly I feel blessed. It seems to give me an understanding and sensitivity towards my environment. I definitely have learned to use it to my benefit with painting. The only time it feels like a plague is when I get migraines, which are a plague on their own. I get them pretty frequently and a side effect is sensitivity to light and sound. I can still see every sound even when it's pitch black, so synesthesia doesn't really help me there. Regardless, I am grateful for it.
You began as a hyperrealist painter, correct? How did you come to abstraction and did synesthesia fuel that shift?
Yes. After painting a series of 27 intensely detailed life-size eyes, I basically felt like making a mess. I switched from oil to acrylic and used synesthesia to dictate the forms I was painting. Synesthesia has always fueled my work, but at this point, I decided to bring it into focus.
Why do you choose to work monochromatically?
One of the reasons is I'm colorblind and don't particularly want to spend time trying to match the colors that I am seeing. I enjoy capturing the sounds as I hear them in real time and keeping my palette simple helps me do that more effectively.
What’s your favorite genre of music or artist to listen to while you paint?
I like painting to Hip-Hop the most. It tends to be easier in terms of picking out sounds to paint. I enjoy painting pretty much any genre though and frequently do commissions based on a client’s favorite song or the favorite song of someone they know.