Art and Neurology
I have had grapheme-color synesthesia since birth, a rare neurological trait that causes me to perceive numbers and letters in color. My story and art were featured in a video on Insider in 2018. I have recently started a series of art pieces showing how I see different mathematical constants in my mind’s eye, like the piece on the left showing Euler’s number.
In and in my teens and early twenties, I experienced frequent classic migraines. Thankfully, as I got older and had my first child, the migraines improved drastically. With careful diet and exercise, I now rarely get them at all. Though I didn't see the connection to my art at the time, I realize now that these conditions were a huge positive force in my development as a painter.
Migraines can affect people in many different ways, but mine were the classic form; a short visual aura preceding one-sided pain and nausea that sometimes lasted for days. About 20 minutes before the pain started, I would see a visual disturbance that looked like a cracked windshield in a c-shaped form, scintillating at the edges and spreading out in a circular pattern.
Reading about migraines and seeing other artists' depictions, I learned that these c-shaped patterns (called scotomas) are fairly common in migraine auras, due to a pattern of changes that occur in the brain.
At the same time as I was struggling with the migraines, I was finding my style as a painter. Like many developing artists, I started to move away from realism and (without making the connection to my migraines) began painting these paintings:
Later, as my style developed, I painted these:
The migraines got less frequent, but I felt more and more at home painting these surreal skies with circular patterns. The images often came to me in dreams of backpacking. Now that the migraines are mostly behind me, I remember the pain less and the auras more, and I can look back and see them everywhere in my early work. Though scary, the migraine auras were often beautiful and almost supernatural. I don't miss the migraines, and I'm thankful to be mostly rid of them. However, they gave me a different way of seeing the world, and now I can look back and see them in some ways as a gift.
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