Synesthetic jazz singer Kathy Kosins paints the sounds she hears
An intriguing display of synesthesia is on tap in Kathy Kosins’ “Jazz in the Abstract” at the Kerrytown Concert House.
Synesthesia is condition in which the separation between a person’s senses breaks down, and the stimulation of one sense leads to an automatic, involuntary experience involving another sense. For Kosins, sounds trigger perceptions of color.
The Detroit-based jazz vocalist’s latest 38 artistic responses, arranged salon-style in the Kerrytown Concert House’s auditorium, are vibrant arrangements of non-objective or geometrically oriented abstract compositions that are ultimately as tuneful as any song.
“I never have an idea or color scheme in mind when I pick up a brush,” says Kosins. “I paint strictly from intuition. It was no different with the old jazz masters. They could play endless solos all night, using the same form.”
As such, Kosins’ synesthesia cuts both ways in music and the visual arts.
The improvisational element of both art forms requires a discipline on one level that’s extraordinarily refined, while they also allow for a confidence to break loose from these moorings when it’s appropriate.
“When I perform, if I blow a scat solo or improvise on a melody,” she says, “I ‘see’ grades of color in those notes, and that informs the texture of my phrasing.”
This same quality is reflected in Kosins’ painting.
There’s an immediate spontaneity to her facture that cannot be second-guessed, and this inspiration means the paintings themselves echo this sudden rush of creativity. In some paintings, this orientation can best be seen in an intricate internal geometry. Other works have a felicitous non-objective palette whose exceptional application of pigments gives the paintings their virtuoso dynamic appearance.
“A Gentle Rain of Starlight,” inspired by new age planetarium composer Mark C. Petersen’s Geodesium project, is a prime example of Kosins’ non-objective artistic spontaneity.
This smallish 9-inch by 9-inch acrylic composition is perfectly sized for its intent. Using a violet dominant color scheme, Kosins scrubs her work’s center in such a way as to break the continuity of her purple background. She then uses a strategic lime green overlay to contrast this foreground against her palette. The heightened contrast of these dissimilar acrylics makes “A Gentle Rain of Starlight” a masterly otherworldly painting whose abstract elements meld in a seamless space/time flourish.
By contrast, the 9-inch by 9-inch “Can’t get out of this mood” uses a clever technique to break up the largely rectilinear orientation of the painting. In this work, Kosins uses a palette knife to craft rows of overlaid horizontal swipes that have been superimposed on the work’s recessed white and brown acrylic curvilinear and rectilinear geometric grids. Each twist of the palette knife, therefore, breaks the work’s surface and this, in turn, creates an internal dynamic whose application is animated by each rippling ridge of acrylic.
The curvilinear cadence of this 9-inch by 9-inch painting is masterfully matched by its verdant palette. Not quite landscape, not quite non-objective, the swaying compositional elements of this handsome painting certainly represent an idealized environment as envisioned by a superb talent. If there is an illustration to be made for Kosins’ synesthesia, it’s to be found in her dancing “Corcovado.” “Kathy Kosins: Jazz in the Abstract” will continue through Sept. 3 at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth St. Exhibit hours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. For information, call (734) 769-2999.