You just need to view the work of WA artist Sobrane Simcock to see that she loves bold and vibrant colours. But there’s far more colour in Sobrane’s life than any of us can possibly imagine. Sobrane has the perceptual phenomenon known as synesthesia.
In layman’s terms synesthesia is when the sensory information that comes with sight, taste, sound, smell and touch stimulates unexpected parts of the brain causing the senses to intertwine.
Grapheme-colour synesthesia, where letters and numbers are seen as colours, is the most common form but there’s also sound-to-colour and smell-to-colour synesthesia. Sobrane has all these and more.
“I only realised I had synesthesia when I was 30, after seeing a TV program where they were looking for people to participate in a study,” Sobrane says.
“I’d had it all my life and never realised people didn’t see what I saw. It literally rocked my world!”
Sobrane says she grew up loving school as the blackboard was so beautifully coloured.
“The number ‘two’ is sky blue, ‘three’ is always yellow and ‘four’ is wine-burgundy. Poor ‘seven’ is baby-poo-brown. Number ‘one’ is a wild-card that morphs into all sorts of colours depending on where it appears.”
Mind-bending isn’t it? When Sobrane took part in a study at the University of Melbourne even she found it tricky to explain what she saw.
Synesthesia is more common in women than men and there’s often a link to the visual arts and music. Even the great Van Gogh is thought to have had some form of synesthesia. These findings fit with Sobrane’s experience as she’s been a professional artist for several decades.
Sobrane’s brain is made even more unique by the fact that she also sees music in colour.
“I remember going to Opera in the Park and it was like seeing an aurora floating across the sky. It was so magical; shifting and changing and honestly, I cried… a lot. For me, the colours of music have a weight value too – some are heavy and some are light. When I hear a loud drum beat, I can see it smash through the other colours just like a rock displaces water when thrown into a pond.”
With around two per cent of the population thought to have some form of synesthesia, research on the topic is considered incomplete as many people remain undiagnosed and there are countless unusual variables. Spatial-synesthesia is one of those rarer forms and yes, Sobrane has that too.
A further nuance of this space-to-colour perception is that it enables Sobrane to take one of her small-scale sketches and scale it up onto a wall using only her synesthesia as a tool; no grid marks, no projector.
Having spent many years running her successful art gallery in Broome and travelling nationally and overseas to work on public and private murals, Sobrane has now chosen to relocate her life and business. She’s recently moved south to Mount Barker where she’s bought a magnificent 90-year-old building that formerly housed the local branch of the Westpac Bank.
With big plans afoot there’s no doubt Sobrane’s life and career will continue to be as prosperous and colourful as ever.