The inspiring story of Jane Mackay: Synaesthesia, art & freedom
Imagine if when you smelt something, it also triggered a sound in your head, or when you touched a texture, it also created the physical sensation of taste. This is the everyday experience for people with ‘synaesthesia’, where one sensation can trigger a second, unrelated one.
For artist Jane Mackay, hearing sounds of any kind transforms them into a series of colours. These can be anything from spoken words to the melody of a song – for example say “Wednesday” to Jane and she sees a lemony-yellow colour. It’s a skill she realised she had as a child, but it’s only in the last 15 years or so that Jane has harnessed this special ability for artistic purposes.
Before this, Jane had a long career as a GP in a busy inner-London practice until hanging up her stethoscope – in fact throwing it into the Thames from Lambeth Bridge – and picking up a paintbrush instead. That’s not so say that she has turned her back on medicine entirely. Earlier this year she unveiled a work entitled “The pig and the snake” expressing her opinions about the pressures that the NHS is finding itself under.
Jane uses her love of music to create stunning artworks, like the pieces she has recently produced for the Swedish interior company Photowall. Inspired by Beyoncé’s “Halo”, Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” and La Roux’s “Bulletproof”, each one is a dramatic interpretation of the songs in question, and utilises colour to the fullest.
Unsurprisingly, Jane has had many more contacts and artistic collaborations with the musical world since she decided to devote herself full time to painting. From 2001-2002 she was the artist in residence at the Cambridge University Musical Society and she has very close links with music festivals, including those at Tewkesbury and Aldeburgh. Her connection with Aldeburgh has led to a series of over 200 paintings inspired by the works of Benjamin Britten who lived in the Suffolk seaside town.
A firm believer in the philosophy that you’re never too old to learn, in July 2016 Jane also gained a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Wimbledon College of Arts.
So while she may have turned her back on all of the rewards, not to mention pressures, of a life in medicine it’s undoubtedly true that Jane has gained freedom and great power of self-expression – and that surely is a very good trade-off indeed.