For the poet Charles Baudelaire, ‘scents, colours, and sounds’ corresponded in Les Fleurs du Mal; author Vladimir Nabokov could hear colors. Dante’s Inferno makes note of a place ‘where sun is silent’; F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, writes of ‘yellow cocktail music’, Oscar Wilde, in An Ideal Husband, of ‘mauve Hungarian music’.

Synesthesia — both the neurological condition in which one sense begets another, and the rhetorical device that evokes the experience — has long been a fixture in literature. Authors (Nabokov among them) created characters that experienced the condition, and countless others have adopted the language to craft intersense analogies that fuse sight and sound, odour and colour, texture and flavour.

In the work of Pia Krajewski, the synesthetic phenomenon is depicted as relationship between the visual and tactile, though here the language is painted rather than written. The artist’s haptic world encourages viewers to gaze deeply at a contextless object and become fully absorbed in the experience of imagined touch and texture.

Pia Krajewski’s paintings straddle the line between the abstract and the realist, between the literal and the figurative, between the intuitive specificity of neurological synesthesia and the contemplative, broad intersense analogies of literary synesthesia. The artist intends for viewers to ‘feel with their eyes’; each image is an experience centered on the physicality of seeing. Absent the weight of hidden meaning, viewers may find a more direct route to synesthetic connections as they consider the texture of a gently laid blue textile or imagine the smooth ridges and valleys of a corn cob.

The objects depicted are familiar, though not overtly so. This haptic world may be connected to our own, but it is still its own entity — one in which only seeing and feeling are essential. The ultimate result is a novel path to discovery such that these still lifes may seem anything but static.  Through the lens of rhetorical synesthesia, the work of Pia Krajewski prioritises thoughtfulness, not overthinking; engaging with the artist’s haptic world is a process driven by gentle curiosity rather than strenuous analysis. Here, it is far more important to visually recognise each tactile element than to contextually define it.

This absence of context is not necessarily an inhibition on the experience. Rather, the audience may more freely draw upon their own experiences to contextualise the visual-tactile relationship in each work. Yet this intersense exploration still occurs on a primarily conscious level; these paintings cannot be touched, and it requires a degree of present engagement to feel without physically touching. As in the use of synesthesia as a literary device, the tactile element of these shapes and textures are contingent on the viewer’s articulation of the imagined experience — their ability to consider and differentiate between the unique haptics of each surface and object depicted.  

Nevertheless, there are subtle hints at the automatic sensations of neurological synesthesia in these intentionally physical works — the condition produces intuitive sensory connections for those who experience it. Engaging with the tactile world of Pia Krajewski similarly tickles the senses with the instinctual specificity of neurological synesthesia; depictions of hands in some works further emphasise the close relationship between sight and touch in these works, themselves fulfilling the act of feeling.

The longer one spends engaging with Krajewski’s images, the more one begins to feel as if those perceived shapes and textures have been realised; with each new image, the physicality of seeing inches ever closer to the palpability of feeling.

Pia Krajewski, Haarnadel (Hairpin)

In both the literary and neurological lenses of synesthesia, seeking and developing a relationship between sight and touch in Krajewski’s work is not strenuous but satisfying — comforting, even, in the increasingly intuitive way each viewer can interpret intersense analogies as almost-real sensations.

The works envelop the viewer in their smooth curvilinear compositions and chromatic schemes. These paintings — like the sensations they evoke — are gentle, illustrative of great care for the subjects of each work. There is a nurturing aspect to this haptic world; it encourages tactile exploration and intersensory connection rather than affronting viewers with its message. Enjoyment is brought about precisely because there is no hidden message. The purposefulness of contemplating intersense analogies is supplemented and enhanced — not counteracted — by the viewer’s intuitive, instinctual reaction to tactile exploration.

There is fusion, here, not only of two senses but also two ways of interpreting a multisensory experience. Each painting fosters both the broad, literary-adjacent connections between visual and haptic pleasure and specific, neurologically-driven relationships between imagery and sensation. Pia Krajewski paints both real and unreal; the haptic world may be separate from our own, but the synesthetic experiences it evokes are deeply felt.

Artworks in this exhibition