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Exhibition Essay
May 5, 2022

“Synesthesia” at the National

Author
Amy Cook

InLiquid proudly presents Synesthesia, featuring the works of artists Andrew Chalfen and Melinda Steffy, on view at The National from May 4th to August 28th, 2022. Steffy’s methodical pieces and Chalfen’s energetic works both acknowledge auditory aural beauty in a visual way through pops of color and intricate patterns.
Melinda Steffy’s work is planned, logical, and precise in method and approach. Using her knowledge as both an artist and classically trained musician, Steffy works to translate the rhythmic, time-based format of music into visual color patterns. This is evident in works like SONG 4: Ruination Day, based on the song “Ruination Day, Part II” by Gillian Welch. In this painting, long and drawn out vocals are immortalized by long strokes of color, each shade representing a different note within the song. In this method, music can be both visually and audibly understood. She states, “my artwork blends color theory and music theory, revealing unexpected patterns that show the tonal and rhythmic complexity inherent in the music, so that what is normally heard in sequence can be seen all at once”.
Andrew Chalfen takes on a more improvisational and intuitive approach when creating his art pieces, stating “I let my mind wander, then cull, refine, and edit to make sonic and visual hooks, riffs, earworms, pattern, logo-like forms–I’m constantly iterating, forever tinkering with the process, and yet trusting the process”. Like Steffy, Chalfen is also a musician, and his artistic practice parallels his songwriting process, arranging and composing different elements to create a visual symphony of colors and patterns. This can be seen in most of his work, but especially in Low Earth Orbit, which is a cluster of vibrant blues, oranges, pinks, and greens, that radiate out from the center of the canvas in a pattern that is reminiscent of the reverberations within music. Dense in color, shape, and pattern, Chalfen’s artwork explores the richness and depth within music and the visceral response it evokes.
Additionally, both artists have provided music samples to pair with their visual works; Melinda Steffy offers a concise selection of folk music, while Andrew Chalfen provides a comprehensive playlist of electronic music. Folk music tends to have a discernible pattern and rhythm, in contrast to the spontaneity of electronic music. This auditory difference creates a visible difference between the two artists’ artwork. Electronic music is punchy, much like Chalfen’s vibrant color choices. Conversely, Steffy focuses on a stricter and more limited color palette, much like the repetitive tunes within folk music.
Come see and hear Chalfen and Steffy explore the intersection of art and music in Synesthesia at the National.
Listen to a curated Spotify playlist by Chalfen & Steffy here:
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