Coastal Synaesthesia

Artist Brandy Gale

Paintings and Photographs of Hawaii, Fiji and California

Opening Reception: Friday, January 9 at 5:00 p.m.; exhibit remains through January 30, 2015

Burnett Gallery


Brandy Gale is a visual artist from Canada who has synaesthesia. She experiences an involuntary joining or crossing of the senses – one that can happen among all senses: hearing, vision, taste, touch, smell and movement.

Gale states, “Growing up with this gift, I thought everyone had it. But it turns out that it is not so common, and it took the school psychologist to figure out why the letter “A” was always yellow to me, or the fresh cut grass on the way to school triggered a melody in my head, or why certain shapes had personalities and smells.”

Painting by Brandy Gale

For her exhibition at Gualala Arts Center in January, 2015, Gale will present a selection of recent paintings and photographs made on location in Coastal California, Hawaii and Fiji. Her passion for these particular intertidal areas was awakened by learning to swim and SCUBA dive as an adult, after conquering a lifelong fear of water in 2013. This new-to-her world sensed through the mind of an extreme synaesthete will present a unique perspective on these aquatic worlds.

Photo by Brandy Gale

Western science has known about synaesthesia for about 300 years. It comes in and out of style to study it, it seems. It has recently come back into vogue. Current study of synaesthesia reveals a unique peephole into the brain and its organization, one that could be quite useful in teaching and learning.

“I recently learned that there are 54 kinds of synaesthetic sense crossover variables. And I have them all! So that kind of makes me a kind of poster girl for synaesthesia. Like many synaesthetes, I can use my sensory crossovers to create mnemonic devices that allow me to recall things and to find lost objects,” Gale explains. “I use it when I am painting outdoors on location. If a mountain peak seems red, I will paint it so. It simply seems to make sense, especially within the context of my entire body of work over time, and to many of those who collect my work. I also write, and use synaesthesia to describe scenes to the viewer.”

Painting by Brandy Gale

Making paintings from life – not from photographs – is Gale’s practice. By exploring the fascinating sensory panorama of each locale in person (“en plein air”), she attempts to capture, select and transmit these personal synaesthetic experiences into her paintings.

“I believe lots of writers, poets, musicians and creative types use their synaesthesia,” declares Gale. “There are lists of famous, successful synaesthetes to illuminate this. Tesla, Kandinsky, Ligeti, Rimbaud, Hockney, Feynman, O’Keefe, Ellington, etc. My partner Henry Kaiser has several auditory-to-visual forms of synaesthesia that are indispensable in his music-making. Certainly some members of the Gualala art audience know that they have classic forms of synaesthesia, but I am pretty darn sure that many others have some aspects of synaesthesia – but have discounted it – due to societal and familial conditioning that does not allow for such experiences to be ‘normal’.”

At the opening reception, the eclectic Henry Kaiser will perform solo guitar, and artist Brandy Gale will be there to welcome you.

Photo by Brandy Gale

Artist Biograhy

Brandy Gale was born in Marville, France. Accompanying her parents across the globe to various postings with the Canadian Armed Forces set the stage for her desire to paint on location. She currently resides in Prince Edward County, Canada and spends winters in Northern California with her partner Henry.

Artist Brandy GaleGale began her efforts at life drawing and painting with the guidance of Belgian art teacher Ovide Constant (Florenville Elementary), who encouraged her to spend hours drawing shapes. Also supportive were her mother Carol Stephen and uncle Ken Friesen, both potters. Later came instruction from Canadian artists Paterson Ewen, Kim Moodie and Greg Ludlow.

In her twenties, Gale pursued a body of work as a performance artist as Brandy Stephen. She executed her body-art oriented pieces in Canada, the US and in Europe in solo and group exhibitions, as well as with Antler River People, a performance art troupe of which she was a founding member. She is listed in Alain-Martin Richard and Clive Robertson’s tome, “Performance au/in Canada 1970-1990.”

Following completion of an HBA degree in Art Theory & Criticism (with a minor in pre-med Sciences) at the University of Western Ontario, she started a business doing artwork for corporate clients. Her entrepreneurial efforts led to the formation of a full-service advertising agency with a signage division and two printing presses running 24/7. Eventually she streamlined the business to focus solely on artwork and photography for the music industry, and has since worked with a multitude of successful bands in different countries from a wide range of music genres.

Gale presently devotes her full focus to painting year round, working mainly in plein air watercolor, oil, and her handmade, pure pigment acrylic. Donning snowshoes to paint mountainscapes at 7000 feet at Lake Louise, Alberta is an annual journey. The Caribbean, Hawaii, California, Prince Edward County in Ontario, Monhegan Island in Maine, Vermont and Niagara Falls are other favorite painting locations.

Most recently, Gale has drawn on her many years as a professional concert photographer to shoot “up close and personal” the plants and creatures dwelling in tide pools along the coasts of Fiji, Hawaii and Northern California. These “rock stars of the sea” are a passionate project for Gale, one that is culminating in this exhibition of paintings and photography at Gualala Arts Center.

Photo by Brandy Gale

Artist’s Statement

Painting landscapes was not the cool thing to do when I was at school; the focus was concept and theory. Artists in my sphere created indoors in the studio, working out ideas and rendering them in their chosen medium, attempting to convey assessments of a Postmodern world. For many years, my work was studio bound; and as a constant traveler, I was always hurrying back to get creative. However, one day atop a mountain, whilst thinking about the works of Emily Carr, Paterson Ewen and Robert Smithson, I had an epiphany: “It does not matter what the subject is. Potentially, an artist can equally convey a concept in a plein air landscape. Why not?”

To that end, I now paint constantly what is at hand, on the spot — forests, seascapes, falling snow and the odd mountain. Because of my experience as a professional photographer, it is my opinion is that a photograph is already a work of art; I truly prefer to not paint from them if at all possible. As a person with raging synaesthesia, to capture the essence of a place via a painting is something I feel best done in person, from life, with the wind and sound and tastes and smells whirling around you. There is power, joy and physical challenge in painting outdoors alla prima. The extremes of climate, oneness with the environment, and the sociable aspects of this method of making art appeal to me greatly.

Pushing the boundaries of traditional plein air is of interest to me. A color fanatic, I have hauled up to 48 different tubes of paint to a location. For a time, I explored the possibilities of a far more limited split-primary palette of two blues, two reds, and a duo of my favorite color, yellow. More recently, incorporating mark-making and some abstraction while working in the field has produced results that seem to challenge my past work, and I am inspired by this new direction.

See more of Gale’s work at

Photo by Brandy Gale