Seeking the Sound of Cobalt Blue—Paintings 2016-2018:
Ellen Hackl Fagan
Ellen Hackl Fagan builds connections between color and sound using installations, interactive games, and collaborative projects that combine color-and-texture-saturated paintings with music and digital technologies. Each installation invites viewers an opportunity to explore synesthesia for themselves.
A self portrait can take many forms. Empirical evidence of one’s life in the form of construction materials left in the garage from renovation projects around the house and garden are a source material for Fagan. Blurring the boundary between painting and photography, Fagan uses paint to capture the everyday objects around her home and life, almost like a photogram.
Working wet on wet, Fagan places her objects on soaked paper, and applies pigments after creating a pattern with tiles, asphalt shingles, jars, and plastics. As the large museum board gets covered by the layering of objects, the process blinds Fagan from seeing what is happening at the surface level, inviting chance. Equal parts conductor and choreographer, Fagan works flat on tables or the floor. A visceral communication with the painting develops from head to toe. The surface becomes a stage where molecules of pigment and fluid expand and contract while drying.
By showing the ghostly view of the former objects, feelings of loss and memory emerge from the interplay of light and dark. Finding that the patterns created with mass-produced materials are similar to musical structures, the geometric, repeating patterns, contrasts, and nuances feel melodic. Like a life—moments of darkness and solitude, confusion, and bliss. And echoing life’s chaotic beauty, her sources can be linked to pop music, kitsch, Rimbault, Jungian psychology, Minimalism, and the decorative arts.
Balanced between randomness and intention, Fagan’s art, like jazz music, continues to reveal limitless possibilities for improvisation. Saturation, accident, and the nature of the materials impose their own voice. Color seduces, the Siren’s call, in jewel tones.
The Reverse Color Organ—New Genre/Interactive Digital Media/Web Apps:
Ellen Hackl Fagan’s interactive digital projects explore the nature of synesthesia by pairing color to sound. In collaboration with programmer Joshie Fishbein the Reverse Color Organ is an interactive web app that viewers can download to their iPhones or Droids. Their phones are transformed into a synesthetic tool, enabling them to explore their own unique opinions about the sounds of colors.
For the project “What Does Blue Sound Like?,” at the Mid-Manhattan Public Library (2017), passersby approaching the library entrance saw two windows saturated with color—one blue, the other red. Through a QR code they logged onto the Reverse Color Organ and began playing with the sonic palettes, keyed in to the same colors as the windows.
Once they submitted their pairings, their color/sound selections were added to the Reverse Color Organ database. Through the website, visitors can choose to investigate the full breadth of the Reverse Color Organ, comparing and contrasting the color-sound pairings among different groups of people. It is Fagan’s theory that, as humans, we instinctively feel similarly about the sound of colors which may transcend cultural differences.