Artist Tanja Ackerman

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Synaesthete artist Tanja Ackerman captures and shares the powerful experience of seeing sound. For as long as she can remember, she has been able to see multi dimensional visual imagery when listening to music or natural sounds, which she now translates into art pieces for all to see. We talked to her about this incredible gift and her love of art and music.

Hi Tanja. Can you tell us about what drew you to the Coffs Coast as a place you wanted to live and work?

As a part-time local of Bellingen for more than twenty years, I have an ongoing love affair with the region and this year relocated permanently to Coffs Harbour. The natural beauty, abundance of National Parks, unspoilt beaches, whales, the Marina and the Solitary Islands called me to the Coffs Coast. 

Then add the vibrant art and music scene to the mix, and I am now in the perfect surroundings to enhance and explore my creativity and art practice. Coffs is a great source for my synaesthesia paintings.

As an artist, how has the area influenced your work?

My dream for a long time has been to have my paintings “played”, performed. The Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium has given me that opportunity. Last year I had the honour of collaborating with some of Australia’s leading musicians and the Conservatorium’s Sunday Series to produce a body of work called Art Sonata. Each painting was played professionally at an extraordinary level of skill, and my dream came true. A truly life altering magnificent experience for me! I am planning to build on that experience again in October this year.

What are some of your favourite mediums to use and why?

I predominantly paint with acrylics and sometimes oils. I do not have a long term favourite, as I work in a variety of mediums. I love drawing in pen, ink and charcoal, which I find calming, meditative and expressive. 

In 2017 the addition of digital painting has allowed for the development of new techniques and stretched my art practice. I carry a camera with me most days, as my love of abstract, expressionistic, macro and landscape photography is a huge passion. 

Combining the disciplines of Dadirri (Indigenous) and both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism results in works that are immediate, meditative and present.

How would you describe your style of work?

My synaesthesia paintings are a signature style. I capture and share the powerful experience of seeing sound. My works communicate – a multi sensory experience. They speak of the power of art and music to engage, stimulate, transport, heal and unite. Music is cross cultural and beyond words. My paintings allow and encourage an experience of “unseen” worlds.

Can you describe how you use sound to create your pieces?

Each work is painted whilst listening to a select piece of music, either through my stereo system or quality headphones. I believe we experience music and art firstly on a sensory vibrational level. The reasoning, intellectual, interpretive part is secondary. We feel music first, then think it. I use sound to create unique works of art. So, my art conveys my experience of this music and hopefully opens up a new level of insight for others to appreciate in the process.

What can you tell us about “Synesthesia” – has this been something that’s always affected you?

I can see sound. Synaesthesia is the formal name for this gift. When I hear music or natural sounds, my visual field is populated with a mix of three dimensional and two dimensional visual imagery – detailed, delicate, colourful and intricate lines, patterns and textures that move. I have been seeing sound for as long as I can remember. 

My synaesthesia highlights how the full spectrum of sensory experience informs our individual interpretation of sound and music.

Do you listen to a wide variety of music when you paint, and do you find different genres inspire really different looking pieces?

I have a wide taste in music, from Mozart to Metallica. I love to just listen to music and natural sounds. Each piece of art is unique and is painted to a particular piece of music, with genres covering orchestral, jazz, metal, rock, opera, folk, blues, sacred choral works and Requiem Mass. My Pink Floyd paintings are iconic in that they are quite psychedelic, conveying surreal dream like imagery with vibrant colour across the spectrum. In contrast, Bach Cello Suite paintings result in highly detailed, intricate patterns with deep red colourations. Shostakovich viola and piano works are intense, passionate, moving, longing and beautiful, resulting in tender pinks, soft ethereal greys, hints of purple and yellow ochre and light filled peaceful painting.

What is the process of creating a piece like?

Exciting and intense. I am completely immersed in the music and creative process. To be able to combine two of my greatest passions, art and music, gives me enormous joy, fulfillment and energy. Listening to the music, watching the synaesthesia pulse across my visual field and then the creative addition of my emotional response is a powerful, life enhancing, remarkable experience. 

I then head to the easel and canvas with the music on loop and paint. I focus, ensure distraction free time – usually blocks of one hour with a 10 – 20 minute break in nature in between, resulting in a seven-hour work day. I wish I could do this all the time and nothing else.

What sort of reaction do you commonly get to your sound artworks? Do you find people tend to relate to your interpretation of the music?

Lots of “WOWs” and “This is amazing!” Especially when it is music that a person loves or is familiar with. I have witnessed many people connecting with my paintings and having tears of joy. Others enjoy the colour and/or patterns, and for some it is all about the music. I have received a lot of wonderful feedback from people relating to my interpretation and representation of the music. As we all experience sound, music or art in our own way, it is fascinating to hear my viewers’ experience of my works.

Tell us about how you came to be an artist; has art always been a part of your life? 

Creativity is the fabric of my being. I am passionate about art and music. Art has been central to my entire life, drawing in a detailed manner from an early age and playing musical instruments from the age of eight. Art and music have allowed me to express myself – it is my zone, my outlet, my passion. They are my way of being in the world and as a professional full-time artist.

Would you say you have been particularly influenced or inspired by anyone as an artist?

Joni Mitchell is the first person who comes to mind for me. The artist, musician, singer, song-writer. She is the soundtrack to my life, having travelled with me via her music since my birth. I hold a special place for her music, art and the powerful woman that is Joni Mitchell in my heart. 

My father died young. However, in the limited time I had with him he gave me the great gift of music exposure, appreciation and the special shared time of listening together. We spent many joyous hours listening, just listening side by side in the music room or in the car. When I was a child he would accompany me on his guitar, and we would play music regularly.

Do you currently have any other creative projects going on?

Cartoon Symphony is currently exhibiting as a body of work that artistically joins the forces of cartoon imagery and music. 

Cartooning in this collection extends beyond the traditional cartoon stereotypes. This exhibition displays not only the superheros and pop culture, but extends to cartoon as a unique art form. Works include imagery ranging from Spiderman to the Pink Panther, Paul Kelly to Beethoven. Come and SEE the Music at The Bunker Cartoon Gallery, Coffs Harbour.

I am currently painting a new body of work for my upcoming exhibition, Art Fugue at The Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium on October 7th, 2018. A collaboration for the Sunday Series with Umberto Clerici (Cello) and Daniel de Borah (Piano) and Patrick Brearley (Acting Artistic Director) at Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium.

What are some other hobbies/activities you enjoy here on the Coffs Coast?

I love attending concerts, art openings, festivals, hiking in the numerous national parks, whales, mountain biking, the beach, and riding my motorbike through the profoundly beautiful Coffs Harbour region.

Where can people see your work?

Current solo exhibition Cartoon Symphony is on show at The Bunker Cartoon Gallery, Coffs Harbour until the 20th May 2018, daily from 10am – 4pm. There’s an event on Friday 18th May, Cartoon Symphony Unplugged – dinner and drinks plus a “trivia style” evening of fun.

Upcoming Exhibition Art Fugue – October 7th, 2018 at The Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium.

Otherwise, I am available and open for commissions of your favourite piece of music on email: or on Facebook: and my online gallery website, which I am aiming to launch soon. 

Come and SEE the Music.

Thanks Tanja.

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