Portrait of the Artist

Kim Sandara

The Color of Sound

By Noelani Kirschner | July 1, 2019
<em>The Creation of Adam</em>, 2018,  9 x 12 inches, gouache, whiteout, pen and markers on paper
The Creation of Adam, 2018, 9 x 12 inches, gouache, whiteout, pen and markers on paper

If a song were translated into a painting, what would it look like? Kim Sandara, a painter and illustrator trained in color theory, has always been able to see melodies—or at least associate them with a wide spectrum of hues—because of her synesthesia. Through her ongoing series, Music Paintings, Sandara listens to a varied playlist of music genres and lets her hand wander over the canvas to create a visual representation of the sound. “I had a teacher once who allowed us to listen to music, close our eyes, and move a pencil over a sheet of paper,” Sandara says. “Once we were done, we would see a bunch of scribbles and try to find images in it. That’s essentially what I still do—spheres of influences are subconsciously coming to me through the marks that I’m making, and music opens up that realm.”

In Room of a Young Girl, swirls of purple gouache intertwine with ink, dancing across the paper, punctuated by staccatos of pen marks. Layers of color build to a crescendo in some places while in others the painting leaves room for meditative silence. The result is akin to a musical Rorschach test, intentionally inviting the viewer see whatever they see.


  • Inspired by my Mother, 2018, 11 x 15 inches, gouache, Marker, Pen on Paper


The titles for her paintings do not correlate to any particular song title or genre, and she never reveals what is on her playlists because she wants viewers to come to their own conclusions. “People who aren’t in the arts feel self-conscious when they look at abstract art because it’s not straightforward,” says Sandara. “I want to break down that culture of feeling like you have to study something to enjoy a piece of work.”

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