“Art truly saved my life; I owe everything to it. Allowing myself to be vulnerable at that time is what kept me alive, I channelled it even in that state. Vulnerability can shift into power.”Jack Coulter
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite a number of contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Jack Coulter, an Irish artist whose paintings capture his experience of synaesthesia (seeing sound). His earliest memories of this date back to childhood, as he remembers seeing his own heartbeat reverberating pulses of colour.
Throughout his adolescence he would paint whilst listening to jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, translating their sounds onto canvas. Today, he has been commissioned by Anne Hathaway, Coca-Cola, Antoni Porowski, the Freddie Mercury Estate, and others to transform various musical compositions into art pieces.
In our interview, Coulter tells me which artwork of his stands out as being particularly meaningful to him, which harsh truths he prefers to ignore as an artist, and whether or not he believes there are limits to human creativity.
Which artwork of yours stands out to you at this moment as being particularly meaningful to you?
It’s titled ‘1994’, a very old work of mine I did at 18 (shown above). It’s around 100 x 127 in. It was an influential time in my life, I felt it needed channelling. As well, in hindsight the piece could deem to be important. I knew if I could match, if not outdo certain paintings I saw from the great abstract expressionists at such a young age, I could potentially reach that level as life progresses. Naivety in your formative years is quite an inspiring thing, there’s a youthful innocence/energy to it. I titled that piece after the year I was born, it strangely encapsulates my past, present and future artistry.
Do you think it’s possible to objectively state that a piece or genre of art is more artistically valid than another?
In terms of painting firstly, I feel it’s all about belief, do you believe it? There’s a reason certain works collectively engage the general public, as Tracey Emin said, ‘You have to crack a code.’ It can be an accident, or purposeful. It truly depends on the piece of art, or artist for that matter. In genre it’s very similar, except it leans more toward feeling and intent. I think abstraction is the most universal art form, it’ll never die or lose potency. It’s difficult to say if one genre of art is more valid than another, certainly some are more informative than others.
What does it mean to you to be vulnerable as an artist?
Being vulnerable is freedom as an artist. If you don’t wear your heart on canvas so to speak, it won’t translate. My mental health wasn’t great when I started everything. Art truly saved my life; I owe everything to it. Allowing myself to be vulnerable at that time is what kept me alive, I channelled it even in that state. Vulnerability can shift into power.
What harsh truths do you prefer to ignore as an artist?
It’s important to realise you can’t please everyone, especially in abstraction. I don’t ignore negativity; it adds fuel to the fire.
Do you believe there are limits to human creativity?
I don’t at all, unless you’re physically or mentally unable to create. Even then, Frida Kahlo still painted wearing a full-body cast for three months. A steel handrail impaled her through the hip in a bus accident, her pelvic bone had been fractured, her abdomen and uterus had been punctured, her spine was broken in three places, her right leg was broken in eleven places, her right foot was crushed and dislocated, her collar bone was broken, and her shoulder was dislocated. The accident had also displaced three vertebrae. For that reason, I don’t believe there are limits. The term ‘artist’s block’ frustrates me, it’s quite a privileged thing to say.
If there were an artwork that depicted your current experience of the world, what might it look like?
I would say either Another Storm by Lee Krasner (1963) or 12 Hawks at 3 O’clock by Joan Mitchell (1960)