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Calvin Klein WomenArt Jack Coulter

The artist using synesthesia to interpret this season’s scents on canvas

Unlocking his unique ability to smell colour, we asked Belfast-born artist Jack Coulter to interpret some of our favourite fragrances from Chanel No.5 to Byredo’s Eleventh Hour

Belfast-born artist Jack Coulter has a unique ability: he can hear colour. It’s the rather wondrous result of having synesthesia – a rare neurological condition that turns the sound of his beating heart into a shade of ultraviolet. Eager to share his vision of the world, Jack has been putting down his sonic hallucinations on to canvas for the past few years. Using second-hand paint, and a collection of unusual tools such as sticks, knives and broken grass, Jack creates visually arresting abstract expressionist artworks inspired by the sounds of his favourite musicians, from David Bowie to The Smiths. Earlier this year, he collaborated with the London Chamber Orchestra, painting live via a video link to the highly emotive and immersive sounds of Mendelssohn. But Jack has another gift: he can smell colour too, which is something he has yet to truly explore in his work. That is until we sent him some of this season’s finest fragrances. Of a batch of 15, Jack whittled the selection down to seven smells he had the most visceral response to. Here’s what he came up with.

Chanel No. 5

“I wear Chanel No. 5 so depicting it on canvas was a dream. I painted the various stages of the fragrance as it sets on the skin. Initially, the subtle harshness exudes a warmth, its pungent undertone bleeds into a summer bed of flowers. Once it sets on your skin it's a dark heaven. Therefore, the layering in my piece has the initial spray of the faded whiskey underlay, overlaid in acid green, red, black with those tiny slices of aqua rising under — signifying its setting process. Every time I spray it, these colours arise.”

Get the scent: Chanel No. 5

Burberry Her

“This piece was the most visually stimulating to portray on canvas. It personally fascinates me when something beautiful can be laced with darkness — equally in a metaphysical or tangible manner. The floral starkness of Burberry Her predominately leaves me with ambient fades of golden yellows and magenta. When smelling this specifically, the prescribed colours were surrounded by darkness in my ray of vision, something that is very rare for me. To me, it feels very exotic.”

Get the scent: Burberry Her

Dior Joy

“A pulsating scent to me, the colour scheme differed as the resonated hues were difficult to portray from the offset. However, the more I inhaled, the piece developed an aggressive visual. This piece holds the strongest duality in terms of scent, I didn't have this visual in my head until the scent exuded my surroundings in this painting's final palette.”

Get the scent: Dior Joy

Marc Jacobs Daisy Love

“This scent was the purest experience to paint, the final visual is not dissimilar to cherry blossoms. The overall sophistication of the smell was matched by a bouquet of Marc Jacobs’ classic aroma.”

Get the scent: Marc Jacobs Daisy Love

Calvin Klein Women

“The aura of Calvin Klein has always been hues of blue with intertwining segments of scarlet to me, this smell was in my childhood quite a lot, in memoriam — the black segment arose from something I couldn't quite grasp, it lingered after the scent had seeped, therefore it structured the final visual.”

Get the scent: Calvin Klein Women

McQueen Luminous Orchid

“My personal favourite (apart from Chanel No. 5) to paint. In a classic McQueen manner, the smell was beautifully juxtaposed with sheer starkness in scent. It drove my senses into overdrive, I actually had sensory overload painting this. I wanted to portray the audacity within its spray, it's an aggressive piece. Ironically, this sweet scent of pink allowed me to paint in such an audacious manner. The sheer black laced within its centre was my immediate visual when smelling, it sat in front of my eyes. I'm really proud of this piece, I wanted to do it justice.”

Get the scent: McQueen Luminous Orchid

Byredo Eleventh Hour

“An incredibly mournful scent to me, hence the final visual. Everything goes into my work when it's laced with emotion. I've been to many funerals in my life, therefore the melancholic bittersweet scent imbued me with an indescribable centre shade. To me, even the scent had a lingering touch of lilies, the most common smell surrounding mourning. I was quite upset painting this, as I inhale everything deep within for my art. I didn't expect the final visual. It's the most truthful depiction of Byredo's scent, as it took everything I had. I don't believe in God, yet all of these works channelled something, they all arose so organically.”

Get the scent: Byredo Eleventh Hour