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Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre further explored the power of colour to connect art and music. They experimented with colour to produce synaesthesia, the condition in which the stimulation of one sense leads to an automatic, involuntary response in another.

De Maistre was particularly interested in global theories of correspondence between colour and music. His compositions, and those of Wakelin, systematically represented music in terms of colour: colours signified particular musical notes, the depth or lightness of colour stood for pitch, and the varying saturation of colour corresponded with musical volume. These experiments culminated in their 1919 Colour in art exhibition, featuring small, colour-music ‘syncromies’ that prompted the first wave of abstract painting in Australia. Through these synaesthetic experiments, the viewer was invited to experience a landscape or still life with multiple senses – as a ‘musical’ harmony of colour and form.

Questions and activities

  • In class, discuss what colours you think could be used for different notes and what colours could represent loud or soft music. Listen to different types of music and be inspired to create a series of paintings that explore these relationships.
  • Choose one of Roy de Maistre’s colour-music paintings. Reinterpret the work as music, considering characteristics such as pitch and volume and how these might connect with hue, tone, saturation and the like. In turn, choose a piece of music to reinterpret as a painting using similar considerations. In class, present your pieces and discuss the value of this exercise and any insights you have had into synaesthesia.
  • Create a contemporary artwork that responds to the idea of synaesthesia. Consider using types of material practice other than painting, such as installation, film or performance.