Local artist Michael DeMeglio has synesthesia—when he hears sounds he sees colors.
Stillwater-based artist Michael DeMeglio, who was born deaf, hears in a special way that helps make him a unique visual artist. With the help of a hearing aid, when DeMeglio hears sounds—especially musical sounds—he sees colors.
“I’ve always had it,” says DeMeglio, a 45-year old native of Bloomfield, Mich. “Ever since I was a child. I can recall childhood memories growing up and listening to cassette tapes. I remember seeing color appear in my vision or mind when certain notes or a sound was made, but never really made the connection until later, in my adulthood.”
DeMeglio started painting as a high school senior when he brushed a mural on his bedroom wall. “Since then, I’ve had an itch for paint and creation. I remember being amazed at how fascinating and satisfying it was to see paint flow off of a brush—if you’re looking closely.”
However, he didn’t decide to make painting a career until he became dissatisfied with his graphic design studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a private school for the deaf and hard of hearing. “It wasn’t organic enough or satisfying,” he says. “That’s when I really turned to paint and canvas.” He considers himself a self-taught artist.
Starting out, DeMeglio was mainly inspired by two D.C.-area artists, Matt Sesow and Dana Ellyn. “Sesow inspired me with his stories about how he got started. I, too, felt that if I persisted and continued to grow that I could make a full-time living creating and painting,” he says.
Minneapolis painter Michael Vrundy encouraged DeMeglio to emulate old masters like Matisse, Pissaro, Monet and Degas, and introduced him to plein air painting at Lake Harriet and other area lakes. “He shared with me how lighting can change in our paintings, and that finding the right time and day can make or break a painting. From there I learned quickly and developed my painterly, impressionist style,” he says.
DeMeglio is mostly inspired by classical music and jazz, “good musicians who aren’t afraid to express themselves,” he says. Well-written lyrics also inspire him by evoking strong visual imagery.
Last year, he completed a series of four paintings inspired by movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, after hearing the symphony’s fourth movement on his car radio.
He finds that improvisational music—jazz and rock—inspire improvising on the canvas, “encouraging me to make subjective works and change up my color schemes from the colors that I hear,” he says.
DeMeglio sometimes listens to music while painting, usually in the beginning when he is layering backgrounds or adding final layers. But he more often listens to documentaries since, “I often find the consistency of [a narrator’s] voice helps me stay focus and in trance. Music has emotions and may often trigger my conscious which can change the direction of my work,” he explains.
DeMeglio is also often inspired by vocabulary words that are seldom used in everyday language. “I may often seek them out and do some research on their origin and paint my interpretation and image that comes to mind. Historic events and places can also trigger images,” he says.
For DeMeglio, painting is a meditative act. “It truly brings myself to a deeper connection within my being. It is however, exhausting,” he says. “I could do a painting where I work a straight six to eight hours, and when I’m done, I won’t start again until a few days, just so I can recover mentally and physically. Another great thing about painting is, you really look at the world and your surroundings in a completely different perspective. Everything has a story.”
DeMeglio sells his paintings through an online website at demeglioart.com.
Like most painters, DeMeglio aspires to have his work seen—and acquired—by more people. He’s placed his works in two local galleries, Stillwater Art Guild Gallery and Kelly Art Gallery and Framing in Hudson, Wis. as well as at Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, Mich.