Conor Sweetman

Invisible Images

Conor Sweetman
Invisible Images

At First Sight

After dropping her four year old off at school, Christina Eve and I make our way back to her home studio where today, she is allowing me to be a fly on the wall observing her synesthesia in action.

On the drive back into the tree lined streets of her Florida suburb, I see a billboard with a blonde woman poised like the figure in Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. On one side is a little girl screaming through a bullhorn into the woman’s right ear. On the other side stands a little boy at attention—mouth wide open—also screaming. In print larger than the dysfunctional trio the advertisement read, “You Deserve A Mommy Makeover”. The largest image on the billboard features the same blonde woman in a white bikini, smiling. She is on her knees with an island in the background. On the billboard’s bottom corner is the name and number of a man. He looks like a forty-something plastic surgeon.

In that woman, many may simply see a picture of vanity, but after spending time with Christina Eve, I learned to discern what’s behind an image. I learned to ask about what is unseen. As I reflected, Made-Over Mommy’s enormous smile is pearl white, yes, but the whole background of the billboard is blue. I wonder if behind the Made-Over Mommies we may find various shades of the blues; wordless sadness that has gone overlooked.


Hearing Colors

Christina Eve is known as a Synesthetic Artist. A rare brain condition called Synesthesia allows her to perceive colors and shape when she hears any sound—especially musical sounds. Her work is rooted in finding the alignment of feelings and form with the colors and latent imagery of different musical pieces. She does her best to gently draw the overlooked ghosts that pass beneath her viewers’ busy psyche and bring them to the front doors of the mind. If the observer is willing, a fleeting mist of undisciplined emotions can perhaps at least be acknowledged and accepted.

Regarding online presence, Christina can be a shadow. Rarely ever showing her face on Instagram causes one to wonder if perhaps her invisibility makes her more acquainted with invisible things.

Christina Eve offers an alternative mode of living and creating in a country that is currently interested in making a loud, visible, global noise. It is a way to accept existing in silence among the quiet, unseen, ordinary things. It is the way of accepting oneself, reality and the others in it –as is. If you see a familiar color in that image of radical acceptance, you may realize that the color sounds like Christ.


Painting from the Back of the Mind

In the space of her home studio, one large window allows for the morning light to flood the room from the west. An integrated community of diversely colored pencils, pastels, and acrylics huddle close together on the table. Different colors occupying one cup here and another container there; it is a direct contrast from the walled and isolated suburban plots we drove past earlier.

Because Christina sees colors and forms in her mind when she listens to music, she dons her large over-ear headphones. She is still. Quiet. At her table, facing out the window, I perceive the studio to be a kind of prayer chamber in a Franciscan monastery. Christina’s head is bowed, and her eyes are closed listening to music. The morning light frames her like the subject of a painting.

This classical and romanticized image is not what Christina typically paints. It is too “in the forefront” she says, gesturing with her open right hand around the front of her forehead. She gestures an open left hand to the back of her head in a circular pattern. “I want to paint from back here” she says. Christina intends to reach into the back of her own mind and into the back of humanity’s mind. Christina exhibits a kind of spiritual insight—the kind that is interested in what is behind the appearance of things. She senses the image of that invisible face to our left, and to our right, in the mind, and in the gut. That invisible face stamped on each of our souls which has been cracked and vandalized by an insecure and pushy world.


Giving Vision

Her art invites you to admit that there are things we do not see that are real and around us. Things like the wind find themselves in her swirling meditation series. In a recent post online, Christina mentions that, as a synesthete, “everything [she] hears has color and shape, but not everything is worth painting.” If images from the back of the mind have been competing with other sounds in the studio, she will literally sleep on it. She loops the song and watches the synesthetic photisms become “sharper deeper and more vivid” in a state between sleep and wakefulness called the hypnagogic state. Christina’s recent body of work studies Max Richter’s composition Sleep, and it relies heavily on time spent within this in-between state.  I didn’t grasp  the need for so many different colors in some of her pieces until I watched her paint in real-time to “Am I Doomed” by Moses Sumney, featured on NPR’s all songs considered. Christina describes it this way:

“Warm light enters the scene the first time Moses sings "am I doomed?" As the song progresses, I'm emotionally affected by the sonic expansion and the emotional heaviness of the lyrics, and I incorporate it into the work. The soaring, far-away vocal cries in the background are a writhing purple. At the apex of the song, light pushes back the dark colors, and recedes again as the song draws back into itself.”

Christina Eve on NPR’s All Songs Considered

There’s a mutual exchange between Christina Eve, her art and the viewer. It invites participation. A piece called “In the Stream”, painted from an S. Carey song of the same name, portrays an autumnal warmth. With minimal instrumentation, the music highlights a kind opening in the soul which feels evident in the painting. It’s from these kinds of pieces that one can enter into that space of accepting what wordless feelings are present within oneself.

Christina prevents me from interpreting her translation of what is invisible as an easy labor. She reminds me that she really has to wrestle with some pieces.

“Even though a piece isn’t alive yet, we still have a relationship—even though I’m angry at it, and it’s not doing what I want,” she says.  This is how her art reflects the spirit of the Christ: it gives sight to those blind to their own and others’ soul ailments.

Suffering and the Surprising Wonder of Questions

At one point, in her previous marriage, Christina had experienced a feeling of wholeness. She mentions thinking that this wholeness would be with her for the rest of her life. Later, her spouse was sledgehammered with the effects of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or ME, a devastating disease that causes dysfunction in the neurological, immune, endocrine,  and energy metabolism systems. As a caretaker and a mother, Christina was buried underneath a landslide of deep depression and exhaustion after losing the relationship given to her.

Christina reached a point where she no longer wanted to live. She explains to me about having that honest crisis of faith where, like the Job of the Hebrew scriptures, she was in serious confusion about the reputation of a good God. She continues to share her invisible internal reflections of the time with me.

“I would say, ‘You tell me you’re this particular person, that loves me and values my life, and I’m precious to you like a child—but [because my life is in shambles] I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t understand why you’re allowing this.’”

I want to destroy what you’ve created, is how she describes her past intentions of suicide.

She elaborates, “I couldn’t reconcile how I was telling him these things and he was still silent. So for him to come back with a voice [that guides my art] that I could hear even when I felt abandoned—and honestly by the church’s standards I’ve abandoned Him—that’s a faithfulness on His part.”

“Almost all of the time, when I’m creating a piece that I can feel good about,  a requirement of mine is the sense that the piece is truly alive. That’s when I meet God; it’s a reminder to me that this is worship for me when nothing else is.”

In the middle of painting a new work in progress, Christina places her hands over her face for a moment. I can’t interpret if she is weeping, trying to concentrate, or experiencing a physical pain. Her face remains hidden from me. She continues painting.

Watching her paint in person requires me to ask questions about what I cannot see, and what I do not understand.  The questions expand to how the mind works, about how frequencies can translate into both sound and color.

There is an overwhelming sense of the whirlwind’s voice asking me the same poetic questions about existence that were asked of Job in that ancient Hebrew story. I begin to ask, “I wonder why it’s this way, or that way?” “I wonder why this technique?” “I wonder why…” until I realize that Christina’s art unknowingly returns wonder into the vocabulary of its viewers’ sentences— viewers who exist in the year 2019—a time where the bronze and iron ages have passed and the information age has risen.

For all the omnipotence of information, Christina’s art stands before the giant and continues to paint new questions still speckled with wonder. The spirit of Christina’s art tends to draw the sentence “I wonder why…” from the spirit of the viewer—and in these sentences, wonder comes before the question “why?”.

Perhaps this is the same healing wonder given by God to the figure of Job. Some readers might raise a theological eyebrow and wonder where Christina might be spiritually. She may even wonder, herself, about her own location—but how shallow a wonder when used to point downward at a person, rather than to point upward to the source. I remember Christ’s own life-giving words here to another woman, whose location was also questioned.

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship neither on this mountain nor on that mountain… but the hour is now here, when the true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus to the Woman at the Well.

Later, Christina asks if I would like something for my stomach—like a bagel cut in half, or perhaps some water. I feel that I am overlooking something.  The spirit of her art moves me to see past the words and pictures in the front of my mind. I reach to the back of my mind for the deeper sense that I feel, and try to hold on to it.


The essence of her offering to me is this: broken bread and water, pictures of the invisible Christ.  I overlooked them even though they are visible in front of me. I wondered at what else I could not see. How can we be taught spiritual things if we are blind to the things of the world around us?


A Cultural Caretaker

Like the Christ, Christina as an artist exemplifies living as a wounded healer. To paraphrase Christina, Art can translate what people do not have words for. It translates what it unseen. It brings to the front what we were too afraid to seek ourselves—making the back of the mind visible.

Christina’s art walks to the margins of the mind and befriends the unwanted, untouchable feelings; the outcast thoughts and traumas left behind for a Makeover. It lowers our paralytic internal souls from a hole in the roof into the gatherings of our minds to be seen in all their vulnerability.

We may not always be able to see hear compassion’s voice clearly in a violent and starving world, but through Christina’s art, we have a mirror to look through. A vision of compassion, even if seen from a blurry mirror, is still a vision of compassion seen. She has taken the initiative to retrieve old pictures in the attic of our minds. She chooses to go back into the houses that people are afraid to return to. She goes to fetch that memory powdered in dust, that thought kept in the closet, and that feeling you tasted once but have never been able to name.

Christina is a caretaker for her viewers, who may feel as if their doctor has been too long away, or too busy. Slowly and quietly, she plays music, and spends time creating spaces for people to come to terms with their own invisible sickness as she and they both wait for healing from the Healer.

Christina Eve’s art invites you to experience the groaning for joy by a suffering creation—not with noise or words, but in spirit and in truth.


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