Arts / Design

When UX designer Steve Cleff hears sounds, he sees colors

The artist has a condition called “synesthesia.” We talked to Cleff, the Archer Group's UX director by day, about his career in art and how his condition plays a role in his artistic style.

Note the violet and turquoise. (Image courtesy of Steve Cleff)

Ever since he took to drawing at age three, Archer Group UX director Steve Cleff had always wanted to be an artist. After receiving a degree in fine arts from Syracuse University, Cleff believed he was all set to pursue a professional career in illustration.
Not long after graduating from college, though, Cleff bumped into the owner of multimedia company Visitor Communication Technologies outside of a bar. He was offered a job. He accepted.
That was 20 years ago. Yet, even though Cleff made the decision not to pursue art as a full-time career, he’s always kept up with his passion.
“For many years, I just painted because it was something that I needed to do,” said Cleff, who, in 2008, painted a new piece every week “just to see if [he] could.” Then, before the birth of his son in 2009, Cleff was feeling pangs of guilt.
“I thought it would teach him the wrong lesson if it looked like I gave up or never tried to do anything with my art,” Cleff said. “I put together a portfolio, found a gallery and got a gallery show together. I’ve been showing pretty regularly ever since.”

A sampling of Cleff's art.

A sampling of Cleff’s art. (Courtesy image)

Vividness of color is a common theme in Cleff’s work — and for good reason. Cleff has a condition called “synesthesia” that has a significant effect on his artwork.
“When I hear sounds I see colors in my mind,” he said. “In my mind the regular world looks pretty bland because there’s so many beiges and browns and grays. Depending on what I’m listening to, it’s bright, saturated colors.”
Cleff said often times, he’ll use turquoise and violet in his work because those are the colors that come to mind when he thinks of the concepts of serenity and vitality. Essentially, Cleff is painting what he sees in his mind’s eye.
Vivid colors are commonplace in Cleff’s work — and, as you might have noticed, women. Lots and lots of women.
“I grew up with a bunch of tough guys and always was challenged to win fights, be strong, suppress emotions and never show any type of weakness,” Cleff said. “If you generalize, the female approach to things is really about developing relationships and communities. I’m trying to get in touch with that.”

Cleff believes people are inevitably barred from personal growth if they only allow themselves to perceive any experience through the lens of a single gender. By painting women, Cleff said he is one step closer to finding enlightenment.
“That’s the muse I’ve been chasing, trying to understand things from a point of view I don’t necessarily understand because I’m a guy,” he said. “I’m trying to understand that other point of view.”
Cleff said the next piece he’ll have up will be in September, at tattoo shop and art gallery Gristle in Brooklyn. Check out more of Cleff’s work on his site, Fluid Beauty.

Companies: Archer Group

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