Montclair artist Anie Knipping is probably not like anyone you know. She has synesthesia, a blending of the senses, which causes her to see sounds and associate specific colors with letters and numbers. She’s on the autism spectrum, can’t remember the first 13 years of her life, and believes she had a precognitive dream predicting the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. With the help of Andy Foster at Gallery 51, who showed her work last May, she’s also self-published a book, “Eccentricity,” which was her thesis for a BFA degree at Montclair State, and is printed on demand, one at a time, for $100 apiece. It illustrates in hundreds of color plates the way she sees the world. She and her partner Renee Pociopa, whom she calls Beanie, live with four parakeets and a cockatiel in Montclair. An inveterate hater of the winter, who dyes her hair bright colors to get through the grayness of the season, Knipping celebrates the beginning of Daylight Saving Time as a personal holiday. I visited her in her apartment in early March.

Your first 13 years of your life were lost to you. You don’t have any memory of them. What can you tell me about that?

Not much. The only time I have a full memory is when I’m asleep. Which makes me feel like it got recorded somewhere, I just don’t have direct access to it. It’s probably some sort of repressed memory.

One day, when I went to college, everyone was talking about shows they watched as kids and I went to think and there was just nothing. And that’s when I realized I didn’t have a past.

What have your parents told you?

It was hell trying to raise an autistic kid back in the day, but my parents gave it everything they had, especially my mom. Things would have turned out much worse for me without her.

My parents spent a long time trying to make believe I was normal. They did all the stuff that they could. But they never let me in on it. Whenever I said that I feel like I’m different, I would get, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re normal. Stop thinking about it.”

Tell me about the synesthesia? When did you become aware of that?

The autism and the synesthesia are these two things. There’s a debate over whether to call it mental illness, because an illness detracts from your life. I didn’t know that other people couldn’t see music. It didn’t occur to me that that was possible. I just assumed as much. And then one day Beanie found an article on CNN and said there’s a name for people who have a color system for their letters.

And I said, You mean people can’t see the music? That’s like watching television without sound. How do you see it then? People ask, is it distracting? You don’t notice that you’re processing three things at once, because you’ve had it all your life. When I’m both seeing and tasting music while I’m hearing it, it’s normal. It’s all I’ve ever known.

What is it like to be so different?

It’s like that show “Third Rock from the Sun.” That’s like a perfect example of so much of what my life has been like. It’s these aliens that land on earth and then they’ve got to pose as humans. And it’s just like watching them try to figure out humans and stuff. It’s silly stuff, like they discover a tissue box and they pull a tissue and it’s like “Another one comes up! Another one! How does it do that?”

It’s fascinating to you. You don’t realize this is common knowledge to everyone else. Until you talk to someone else and they go. It’s like the tissue box.

You seem very self-aware.

The self awareness came from survival. When I started to slide downhill into depression, I had to dismantle the thing to figure out how it worked if I wanted to stop it. After I became more and more sane, it just became sort of a curiosity. Most autistic people have an obsession of some kind and that’s sort of mine: how the mind works. How other people’s minds work. Human dynamics in general.

Tell me about your precognitive dream about the 2004 tsunami.

I’m not a new age person, so when something like that happens, I don’t know what to do about it. It’s not something I can dismiss. I woke up and I told Beanie immediately when I had the dream. I have these crazy dreams all the time, but this one was almost jamming it in my face that this is a different dream: pay attention to the wave. I was climbing a dead tree or something and I was looking out at this island. And then there was just sharp black wave coming up. It looked like it was cut out of obsidian. It was super hard and sharp. And I remember thinking to myself, that’s not supposed to be here. And then it came over the island and I remember thinking, It’s going to hit me. And then I got hit by it, and then I drowned.

And a whole day passed before I even found out.

How did you get the idea for the book?

I had wanted to make a book for a long time. It started out, people would ask, What’s it like? I’d have to try to explain it. So I was, maybe I could just write it down. Maybe I could just do a picture of it, and then I’d have a book I’d show people.

And then I heard about the BFA program where you get to do a project. And you get to put all your time into this project. And I was like, Yes! And you get to take less math classes, which is like double yes!

It was a relief to get everything out of my head. And this fear of mine that I would die and everything would die with me.

I know Andy Foster at Gallery 51 helped you get the book this far. But now you’re looking for a traditional publisher.

It has no precedent and that’s a problem. Unique sounds great until you get into publishing. Because they want to know what it’s like. Is it like “The Secret” Meets “Twilight”? Those two things sold well so we’re onboard! The only thing that I can think of that’s remotely like this book is Carl Jung’s Red Book. Which is also $100. But of course he’s published because he’s famous.

I really want this thing to be published. I know there are people who want it. The range is wide. I’ve had doctors pick it up. I’ve had you pick it up. I’ve had people come off the street and just buy it. I’ve had old folk pick it up. I had a 14-year-old girl come in, come back with her savings, and borrow it against her parents so she could buy it. I’ve had autistic people buy it. I’ve had parents buy it so they can understand what their kids are doing. I’ve had art aficionados buy it. I guess there’s something in it for everyone. I know it’s big and scary and no one’s ever done it before, but people want it.

But at $100, nobody can afford that. What’s the point of doing a book if nobody can have it?

Talk to me about winters.

Winter is a terrible, terrible time. I’ve been pretty good recently because of the medication I’m on and because of Social Security, I don’t have to leave the house.

The cold, the gray. The cold physically hurts me. The gray, it’s like sensory deprivation. Eventually I don’t even see color anymore. I can’t taste things. I can’t hear as well. It’s probably not physically happening but it’s alost like the brain just atrophies in a way.

Do you ever think about moving to Florida?

All the time! But Beanie’s got a good job and she likes it here. And I like it here. Beanie takes me to the tropics during critical time. Because I just lose it. It’s like being in a coffin and buried underground. You’re just desperate. And it’s even worse when spring comes late, because you feel like you’re suffocating. I can’t even describe the pure terror that is winter.

YouTube video

Illustrations from “Eccentricity” are taken with permission from Knipping’s online version of the book. See a video of Anie’s opening at Gallery 51 here.

5 replies on “Coffee With … Anie Knipping”

  1. Great story. Fascinating and moving. I wish Anie much success with her book. LOVE the front cover.

  2. Literally the first person I met at MSU, Annie is hands down the kindest, most talented person I know.

    She would give the last dollar in her pocket and the shirt off her back if she thought it would make someone’s life better.

  3. I really enjoyed reading about Annie and I hope a good publisher picks up her book, which looks fascinating.

    As someone who finds winter increasingly difficult to get through, I am captivated with the pastel hair dye approach. Very innovative. I probably won’t be doing that, but it would be cheerful to see it!

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