"It's like van Gogh," River Grove painter Cherie Salerno cracks about the trouble she's had with her right ear. A tumor in Salerno's right eardrum turned that ear deaf and required two major surgeries, but that hasn't kept music from being the primary inspiration for her whimsical semiabstract paintings. Salerno is synesthesia in action--she hears a tune and sees colors--and her approach sounds like a corrective for conceptual art: she just turns on the music and goes where it takes her, "like conducting an orchestra with paint." Salerno began her love affair with color as a child, mixing oil paints for an aunt who was an artist; now she works mostly in fast-drying acrylic, which suits her rapid method. Since she finds color and music "synonymous," there's an especially neat fit to her latest projects: she's done four CD covers, the most recent for Organic, a brand-new release by guitarist Henry Johnson and singer Nancy Wilson. The cover art is her interpretation of the music: "I begin with...color inspired directly by the sounds I hear," she says. "As I come forward with the color planes, an essence of the songs comes out. And then I zero in with the figures or objects." In a way, she adds, "they've been there all along." A graduate of the School of the Art Institute, Salerno started out as a photorealist and has worked in several different styles, which she says is "like speaking different languages." She'll demonstrate her current style, and her method of mixing colors on the canvas, at a meeting of the West Suburban Artists Guild at 8 PM Friday, November 21, at the Triton College Art Gallery (building F, room 107), 2000 Fifth Ave. in River Grove. It's free. A Salerno painting will be raffled off at the end of the evening; proceeds go to the guild. Call 708-452-6395 for more information.