“Star light, star bright”, “Twinkle twinkle little star”, “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, seems like wherever you look or listen we’re surrounded with a galaxy of star images, from childhood songs, to poetry, our national flag, even movie ratings. What’s the universal appeal of these celestial objects and, perhaps more pertinently can a contemporary artist squeeze something new out of these ancient symbols?
It’s always a treat to visit the studio of a serious painter, to see the place where the “dirty work” gets done. If it’s not an imposition, I enjoy sniffing around, trying to recreate the art making, like one of those hard-boiled forensic detectives on TV. It’s an added bonus if the artist is an articulate practitioner and an historical presence that places the work in a context vital to recent developments. On an early spring day, I dropped in specifically to view Regina Bogat’s recent series of star paintings. Having included a couple of her seven-pointed star pieces in a show I curated a couple of years ago, I was curious to see the latest trajectory the motif had taken with the evolution of ten-pointed stars. I wasn’t disappointed.
Ignoring chronology, Bogat is a young painter, although she’s been at it for longer than most of today’s hotshots have been alive. The joy, surprise, and energy she brings to the studio work is typical of a twenty-some-thing’s. In her top floor studio, which would probably make a fine astronomical observatory, we chatted about some of the origins of the star imagery, its mystical implications, and use in ceremonies and magic. We laughed about the various mathematical and geometric formulas recommended by sophisticated “experts” for drafting the perfect ten-pointed star. Ultimately the simplest solution (just take two pentagrams and overlay them), as usual, turned out to be the best. Despite the use of math, rulers, protractors and compass, the calculations and architectural formality of the form is just a skeleton, a compositional anchor which allows Bogat to indulge her sensuous side, using a spectrum of spontaneous staining, blotting and freewheeling paint application to expose her strengths as a colorist and gestural abstractionist.
With this new series Bogat has selected a more modest size, about two and a half by three feet, and like many of today’s leading abstract painters (Bill Jensen, Thomas Nozkowski and James Sienna all come to mind), she’s rejected the New York School dictum equating large scale with profundity of intent. This reduced size engenders a greater intimacy, an invitation to come close and enjoy the painterly incidents at arm’s length, to appreciate the delicacy of her bleeding, scumbeling and transparency up close. The luxurious color schemes recall the moist tints of Matisse or the dry scrims of Rothko and their keyed up urgency and unexpected contrasts may look discordant for a time until you become acclimatized to their jazzed up tones.
In some of the pictures Bogat has multiplied the stars, doubled, quadrupled and placed them within the rectangle to form grids. Once we pause to look at these layouts, we experience a visual flip between the figure and ground that activates the whole surface, creating a taught contiguous visual membrane. In other pieces what appears as a single central form under closer scrutiny reveals the ghosts of smaller stars.
Later, while thinking about the paintings, I couldn’t help remembering “The Star-Splitter”, a Robert Frost poem about Brad McLaughlin a New Hampshire farmer
Now, I don’t think Bogat is motivated to go to those extremes. She doesn’t need a bigger telescope, for her the galaxy she’s found is inside. The magnitude of her stars is measured with a delicious resonance of harmonious and distinctive hues, and the speed of light is slowed down to a period of reverie allowing the observer to “star-split” in their own good time because, as Frost has Brad McLaughlin say, "The best thing that we're put here for's to see;”
Copyright© Regina Bogat