Artwork & Statement > Artist Statement

Cat Balco
Star Paintings
2018

My most recent paintings are large – human-sized or larger – though I work in a range of scales. The paintings are painted energetically, almost sloppily, with wide house painting brushes. Their wet paint drips and splatters as it is roughly layered. Loosely articulated drop shadows suggest that their radial structures might occupy shallow, brightly lit, three-dimensional space. Sometimes the paintings themselves appear to be light sources. The paintings often resemble a sun/star form, although their radial motifs are also suggestive of a broad list of associations ranging from natural elements to mechanical objects like propellers or radial engines. I appreciate how the sun/star form is very easy to draw (among the first subjects of children’s drawings), is a near universal symbol, and refers to origins and the birth of consciousness (“in the beginning there was light”). In the words of St. Augustine, the sun/star form feels to me to be both “so ancient, and so new.”

As a formal project, making a painting with a radial, central form requires a constant balancing, through color and form, of centripetal and centrifugal forces. This dance – between gathering to an inner center and expanding/diffusing to the outer space – mirrors the shifting dynamic between spiritual and material energies. I try to strike a potent balance, so that each painting feels explosive, filled with potential energy, yet remains held together through a strong adherence to the inner center.

I often pick up and rotate my paintings while working on them. Like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, my own body becomes a star mirroring their motif. Drips sometimes form in different directions, suggesting rotation, perhaps of a propeller, a water wheel, or something more carnivalesque, like a Ferris Wheel. The paintings also conjure darker wheel-like forms, like Catherine Wheels, which were named for my namesake St. Catherine and used to break the bodies of medieval convicts.

I believe that revelatory experiences often happen in in the midst of everyday labor. My paintings, which also look like the rose windows of cathedrals, connect to my personal history as the grandchild and great-grandchild of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox European immigrants who worked long hours in factories making buttons, boots, and textiles. As I turn my paintings to rework them, I remember the repetitive turnings and other simple movements characteristic of manual labor. I know something about the history of my ancestors, but nothing of their inner lives. My paintings reflect my hope that these secret lives had the potential to be rich, vast, grand, and transcendent despite inescapable material poverty.

Artist Statement
2018