It takes just over four minutes to get submerged in the watery beauty of artist Steven Bogart’s “Stillborn.” It’s an oil painting on black velvet, a detail he prefers to let the viewer discover by surprise. (Two words: Velvet Elvis.)
Key to getting lost in the work, though, is the accompanying song by Mali Sastri, a singer of vast feeling as the leader of Jaggery, an experimental local chamber-rock band. Just below Bogart’s painting is a listening station equipped with a pair of headphones and an iPod Nano loaded with one of Sastri’s songs. It’s amazing how much the music adds to the visual component, starting with the fact that you stare at the painting for the length of the song and truly consider its lines and textures.
For “Stillborn,” Bogart’s amoeba-like figures seem to float like jellyfish while Sastri couches her voice in a piano melody that emulates undulating waves. “Stillborn” is among the works included in “Ten Paintings/Ten Songs,” a joint venture between Bogart and Sastri that’s on display at Bromfield Gallery in the South End through Aug. 24. At Friday’s opening reception, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., both artists will be present, and Sastri will perform a few songs.
Bogart and Sastri first met at Lexington High School, where Bogart was teaching theater and Sastri was his student. The first show they did together was “City of Angels”; the next year’s production was “Hair,” which Sastri says was life-changing for her. (Bogart’s other theater credits include directing the American Repertory Theater’s 2010 production of “Cabaret,” which starred Amanda Palmer, another Lexington High alum, in the role of the Emcee.)
They were mutual fans of each other’s work, and Bogart is quick to call Sastri a “colleague,” as opposed to a former student. He had heard Sastri sing both at school and in other projects, and Sastri was “blown away” by Bogart’s paintings, which she had seen at places like the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.
“I’ve always felt Mali’s music really speaks to me. I get caught up in the beautiful, ethereal textures,” he says recently after he and Sastri had just installed the exhibit at the gallery. “Sometimes I think she’s from another planet when I listen to her music.”
To which Sastri interjects, “I feel like I’m from another planet a lot of times.”
It was Bogart’s idea to collaborate after sensing a commonality in their styles.
“I thought we were on the same wavelength with things, and I thought it would be great to try to do a project. I don’t think we knew what would come of it, but we wanted to get together to see what would happen.”
“I’m into this idea of cosmology and 11th dimension and all that craziness, and I hear that in her music,” he adds. “That’s why I thought there was a connection.”
Starting in the fall of 2011, they met up almost monthly and discussed what they were working on. In the meantime, they were exchanging ideas digitally — MP3s of songs, JPGs of paintings. That, in turn, informed what the other was doing. For example, on the website they’ve created for the exhibit (www.10paint
ings10songs.tumblr.com), Sastri writes about the song “War Cry”: “The squiggly lines of Steven’s painting inspired the vocal caterwauling that begins the track.”
“We shared the work and we responded to what the work was doing to us, but it wasn’t a lot of in-depth analysis,” Bogart says. “It was encouragement to take risks and not worry about coming up with something amazing. Just let it come out.”
For Sastri’s part, the collaboration lifted her out of what had been a fallow artistic period.
“I had been blocked from writing material for a while, for a few years, I’d say,” she says. “I’m so grateful to Steve for suggesting this project, so I had to write songs. But even under those circumstances, I would be freaking out at the beginning. Steve was so supportive and gave me permission to make a mess. That was his advice. Through that I ended up making things that didn’t seem like a mess.”
Both the songs and the paintings could stand alone — and surely they will since Jaggery is already performing some of the songs in concert, and Bogart has put the paintings up for sale — but part of their appeal is what they conjure as a whole.
“Certainly the paintings can exist on their own without the music, and certainly the music can exist without the paintings,” Bogart says. “They could go their separate ways and have a life, but I feel like they belong together.”James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.