Deanna Sirlin’s Variation, an exhibition of 16 new works at Alpharetta Arts Center, is a riot of color and light.
The exhibition, on view through April 26, includes mixed-media collages on vellum that incorporate traditional art materials and pieces of her work alongside elements of recycled and found objects; a site-specific large-scale window installation created for the gallery; and paintings on canvas. Sirlin, a Brooklyn native, longtime Atlanta artist and ARTS ATL contributor, has helped pioneer the use of digitally printed transparent materials as a vehicle for her intensely colored abstract imagery.
Possible (2019), the title wall, is a modest-sized folding screen on a pedestal, and although it’s the only screen in the show, it establishes Sirlin’s formula: abstractions that emphasize color relationships. Possible breaks up the traditionally flat picture-plane format by engaging the space around it. Its undulating surface is a multi-hued field made of patches of cutout paper and fabric. Color and texture vary and are marked by a contrasting constellation of vivid orange squares.
Mixed media is the basis of a series of nine small works on vellum (each 15 inches tall). They suggest the intimacy and density of a medieval carpet page — ornate, mostly text-free pages that divided sections of laboriously made books. Like those pages, these small framed works reward careful attention. Sirlin’s titles provide a specificity that the imagery does not: Last Week, Blue Window, Garden and so on. Orange hues again dominate, ranging from highlighter neon to earthy terra cotta.
Just You (2018) suggests romance. Occasional blue and black squares pop out of a nearly monochromatic color field. Snippets of text or burlap-like texture show through washes of paint and occasionally reveal source material for Sirlin’s abstract collages.
In her folding screens and small works, Sirlin’s use of similarly sized squares call to mind the brilliant tesserae (small pieces of gold, glass and stone) in early Christian mosaics. Artists of the fifth and sixth centuries inset tesserae at tilted angles so they would catch the light and create an otherworldly luster. In its best moments, Sirlin’s work achieves this charged brilliance and luminosity.
In her acrylics, Sirlin favors paint applied in thin, often poured layers (the exception is 2019’s In, a large mixed-media piece on canvas). Awakening (2017) consists of striated passages of vertical pigment, almost like a rainbow but not quite. The hues fluctuate unexpectedly, drawing on color-theory lessons instead of following the prismatic order of light. A cool teal overlaps a neon chartreuse while a sheer veil of periwinkle partially obscures dull olive under-painting. In keeping with its title, the colors build to a crescendo of saturated lemony green and bright yellow and then subside, culminating in stripes of dulled-down red and green.
Awakening is reminiscent of post-painterly abstraction of the mid-20th century — especially the work of American painter Morris Louis (1912–1962). Sirlin’s abstractions don’t have the veil-like ethereality of Louis’ stained raw canvases. Her denser paintings rely on the effects of many strata of accumulated color.
Most impressive is the window installation Walking (2019), printed on a polycarbonate resin thermoplastic called Lexan, stretching 34.5 feet wide and taking full advantage of the art center’s architecture. Its curving translucent surface features a network of overlapping rectilinear and gridded lines. Color varies in intensity – the show is titled Variation, after all — changing with the hour of the day or the viewer’s location. By day, sunlight illuminates it, projecting blocks of color into the space. At night, its jewel-like tones glow from within like stained glass.
Ultimately, Variation is a pleasure. Sirlin – who recently became Alpharetta’s artist in residence — doesn’t seem to break new ground or stray far from her predecessors, but her work showcases the skills of an adept and intuitive colorist.