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Heart of the Arts: Painter Deanna Sirlin Investigates Language of Color and Light

Sirlin is one of seven artists in Midtown Alliance’s 2023-24 Heart of the Arts Residency program.

Published: 03/02/23


Light and scenes of city life stream through the windows of Deanna Sirlin’s new studio on Peachtree Street. For the next 18 months, the artist intends to study how the two interact and capture it on canvas.

Sirlin is one of seven artists in Midtown Alliance’s 2023-24 Heart of the Arts Residency program, which brings together emerging local talent and physical studio space provided by property partners. Through their participation in the program, selected artists will engage directly with Midtown Alliance staff and partners in the district in the service of a core organizational mission to build vibrant public life.

Each month, we will feature one of Midtown’s artists in residence - what they’re working on, what inspires them and their experiences in the district. Meet Sirlin and learn more about her below.

All Color And Light

Sirlin can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a painter. She grew up in New York City, and remembers the magical experience of roaming art museums by herself as a child.

“For me, painting has this relationship between two things: touch and color,” Sirlin said. “Painting also always had sort of an emotive quality for me.”

Sirlin’s favorite museum to visit in New York is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and one piece in its permanent collection that caught her eye at age five is Paul Gauguin’s “Still Life with Three Puppies” (1888). She says it’s a great example of how color and light can be used to convey emotion - something she explores in her own art.

“Gauguin had this way of making colors really hold the form, but they also radiated a kind of light,” she said. “There’s something about the way he uses color and stroke that I’m going to tell you, has made me look at this painting since I was probably five years old.”

All mediums tie back to painting for Sirlin, including her large scale installations such as “Retracings,” an early work owned by the High Museum of Art. It was commissioned in 1999 to cover the windows of the second, third and fourth floors of the museum facing Peachtree, and was last displayed in 2005.

“It’s always about painting,” she said. “It has a different form because of the scale, but it’s always about color, it’s always about light.”

Watch: Deanna Describes Her Craft

Traveling the World with Her Work

Since “Retracings,” Sirlin has completed 22 large scale projects around the world. She has had her work exhibited at the Shenzhen Institute of Fine Art in China; Ca’Foscari Venezia, Italy; Kunsthaus Nürnberg, Germany; and at the 59th Venice Biennale.

“Here’s the thing about me - I love showing my work in other places, but it’s also really important to me to show my work where I live,” she said. “So it’s about balance, because I’ve lived here for a while now.”

Sirlin and her husband moved from Virginia to Atlanta in 1987 after he accepted a job at Georgia Tech. She had just gotten a taste of the city’s arts scene with a friend who was an art critic during a brief visit that spring. Where the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta now stands in Midtown was then an enclave of galleries.

Sirlin said she got back home and found her husband on the porch. “He asked me about the trip, and I said “‘All good. I loved Atlanta,’” she remembers. “And he said, 'Well, do you want to move there?’ So I said, ‘Now. Let’s go now.’”

Returning to Peachtree

For the past three-plus decades, Sirlin has made her home in metro Atlanta. She taught for 14 years at the Atlanta College of Art, and she keeps in touch with many of her students, some of whom have gone on to become successful poets, sculptors and writers. She ran a gallery. And she has found the time to be an artist in residence at highly acclaimed international places such as the Mark Rothko Center in Latvia; the Cini Foundation in Venice, Italy; The Padies Foundation in Lempaut, France; and the City of Nuremburg, Germany.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Sirlin had a studio owned by the City of Alpharetta. It was shuttered along with all other government buildings during the lockdown, and she had no choice but to squeeze all of her paintings into her home studio.

In 2022, she was named the Georgia Tech Library’s first artist in residence, where she planned and executed a series of student focused workshops. As part of the 2023-24 cohort of Midtown Artists in Residence, she’ll continue to create her paintings and installations in Midtown for the next 18 months across from Emory University Hospital Midtown.

“It’s really nice, this return to Peachtree,” she said, referring to her High Museum of Art installation “Retracings.” “And this studio is lovely to paint in, particularly because of its natural light.”

Sirlin’s move-in date at her studio was serendipitous, as she is currently working hard to finish some large-scale paintings for an upcoming exhibition in New York. “Wavetable,” sponsored by real estate developer Alchemy Properties, is an evolution of her last collection of paintings “Wavelength.” It premieres in Midtown Manhattan on March 22.

“Some of these paintings I started three years ago,” Sirlin said. “But you know what? It’s a little different for me, because I just have worked a really long time. So it’s just my life. I’ll just continue it. In terms of being an artist, it’s not a sprint.”

To see more of Sirlin’s work and her full CV, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.

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