We recently connected with Deanna Sirlin and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Deanna, thanks for joining us today. Can you talk to us about a project that’s meant a lot to you?
My installation “Borders of Light and Water” (on view as part of the 59th Biennale di Venezia in 2022) looked out on the Grand Canal from the windows of Palazzo Bembo. This artwork evoked the Venetian word “gibigiana”, a term that names the flickering of light as it reflects off the water onto the bottom of a bridge. As I reference this extraordinary perceptual experience that is found only in Venice, I simultaneously draw attention to the global crisis of climate change, whose impact in Venice is manifest in dangerously rising water levels. My installation is a geometric composition of reflected light that provokes a radical investigation of reality. The observer who engages with both the beauty of the environment and the threats to it through my dynamic compositions and intense color finds that their viewpoint has been transformed.
To locate my composition within the context of the site that I am addressing with my transparencies, I created this installation in a multi-step process. The work began with a painting that I then destroyed and recomposed to create a new collage that manifested itself as a composition and that anchored my conceptual space in longitude and latitude. In my creation of the collage, I recontextualized the pieces of my painting. The cuts and tears that rupture the painted surface in this radical repurposing of my paintings is my reflection on and mediation of life in the 21st Century. I have remixed these fragments to create a new work, which becomes a new artistic platform through the intervention of technology. Working in the digital mode, I have layered these works with rectangles of saturated color to realize their stratified content.
These immersive installations make viewers part of the painting, both in the way they are embedded in the architecture and in the way light filters through the transparencies, casting intense saturations of color into the interior space. As the light travels through the artwork and into the gallery, it projects bands of color that move in the course of the day, tracking time. The work is fluid, with movement from the sun and reflection of time and season. I build up layers of color over implicit compositional grids. In this aspect, my works refer to the experience of navigating built environments, represented in plan view. This is not a purely aesthetic concern, however. The layering of the works reflects the sedimented history of the site, while my transformation of the space through light, movement, and color seeks to heal the scars inflicted by contemporary life.
The observer is invited to engage with both the beauty of the environment and the threats to it through my dynamic compositions and intense color. My use of transparency compels the outside world to become part of the work, calling attention to both the splendor of Venice and the rising water levels in the city, the fragility and beauty of the world and the effects of climate change, the most important global issue of this century.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I am an artist. My work prioritizes color and light through abstraction, composition, and content. My large-scale installations alter physical environments by using color and light in transparent saturated hues. The colored light that is part of the work is both physical and projected; my artworks create a new lens that changes the viewers’ perception of the world. I think in terms of color, density, and the movement of stroke and light. For me, making art is a search for self. With each stroke, I am rediscovering, circling and re-articulating myself. I continually dig deeper…But, most of all, these works express for me the pleasure of being in the world. I am reinventing the language of painting in these large scale works of art.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
In 2007, I broke all the bones in my left ankle. My recovery was slow, and during that period I had time to reflect on my life as an artist. I thought about the difficulty of a lifetime of being an artist and how I was going to proceed with my work. I began to reflect on the women artists who were my influences. I decided to visit and interview the women artists whom I knew about when I was in my twenties and write about them and their work. These interviews and meetings became the basis for my book, “She’s Got What It Takes: American Women Artists” in Dialogue published by Charter Art Books in 2012. I found inspiration in these artists at a time when I needed it, both from their work and their lives as American Women Artists.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
The ability to create works of art that visualize my ideas of color, light and form.
Photo of Deanna Sirlin by © Marie Thomas
Photos of Borders of Light and Water by © Daniele Frison
Photos of Strata by Francisco Pereira Gomes © Fundação Eugénio de Almeida
Photos of Strata (with hands) by © Vera Vieira da Silva
All other photos © Deanna Sirlin
All images courtesy the artist © Deanna Sirlin