Milton artist thinks big

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MILTON -- On a farm off Thompson Road in Milton, where horses CJ and Elfin lounge and ’coon hounds Nico and Bowie play, a pretty amazing thing happens daily.

A world-famous artist, Deanna Sirlin, redefines the centuries old relationship between art and viewer.

“I don’t think you can just hang a painting on a wall anymore,” she said.

It’s certainly a bold statement, but one she backs up. Sirlin, a 17-year resident, is perhaps best known for her pivotal installation “Retracings,” which encompassed virtually the entire glass front of the High Museum of Art in 1999. The work was a bold statement of her vision -- large scale installations that bathe the viewer in rich color and texture.

She achieves the effect by painting or sketching her famous swirls and circles, then digitally magnifying the image to 30 to 50 times its original size.

“I’m sort of an abstract painter, but not really,” she said. “Yes, they are circles, but they are mouths, eyes, planets, molecules, clouds, bushes.”

Sirlin places the images on surfaces where they diffuse light and become part of the structure itself.

“The work at the High was an immense piece, it changed the way I thought about my art,” she said.

But, as she jokes, “My work has changed a lot since last century.”

Sirlin followed “Retracings” with a 2001 installation named “Punto Di Fuga (Vanishing Point)” at the Universita Ca Foscari in Venice, Italy, a piece that catapulted her into international fame. She has since worked throughout Italy, China, Turkey and Germany installing interactive sculpture and large scale digital pieces, not to mention several museums and public displays in the South. Her latest installation was a memorial piece at Agnes Scott College, and she has two permanent pieces planned at East Atlanta fire stations.

Her inventive approach means the viewer can literally become part of the work.

“The light of the room or window add a dimension to the paint that transcends the limits of traditional painting, bounded as the medium is normally by canvas or wall,” said Donald D. Keyes, co-chair of Atlanta’s Fine Family Art Gallery. “Moreover, as the scale of the work has grown, the experience eclipses traditional media, turning her art into a very exciting experience.”

But visual art isn’t her only passion. Last year Sirlin and her husband, Georgia Tech Performance Studies professor Phil Auslander, launched their own online art magazine named “The Art Section.”

“I think we work well together,” said Auslander between grading students’ final papers at their farm. “There’s some friction of course, but that’s natural.”

Sirlin, a longtime critic, used her contacts in the art world to procure a stable of ever-expanding artists to write pieces on art and culture for the Webzine.

Contributors include famous New York and Los Angeles critics and emerging artists, and the Webzine’s tone is one that everyone can get into, Sirlin said.

“I want anyone to be able to approach it,” she said.

That lack of pretension is what makes her so special, said Chelsea Aldrich, a Milton High School senior who interns with Sirlin at her studio.

“She’s an extraordinary woman, probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” she said.

Aldrich said working artists are usually condescending to a young painter just starting out. But Sirlin has a passion for youth and helping emerging talents find their voice, she said.

Plus she has the “audacity” needed to pull off projects on such a grand scale, said Aldrich.

“Not everybody can do that, you know?” she said. “Working with her is a priceless opportunity.”

While certainly proud of her work, Sirlin prefers to think of herself not so much as a luminary in the art world as just another piece of North Fulton’s diverse puzzle.

“Just like you would say that’s the local dentist, well I’m the local artist,” she said. “But not the only one.”

- www.northfulton.com