The sun's blush ignites the horizon of the Mystic River in an oil painting titled "Behind the Old Mystic Mill" by Stonington artist Dennis Sirrine. For all the focus on the fervent horizon, however, the painting still soothes, cooled by the sunset languidly reflected upon the river.
The landscape is emblematic of the type of paintings Sirrine may be best known for. His work is often described as serene, and possesses an Impressionistic quality that reveres the beauty of the natural landscape, often bathed in a golden light - early morning and late afternoon being Sirrine's favorite times to depict.
Yet his solo show, which will be on view until July 7 at the Stonington Velvet Mill, easily could be mistaken for a group exhibit. Not only is it a large show with more than 90 paintings, the work is varied, as Sirrine has moved to more abstract landscapes.
This change, said the artist, who has been living in the area since a move from New York in 2003, is a natural progression that occurred after moving into studio space at the Velvet Mill. It is here that Sirrine takes his photographs and works on his paintings - he does paint plein air, but the majority of his work is created from referencing photographs, emotions and memory.
"In the studio with the photos I've taken I'm revisiting a particular place; it becomes a bit more of a meditation and I can think about where I was and how I felt at the time and let the present time and present feelings take me in whatever direction I want to take it," Sirrine said. "And sometimes that leads to more abstraction."
Some people may be surprised to hear that Sirrine decided that the paint splatters being captured on large, old manilla envelopes became more interesting than what was transpiring on his canvas when he began to pursue more abstraction. So Sirrine mounted those paint-splattered envelopes on a canvas and then painted a border background around it.
"Color, light, is important. So is mood, all of those elements are important - whether they are representational or abstract paintings," says Sirrine.
Sirrine has only a few of the envelope-inspired series in the main gallery at the Velvet Mill, where his abstract work is showcased. The rest are pure oils. Some have hints of realism, and others are experienced through mood, color, texture and movement. Some are large and exuberant, others are more subdued, flowing triptychs.
Popular with viewers, according to fellow artist Mark Patnode, are the ones depicting what looks like koi fish. They are hinted at in shapes, embedded in layers, in swirls, and dashes of red - a color absent in Sirrine's more contemplative landscapes. It is a new energy that he is bringing to his latest body of work - one that Patnode, who bought one of Sirrine's paintings, regards as visionary.
"The life of an artist is about seeing things and doing things - it's about exploration ? what he does, what he accomplishes are really bellwethers for everyone watching," Patnode says.
While Sirrine admits that it is hard to make a big leap into abstract art, especially as he has collectors, he is also receiving a lot of compliments on his new body of work.
"There's always a market for good luminous landscape paintings," says Bryan Murphy, owner of Tradewinds Gallery in Mystic, which represents Sirrine's work. "What I've found is the more abstracted work attracts a totally different clientele - those people respond very much to the energy of the work. There's something to be said about abstract painting - the heart and soul of the painter comes out."
In Sirrine's solo exhibit, which he regards as a retrospective, the paintings are arranged carefully, with a self-portrait of the artist at the top of the stairs as one enters. Gazing out at the viewer, Sirrine is in a baseball cap, his likeness well-captured. In the background is the abstract work he has been exploring, merging the two worlds, the representational and experimental. In addition to the main gallery composed of abstract work, one hallway is dedicated to his regional landscapes, and another his landscapes from New York.
Patnode believes Sirrine is in the same ilk as painters Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth.
"He gets that graphic quality, the simplicity of the statement. Few artists get that, but he holds back, he limits what he expresses," he says. And it is the sense of mystery, noted Patnode that permeates all of Sirrine's work, no matter what style.
"He's looking for that spark, that wonderful glowing ember," Patnode adds.
Dennis Sirrine's solo exhibit at the Velvet Mill Gallery, 22 Bayview Ave., Stonington, is up until July 7. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information on Sirrine, visit http://sirrinedesign.blogspot.com.