Painting on the bright side of life

Chris Bergeron

Pauline Delin paints a plate of sardines with the iridescent colors of an impressionist still life.

The Holliston artist and painting conservator also infuses dogs, camels, the Tuscan landscape and a mysterious woman in a black gown with the same mix of vivid and subdued colors that seem to vibrate, as if simmering.

In her first solo exhibit, "Oil Paintings by Pauline Delin" at Gallery 55, she is showing 21 oil paintings that reveal her subtle range of colors and strong sense of composition.

"I have always worked in oils because I love the consistency and the flexibility of it," said Delin. "There are so many facets to creating art that excite me. But the ones that stand out and move me to work are color, composition, and, on a personal level, subject matter."

Completed over the last several years, Delin's paintings are largely realistic representations of people, animals and landscapes. Yet she often heightens her colors to create a sense of suffused light smoldering beneath the surface of her canvases.

In "Fish Market No. 1," she paints boxes of iced fish with shimmering blues reminiscent of Van Gogh's "Starry Night." In "Dinner for Two," she uses subtle greens for a fish's body, pale white for its belly and coal black for its vacant eyes. In "Couch Girlie," an amber greyhound glows like afternoon sunlight.

Several of her strongest paintings move beyond the formalism of her still lifes of fish and other animals.

Entering the gallery, the first thing visitors will see is a reclining nude who seems, at first glance, to be dozing next to a shopping list or a love letter.

In one enigmatic canvas, a black-snouted squirrel monkey squats beside a lifeless fish next to water running beneath a bridge.

What gives? Then we see its title: "The Organ Grinder's Meal" and it makes perfect sense.

Delin's most striking painting, "Woman in Black," depicts an elegant lady with a bare shoulder who seems to belong in a 1930s film noir smoking as if waiting for Humphrey Bogart to show up in a white tux.

There's nothing fishy about Delin's repeated use of fish as subjects.

While most people only see them as an oily snack for the cat, she regards them the same way Monet saw water lilies.

"Friends asked me, 'What's with all the dead fish?' I tell them I like painting creatures," said Delin. "Fish come in all shapes and sizes. And I look for subjects with strong possibilities for a strong composition and color."

The exhibit runs through Dec. 5 in the gallery at 55 South Main St. in downtown Natick. All the paintings are for sale.

Gallery owner John Mottern praised Delin for creating "interesting paintings that evoke strong emotions."

"I've been watching Pauline for the last couple of years. As a maturing artist, she's increasingly confident about her color palette. She's taken some real positive steps and, as an artist, is in a really good place," he said.

Mottern speculated Delin's subtle blending of colors might have been influenced by her work restoring paintings in which "shades and nuances of color must be perfectly matched."

He said giving artists like Delin their first solo show is an important part of the gallery's mission to support area artists and promote the local cultural scene.

"I think Pauline is an artist who's going to keep on improving and making more and more interesting art," Mottern said.

Sometimes it seems as if there are two artists named Pauline Delin showing very different kinds of art in the same gallery.

The first is a formalist who paints still lifes that demonstrate a passion for harmonizing colors with an expert eye.

Yet in several paintings, dormant expressionist impulses seems to be breaking free to imbue landscapes with vivid colors and unrestrained energy.

As if painting with green and blue fire, Delin sets a rural villa aflame in vivid colors in "A View of a Tuscan Town." In one of her most abstract pieces, "Start of Day," she mixes deep blues and softer shades of burnt amber to convey the hope that comes with morning.

Growing up in Woodstock, Conn., Delin attributed her childhood interest in art to her father Richard McElroy, a now retired restorer of paintings. She thinks she also acquired an early sense of composition from her mother Elois whom she described as a "fantastic photographer."

She drew and painted throughout high school and earned a degree in painting at Boston University School of Fine Arts and later studied at the Art Institute of Boston.

After returning home, Delin joined her father in his painting restoration business, spending 15 years learning techniques that still influence her art today.

She married, raised two sons and started her own painting restoration business named after her father, McElroy Conservators. A serendipitous 2001 visit to the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham inspired her to begin painting again.

While taking her son Austin to look at an exhibit, a staffer told her if she signed up for a family museum membership she could take classes. Delin once again immersed herself in painting, this time under the tutelage of veteran teacher Michael Dowling, founder and artistic director of Medicine Wheel Productions, a cutting-edge gallery in Boston.

While working with other artists refreshed her interest, Delin credits Dowling for providing a crucial lesson.

"Michael taught me not to paint for the audience but to paint purely for myself. He gave me the confidence to paint what excites me," she recalled. "...It's the only way to paint honestly, to truly learn and improve and explore."


Gallery 55 is at 55 South Main St., Natick.

Through Christmas, it will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and by appointment.

Call 508-740-0260 or visit