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Art people: Rob Chirico / painter

As a college student, Rob Chirico’s initial plans to become an artist got an early setback when the instructor of his studio art class, an abstract painter, told the students figurative art was dead. Discouraged, Chirico concentrated instead on art history, earning a doctorate and teaching the subject for several years.

But being around art eventually reawakened his boyhood interest in drawing and painting. Some 30-odd years later, painting is a passion in which Chirico, now 60, uses his studies of Dutch painters of the 1600s to produce a style he calls “romantic naturalism.”

His landscapes and still lifes, bathed in rich light and color, are built on multiple layers of paint. “I call it glazing,” says Chirico. “It’s something I developed over the years.”

Chirico, of Greenfield, says his academic background helped shaped the approach to his work. For instance, he mixes his oil paints with lavender oil — reportedly used by some Dutch Renaissance painters — rather than more common thinners like turpentine, and he looks to evoke an emotional response, rather than detail a specific view.

“When I start a painting, I don’t have a complete sense of what it will look like,” he says. “I really let my paintbrush take a walk.”

He draws as much upon his imagination as real life. Though his paintings may be based on photographs, memory or a sketch, he alters details or creates composite images.

Consider “Water Music,” which offers a view from inside a room to a wooden balcony overlooking a tranquil ocean; Chirico says the painting was inspired by an inn he and his wife stayed in on Cape Cod. Some of his other landscapes, such as pastoral scenes of trees and fields, may recall the Valley but are not based on specific locales.

He’s sometimes asked why he paints landscapes and still lifes, leaving people absent. His answer? People are implied because viewers are entering the world of his paintings: “I want you to feel you’re part of what you’re seeing.”

Chirico is also a writer, with two novels in eBook format and a printed guide to cocktails (he’s the former bartender of The Blue Heron restaurant in Sunderland). His dry humor notwithstanding, he says he sees beauty everywhere and always seeks ways to capture it.

As he says in his artist’s statement, “If you take time out during the day to look at and absorb the minute details of the world ... you will constantly be surprised by the wonders nature has to offer.”

— Steve Pfarrer

Chirico’s “Landscape into Still Life” exhibit is on view at The Locust Gallery at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton through March 31.

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