David Riina remembers the day his life took a turn. He remembers the day eight years ago when he decided to step on a path to pursue art as a career, in other words to change the answer when asked on forms or in person about his occupation: artist. “I was procrastinating at my desk, when I stumbled onto the work of an artist named Mike Savlen, and it was suddenly clear. I want to do that!” he recalls as he points to the memory in his mind.
The young artist who has recently opened a gallery in Mashpee Commons had previously spent a decade in the fast-paced world of Mad Men. That is to say he was an art director for a New York City advertising agency. Supporting clients like the New York Yankees, the demands were significant, particularly in the goal to please the customer. “When I started, the focus was on the creative process and I loved it,” Riina explains. “And I am so grateful for every opportunity I had and everything I learned. But at some point the decisions were made outside of the consideration of the artistic value, like the legal department. It wasn’t difficult to see how I could be happier and obviously more fulfilled.”
The source of that fulfillment isn’t a mystery. The preferred subjects of Riina’s paintings are the elusive objects of his other passion pursuit: fishing. In fact, the lines between his love for painting and his love for fishing are not just blurred, but rather tangled like a nest of fishing line that washes up on the shore. The rough-hewn walls of his gallery, Great Water Gallery, are covered with watercolor and oil renditions of the species he encounters while fishing the coast of the Cape and Islands. The subtle, yet detailed paintings beguile the beholder and capture the essence of the unique environment that surrounds this region. An avid fisherman since he was a young boy, Riina gets out on the water every chance he gets. An argument could be made that his saltwater fly-fishing sessions are not escapes, but rather research.
“As I started to dedicate time to creating art, I did the usual subjects: landscapes and the expected kind of scenes I thought I was supposed to do,” Riina says. “And then one day I was looking, really looking at a fish I had just caught, and the sunlight was bouncing off of it, and I thought, ‘This is just beautiful. This is what I should paint.” Riina’s experience in his former career is what he credits with giving him the skills to convincingly bring the fish back to life. “The way I learned to paint is completely backwards,” he explains. “I learned to paint digitally via the computer, doing really fine retouches. And it isn’t dissimilar to watercolor. The reason I love watercolor is its transparency. With retouches, you do layers of transparency and I am able to do the same thing with my watercolors. If you look closely at the detail of my paintings, it is a pixel-level detail.”
Riina’s attention to detail doesn’t end with the image as he crafts each frame from rustic wood, many of which are studded with a mosaic of beach glass and grouted with beach sand. A trip to the gallery immediately transports a visitor to a moment in time, an anchor in a place where the sound of lines in the rigging is complemented by the squawk of a gull, and the a mist of salt air fills the senses. Close your eyes and you might be in Key West, Bimini, or Baha. Open them and you can clearly see the path that beckoned Riina another lifetime ago. – Julie Craven Wagner
Riina’s work can be seen at Great Water Gallery, 11 North Street, Mashpee Commons. greatwatergallery.com