Inspired by geology, Colorado artist Sarah Winkler paints the Rockies like nobody else.
Nobody else paints the Rockies like Sarah Winkler. Her acrylic and mixed-media abstract landscapes with fragmented color fields and crushed minerals are as contemporary as they come.
Beneath Dark Skies, 2021, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 in.
Unlike most landscape painters, Winkler portrays what's above and below the surface of the earth. The geology of the mountains fascinates her. "I kind of force the horizon line to depict the hidden geology," she explains. She incorporates such materials as marble dust, iron oxide, crushed obsidian, powdered turquoise, gold mica flake, pink granite, and pearlescent pigments. There are usually about 16 different types of textures on her paintings, some of them from rocks she collects and grinds herself, some mineral powders sourced from mining companies.
Instead of a realistic perspective, Winkler favors overlapping planes that create a flattened sense of space. "That's how I see the Western landscape," she says. "I see it as a series of layers of strata and ridgelines that recede in space, but when you look at a section of it, it appears like a flattened plane."
As ethereal as her pieces might be, they materialize through hard work. Winkler is in her studio every day, using brushes, mylar, sponges, collages, and different tools as she builds each layer of each artwork. "I do a lot of painting. You have to put in the brush mileage to make the paintings look effortless," she says.
Big Mountain Magic, 2022, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 in.
Winkler's life has been as distinctive as her artworks. Born in Manchester, England — a gray industrial city in contrast to the bright Mountain West --- she grew up in such exotic locales as Malawi and Brunei, due to her dad's roving aviation-engineering career. After attending New Jersey's William Paterson University, where she studied art and science, she headed west in the '90s, first to California, then Morrison, Colorado, where she and her husband currently live and work on a 9,000-foot-high peak of the Front Range. "It's very high, and there's lots of weather up here. We live in a lovely conifer and aspen forest," she says.
The area is a frequent inspiration for her paintings, which can be as large as 15 feet. "I experience the landscape here as very bright and dramatic. My colors tends to be quite intense and saturated," she says. Her influences include pop artist David Hockney along with colorist Wolf Kahn. "I feel akin to Kahn because he had very few subjects, and one of them was the trees. I feel that's similar to how I paint the mountains. Over time, they've become a meditative motif. Some say the energy of them is what I'm painting more than the specifics. For me, it's that peace and calm we get from being in nature."
Mountain pinks and sandstones dominate in her Ranch Meadows series undertaken during the pandemic, including Ranch Meadows, Morning Pinks, and Ranch Meadows, Last Light, with beguiling panels of wildflowers. "It was this idea of wanting to go somewhere that was much more peaceful than reality," Winkler says. Likewise, Big Mountain Magic, Purple Sweetness, and Wildflowers at the Lake depict nature-based landscapes as transitioning through geologic time in their own fantastical realms of colorful ribbons of strata. "There are still pockets of the West where you can be wild. It still feels like a sublime landscape," she says.
Wildflowers at the Lake, 2020, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24 in.
The "cinematic stage" of the Rocky Mountain West can be especially enchanting under a celestial influence, as evidenced by Winkler's current exhibition, Chasing Starlight, Eclipses, and Rainbows, which captures "chance geological moments and celestial astonishments that transit us with their cameo appearances."
For her second solo show with Visions West Contemporary in Denver, the artist draws upon 25 years of being in the right moment at the right time to witness some extraordinary natural events — double rainbows over Flaming Gorge, dark-sky camps by the Colorado River, pink alpine glow on snowcapped mountain meadows, and the path of totality during the "Great American Eclipse."
"In each painting, I want the viewer to feel transported to a familiar yet dreamy place, to feel the sun in a ranch meadow, touch the rye grass, smell the pine forest, taste the floral tangy colors from the pink snow-lit mountains to the arid desert landscape," Winkler says. "When I'm crossing the wild landscapes of the West, I chase moments caught in time. The landscape unfurls before you in a sequence of transitions from the prairie to the alpine tundra to the desert basin. Changes in altitude and terrain are visually stacked before you, as are layers in the fossil record below ground. I like to portray the West as a destiny of alluring landscapes that draws people closer to it. It's a journey to a horizon line that never seems to approach."
Ranch Meadows, Last Light, 2020, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 in.
Sarah Winkler's work will be on view October 14 – November 26 in the solo exhibition Chasing Starlight, Eclipses, and Rainbows at Visions West Contemporary in Denver. She is represented by Visions West Contemporary in Denver, and Bozeman and Livingston, Montana; Gallery MAR in Park City, Utah; Vail International Gallery in Vail, Colorado; and Foster/White Gallery in Seattle. Visit her online at sarahwinkler.com.