Inspired by geology, Colorado artist Sarah Winkler paints the Rockies like no other.
No one else paints the Rockies like Sarah Winkler. Her acrylic and mixed media abstract landscapes of fragmented flower fields and crushed minerals are as contemporary as they come.
Under the dark skies2021, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 inches.
Unlike most landscape painters, Winkler depicts what is above and Below the surface of the earth. The geology of the mountains fascinated her. “I kind of force the horizon line to depict the hidden geology,” she explains. It includes materials such as marble dust, iron oxide, crushed obsidian, powdered turquoise, gold mica, pink granite and pearl pigments. There are usually about 16 different types of textures on her paintings, some of them from rocks that she collects and grinds herself, some mineral dusts supplied by mining companies.
Instead of 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 layers and ridges that move away into space, but when you look at part of it, it looks like a flattened plane.”
As ethereal as her pieces are, they materialize through hard work. Winkler is in her studio every day, using brushes, Mylar, sponges, collages and various tools as she builds each layer of each piece of art. “I draw a lot. You have to put in the mileage on the brush to make the paintings look effortless,” she says.
Big Mountain Magic2022, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 inches.
Winkler’s life is as distinctive as her artwork. 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, thanks to her father’s itinerant career as an aeronautical engineer. After attending William Paterson University in New Jersey, where she studied art and science, she headed west in the 1990s, first to California, then to Morrison, Colorado, where she and her husband currently live and work in 9000 -foot top of the front range. “It’s very high and the weather up here is very bad. We live in a beautiful 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 are usually quite intense and saturated,” she says. Her influences include pop artist David Hockney along with colorist Wolf Kahn. “I feel close to Kahn because he had very few subjects and one of them was trees. I feel this is similar to how I paint the mountains. Over time, they have become a meditative motif. Some say their energy is what I paint more than the specifics. To me, it’s the peace and tranquility we get from being in nature.”
Mountain pink hues and sandstones dominate her Ranch Meadows series, taken during the pandemic, including Ranch Meadows, Morning Pinksand Ranch Meadows, Last light, with captivating panels of wildflowers. “The idea of wanting to go somewhere was much more relaxed than the reality,” says Winkler. Similarly, Big Mountain Magic, Purple sweetnessand Wild flowers on the lake depict nature-based landscapes as passing through geologic time in their own fantasy realms of colorful bands of layers. “There are still pockets in the West where you can be wild. It still feels like a sublime landscape,” she says.
Wild flowers on the lake2020, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24 inches.
The “cinematic scene” of the Rocky Mountain West can be especially enchanting under celestial influence, as evidenced by Winkler’s current exhibit, Chasing starlight, eclipses and rainbowswhich captures “random geological moments and celestial wonders that pass us by with their cameo appearances.”
For her second solo exhibition with Visions West Contemporary in Denver, the artist uses 25 years of being in the right place at the right time to witness some extraordinary natural events—double rainbows over Flaming Gorge, dark-sky camps along the Colorado River , a rosy alpine glow over snow-covered 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 on the ranch meadow, to touch the rye grass, to smell the pine forest, to taste the sharp floral colors from the pink snow-lit mountains to the dry desert landscape,” says Winkler. “When I cross the wild landscapes of the West, I’m chasing moments captured in time. The landscape unfolds before you in a sequence of transitions from prairie to alpine tundra to desert basin. Changes in elevation and terrain are visually laid out before you , as well as layers in the fossils underground. I like to describe the West as a destiny of alluring landscapes that draw people closer to themselves. It’s a journey to a horizon line that never seems to get closer.”
Ranch Meadows, Last Light2020, acrylic on panel, 60 x 60 inches.
Sarah Winkler’s work will be on view from October 14th to November 26th 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; MAR Gallery in Park City, Utah; Vail International Gallery in Vail, Colorado; and Foster/White Gallery in Seattle. Visit her online at sarahwinkler.com.