Sarah Winkler, whose new work is featured in Gallery 101 for her solo show ‘Formations: The Constructed Landscape,’ came to our attention about a year ago when she inquired about studio space at Helikon. Sarah quickly became a vital and vibrant member of the Helikon community, constantly at work in her studio and clearly making big moves. Here, she talks about the evolution of this show, her extensive process from geological inspiration to creation of work, her artistic influences, and what she has coming up next.
1. This show is comprised of an impressively large collection of pieces. How long has ‘Formations’ been in the works, and how many new pieces did you create for the show?
I’ve worked towards the show for about 8 months. Nine of the paintings are new and the six collage-painting hybrids are about two years old. For all 15 works, this is their debut gallery exhibition. There will also be a selection of small under 12” works available in the retail shop at Helikon Gallery.
2. Your work has a very cohesive feel to it, and in the gallery one piece flows to the next. When I think of your work, I think of largely cool-colored compositions, a signature palette of deep and light blues and cool neutrals. However, many of the works in this show are situated boldly on the other end of the spectrum, evoking the hot reds and oranges of deserts and beaches. Is this a recent shift in palette, or has your work always moved around the color spectrum depending on other factors?
I seem to get hooked on a palette or a specific color for a few months and work with it until it plays out then I organically shift to another area of the spectrum. My color choices are influenced by the seasons and the subject matter. The red and orange pieces in the show were completed in the Spring and Summer of 2015 after trips to New Mexico and Utah, spending time under a big sky, hiking in hot pink sand and looking up through gaps in gnarly rock formations. I shifted in late summer 2015 to the Cobalt blue palette to work on a series of paintings inspired by a past mid-winter trip to Iceland to see the Auroras. The color in those paintings embody the experience of standing in a surreal, dark arctic landscape, at midnight, toes freezing, waiting to photograph the Northern Lights. This month, I shifted into a different palette of pale yellow, violet, peach and grey. I’m seeing this combo every sundown from my deck looking at the Mt. Evans summit. This is what I’m currently interested in.
3. Tell us about your process before the actual sketching out of a piece: do you take reference photographs of specific places? What is your geological research process like? How does your research inform the materials you use or the way you go about making the piece?
I seek out interesting geological places and travel to them to learn more. It may be a specific rock formation, mountain range, natural wonder or maybe a volcano that just erupted in Iceland. I’m currently researching the Colorado “14ers” and Front Range formations and their geological stories– how they were made, what they are made of, what lies below ground, etc. I go to the local mining, geology and science museums a lot and grill my husband, who is an Earth science buff, on our walks through these landscapes. I may photograph places with a wide angle lens when I’m in them for reference later, but mostly, I quietly observe and upload imagery to the catacombs of memory. I conceptualize a cohesive collection of work based on relating the action of applying and removing paint to the process of land erosion and formation relevant to the subject I’m working on.
4. The title of your show, ‘Formations: The Constructed Landscape,’ stands out to me personally as the title of my own ongoing body of work is ‘De/constructed Landscape.’ The work is completely different, and I think in your body of work the “construction” refers to your own artistic process of constructing each work through various processes of layering paint and collage. Can you tell us about this process, and the role of the ‘artist’s hand’ in constructing a landscape?
Yes, “construction” refers to the long, slogging steps it takes to get from inspiration, to idea, to research, to conceptualization, to sketches, to maquettes, to painting. But mostly refers to the process of applying and removing the paint– having it mimic the erosion process in nature. I work in sections and apply acrylic media using art brushes and odd tools like cloth, combs and droppers to create organic textures. I then counter that with resists that cause the paint to crack, blister, scar, graze and bubble before removing some of that paint with power sanders and hair dryers. Then, I start again and build a history of paint layers until I’m satisfied with how it looks.
5. Who (or what) are some of your current influences or inspirations? Have they changed over time?
I’m inspired by Earth science, Japanese and Scandinavian modern design, experimental painting approaches and traveling to far flung places. My work has been influenced by painters: Georgia O’Keeffe, Lawren Harris, Arthur Dove and David Hockney. All of whom approach landscape painting in a highly stylized, conceptual and unique way using collage, drawing, photography and paint as vehicles.
6. What projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
I’m working on a commissioned painting of the Flatirons, a distinctive rock formation in the Front Range, for a University of Colorado apartment complex. I’m also collaborating with Laura Guese, a Denver-based atmospheric painter, on a two person show for next summer.
Thank you to Sarah for participating in our interview. See her work in ‘Formations,’ opening Thursday, March 3, from 6-10pm. The gallery will also have a First Friday reception on March 4 from 6-10pm. All receptions are free and open to the public. To view more of Sarah’s work online, visit www.sarahwinkler.com.
For more information on Helikon Gallery and Studios, visit www.helikongallery.com.