Sarah Winkler | In Conversation

Foster/White Gallery: What inspires your color choices for your landscapes? How do you approach the concept of color in your work?

Sarah Winkler: Color is life. Color is light and energy. Color carries the full emotional impact of the artwork. I grab color inspiration from the rocks in landscapes, the seasonal color shifts in forests, the grey of a thunderstorm cloud and the moonrise over snow packed peaks.  I live and work at 9,000 ft in the Rocky Mountains of COLORado which has some of the most multihued rock layers and dramatic mountain weather as a backdrop. Curating the right balance of colors and textures are the two biggest fundamental components to my landscape painting compositions.


In progress collages


F/WG: Tell us more about your collage-making process and how you choose materials to layer in the small studies you create as the basis for your larger paintings?

SW: Collage has been a strong foundation for my work for years. My first landscape series in collage was in 2004. I was looking for a way to translate the experience of being in nature in a different way. I wasn’t satisfied with painting outdoor sketches or copying from photographs, I was interested in WHY certain landscapes were more aesthetically pleasing than others.  For me, the answer lay in its geological story. The stratification in rock seams  that display sudden interruptions by catastrophic events. This concept that a modern landscape was not fixed in stone, but could change suddenly by a random event interested me as a subject.  Collage is a perfect medium to illustrate chance, change, adaptation, mutation and transformation. Themes that run constantly in my work and life.

I design and print all my own collage papers with Imagery either made for a specific series or that can cross pollinate over my different bodies of work. For solo shows, I often create a collection of collages for a themed wall installation, but mostly, I use my collage work as a reference sketch for my large acrylic on panel paintings.





F/WG: We enjoy the sedimentary aspect of your layered panels; it is as if space has been flattened. Beyond an aesthetic choice, please share with us more about your decision to depict landscapes in this way?

SW: To cross the American West is a journey that unravels in epic proportions. A vast relationship to space and time confronts you no matter which direction you face. It is hard to grasp distances and determine often what ridge lines are layered in front or behind of another. No matter where you look though, there is something of immense interest to depict.  For me, the vanishing point perspective system didn’t feel the most interesting way to convey this stacking of terrain. I was searching for a visual language that showed all things in all detail and found it in ‘equivocal space’: a compositional technique wherein all the elements appear flattened and depth is created through scale of shape and color values. The viewer may, at different times, see more than one set of relationships between art elements or depicted objects. 

F/WG: Has witnessing the way the climate is changing affected your relationship with landscape painting?

SW: My artwork has always focused on the geological narrative of landscapes – revealing the process of their creation and changes over time. However, I’m also witnessing big changes to familiar landscapes. I’ve lived in California and Colorado for nearly 25 years, the population is noticeably higher putting a great strain on access to natural spaces and resources. The landscape is dryer and hotter in the summers, receives less snow pack in the winters, has an increase in tree forest deaths due to Pine Beatle Kill and battles large scale Wildfires annually.  I do see shifts in my artwork as it relates to these changing times and altered landscapes. In addition to my geological formation paintings, I’ve been creating environmental works on wildfires and glaciers melting. 





F/WG: You have talked about the relationship between artists’ materials and the earth. How do your materials connect to the land?

SW: All artists’ materials at one point came from the Earth, and many of our colored pigments still do. I often incorporate crushed mineral and rock like marble dust, mica flake, pink granite, coal and iron oxide into my paintings to deepen that connection to the land and to create moments of discovery in the work. I source crushed rocks and minerals from mining companies in addition to collecting it myself from the landscape.





F/WG: Given your processes, how does your work straddle the worlds of natural and man-made? 

SW: I take all my design cues from nature, then reinvent it for art’s sake. I mimic the processes of geology and ecology by painting in abstract textural layers, building up a history of marks and gestures that simulates the patterns, cycles and processes found in high desert and mountainous landscapes. I use artists materials combined with sourced materials from the landscapes I depict. I’m currently collecting small rocks from New Mexico River beds and mixing paint colors to match them for use in a new series about waterways in the Southwestern deserts.



F/WG: You have called yourself an abstract artist. What role does the abstraction play in the reception of your depictions of nature? 

SW: I developed a signature set of abstract textures to use in my collages and paintings that are based on a limited number of geological patterns found in mountain and desert landscape formations. I arrange these textures within scenes of heightened luminosity and saturated color palettes to suggest familiar vignettes found in the landscape. When I’m painting, I work on one texture at a time, which by the end, feels like 20 abstract paintings layered into a landscape motif. 

F/WG: What can we learn from abstract landscapes versus spending time in the natural world?

SW: Abstract landscape painting allows for concepts, ideas and messages to be subtly woven into the depiction of a place. There are many entry points into a painting depending on how deep the viewer wants to go. Aesthetic, scientific, historical, environmental, contemplative, spiritual, healing etc. Being in Nature is a special experience. A ‘Be, Here, Now’ moment that we all yearn for. 

F/WG: How are you finding comfort during this shelter in place? 

SW: We made the decision 5 years ago to leave city living behind and make a home in the mountains with fresh air and outdoor space all around us. The studio is on the property, so I’ve continued to paint throughout the lockdown, followed by long afternoon walks in the Front Range watching Winter transition to Spring. It’s been a safe refuge so far.


To learn more about Sarah Winkler and to see all available works, please visit our website at

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