By Ashley Schwellenbach
At Big Sky Café chickpea hummus and noodle bowls are paired with sand dunes of Chinese text and flora rising towards a sky textured from former National Geographic pages treated with household cleaners. Fusion food meets mixed media collage paintings, and Sarah Winkler, fine art purveyor, could not be more pleased with the alliance, which continues through Feb. 14.
In fact, 2009 turned out to be a bountiful year for the artist who, in addition to having a two-month exhibit at one of San Luis Obispo’s most popular restaurants, found herself joining Studios on the Park in Paso Robles in October. If that wasn’t evidence enough that Winkler’s work is surging in demand, just check the artist’s website which lists more than one-third of her “Enchanted Landscapes” series as sold. In December alone, she sold five paintings. Not bad for an artist who recently considered moving to a more urban venue to further her career.
Winkler’s enchanted landscapes were inspired by a road trip to Las Vegas, part of her annual pilgrimage to the city of sin and slots to see Cirque du Soleil. Had she not become an artist, Winkler insists that she would have joined the circus.
“When I was in Vegas it happened to coincide with Chinese New Year,” she explained. The Bellagio was filled with red silk Chinese lanterns. The lamps—a symbol of newness—melded with the desert landscape, 400 miles of pavement and little else between Winkler’s home in Atascadero and her Las Vegas destination. For an artist whose work is characterized by layers of ideas and textures, the marriage of two such distinctive cultures and aesthetics was irresistible.
Initially the series was dominated with lanterns, red, gold, purple, orange, emerald, yellow, and indigo tattooed with Chinese characters conveying sentiments and hopes for the new year. The names, such as Good Luck Lantern, Journey of Fulfillment, Royal Apricot Wishes, and Good Fortunes, reflect this philosophy.
“I just love how something as simple as a lantern can come to mean so much,” she explained. “We put a lot of energy into making an object mean something.”
Recently, figures have started to emerge from acrylic paint, Chinese text, ink, glitter, and Citra-solved magazine pages, in place of the lanterns. Many of the figures are costumed or masked, described by Winkler as “symbols of who we want to be” rather than real people. The white tutu-clad ballerina in “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,” named for William Blake’s poem “The Tiger,” can attribute her existence to happenstance. During the creation process, part of the landscape was torn leaving a diamond pattern in the piece.
“The shape haunted me. Eventually it turned into a dance form. And then it became a ballerina,” explained Winkler. “I don’t force myself to paint a landscape. I take a lot of detours. When you approach your art form it should be fluid. You shouldn’t have hang-ups.”
Part of keeping her art sessions devoid of regulation and stress means becoming proficient in as many techniques as possible. Winkler has been studying book art in San Francisco, learning skills she plans to incorporate in this year’s body of work. She has a degree in creative writing and plans to return to poetry in her new body of work.
Artistic voyeurs interested in seeing how this melding of techniques and materials plays out can visit Winkler at her new home at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles (1130 Pine St.). The Studio is open Thursday to Sunday between noon and 6 p.m. Winkler calls the studios, home to two-dozen or so artists, “the most exciting thing that’s happened in the art world locally.” Since joining, Winkler’s sales have tripled. More exciting still, the bulk of her sales are to tourists from out-of-state. It’s enabled her to remain within the county and focus on her art. At a larger scale, the studios are lending legitimacy to all the artist-residents. Which enables Winkler to keep her focus where she wants it—on her art.
“People have described it as whimsical, but dark,” she said of her paintings. “I don’t really do girly girly or frilly frilly.”
Lanterns, lanterns burning bright
Sarah Winkler is showing her “Enchanted Landscapes” at Big Sky Café through Feb. 14. Big Sky Café is located at 1121 Broad Street in downtown SLO. For more information visit sarahwinkler.com.