Slate Gray March: “Without Reservations,” the art of Fran Nagy & Gina Sarro (up through off-season)!

Slate Gray March: “Without Reservations,” the art of Fran Nagy & Gina Sarro (up through off-season)!

Telluride Arts’ March Art Walk takes place Thursday, March 2, 2023. Throughout the month, Slate Gray Gallery is featuring “Without Reservations,” the art of Fran Nagy and Gina Sarro.

Go here for an overview of all participating Art Walk galleries. Complimentary gallery guides are available for self-guided tours at participating venues or online at

Go here for much more about Slate Gray.

Go here for more about Art Walk in general.

Manifest Destiny is the 19th-century philosophy that the westward expansion that created the American Empire was divinely ordained (and therefore inevitable). The offending doctrine served to rationalize the forced removal of American Indians from their native lands, their reservations. Working with acrylic and resin on canvas, artist Fran Nagy paints that travesty without reservations, with no ifs, ands or buts about the fact that we, the white interlopers, the non-Natives, all but destroyed tribal sovereignty and soul.

For centuries Avalon (as in Marion Zimmer’s celebrated work, “The Mists of Avalon” and featured in all the Arthurian legends) was described as a mystical place that symbolized purity, abundance and magic. Using brush and palette knife to paint an abstracted world of color and shapes, Gina Sarro creates a contemporary version of such a setting – without reservations. Look hard at her work and you will no doubt see fairies hiding somewhere behind a blue wash of clouds and fog.

Fran Nagy and Gina Sarro are featured through the off-season in a show of their work at Slate Gray Gallery aptly titled “Without Reservations.”

Fran Nagy:

Fran depicts her figures with their backs to us – as they forward march from the past into an unknown future. Many of these faceless shapes are stretched to the point of abstraction. Stretched any further and they could disappear into a simple line with no clear identity at all – a meta for exactly what happened to Native Americans in the mid-1800s and beyond. Though her images are titled with the names of tribes “Great Plains,” “Black Crow,” “Blue Lake,” “Broad Shoulder”, etc. there is no way to tell one from the other, underlining a sad fact of the history of a country that prides itself – or used to – on being a melting pot.

Think of Fran’s paintings as commentaries on the complex relationship between Native and U.S. history and contemporary culture. Her work delivers a powerful message and speaks eloquently to “the ones who are remembered – by how they were forgotten.”

Culturally, Fran is a mash up: 49% European; 50% Japanese; 1% American Indian.

“My Native American subject matter was inspired by cultural assimilation and my own dwindling genetic makeup. I am the last descendant in my family who carries any physical trace of Native American Indian ancestry. The content of this work speaks for thousands of people who were forced to make a journey down a path of assimilation. But in truth my work also conveys a forced exodus of all humans. They are faceless to represent many races – Native Indian, yes, but also African, Polynesian, Maori, and currently Ukrainian.”


TIO: Writing about your work we have repeatedly noted what you told us, namely that you are a “lifelong artist.” But you never explained in detail what that really means. So let’s clarify. Did you begin mark-making as a young girl? If yes, who in your world inspired/encouraged you to do so?

“I was born with a vivid imagination and an awareness of little things in nature most people overlook. I often have mental images of my own energy and the energy I perceive others are projecting. Working with my hands gives me internal constructs, a pathway to translate such visions. For me, making art and sharing my acquired knowledge with others who are interested is a necessity.

“Granny Mary was my first art mentor. She provided me with various materials and gifted me with a subject matter through stories of how she/I were descendants of Sehoy, matriarchs of the Alabama Wind Clan. Those stories intrigued me. I became very interested in the history of the ‘Trail of Tears’ and its purpose to assimilate an entire race. As described, my genes include the last traces of Native American and, I believe, I am one final result of the process of assimilation. I have no Native American culture or stories to pass along to my 10 grandchildren. The idea of eminent domain has always intrigued me, some of my ancestors forced to give up lands and who they were to become part of a larger culture, to become ‘American.’ 

“In my primary Hawaiian public education I was taught about the struggles the Polynesian people are facing to keep their ancestral lands. That land is being gentrified now and locals are being priced out…”

TIO: Please talk about your creative process.

“I begin by hand-stretching primed canvas over cradle panels for a sound substrate. I then brush and paint the backgrounds. Many times that is when a destination is revealed to me. From there, I visualize the elements and use an acrylic pour method. I select the feathers and sometimes leaves to collage for added depth and dimension. I finish the painting with art resin, using a flame to remove bubbles. The paintings are then mounted in a hand-made floating frame. The titles of my work are revealed to me during this process, in the background destinations, colors, stature of figures and the feathers themselves.”

Gina Sarro:

Long recognized for her Canadian landscapes, over time the Vancouver-based artist shifted her paintings further away from literal representations towards abstracted shapes and colors. Gina’s compositions that are not site-specific; instead they represent stored memories of an idealized world, a serene sanctuary, that offers a reprieve from daily heart-stopping headlines.

“There’s something about the permanence, but also the fragility of the landscape that resonates with me; it’s a place to breathe and explore, and we all need to care for, nurture and be guardians of the landscape so that it is always there for us,” she explains.


TIO: Why are you painting your newest image with your left hand? For the fun of the challenge? You hurt your right hand?

“There had been a snowfall the night before and I was out for our usual morning walk with my husband and our German Shepherd. We were walking around our neighborhood in the country and took a small right-hand turn downhill. Next thing I knew I was on the ground. A trip to the ER showed I had broken my right arm, which also happens to be my painting hand. I couldn’t even think about painting for two weeks, but that was basically the maximum time I could go until I just had to get some work down somehow. So I thought I would give my left hand a try. I knew I wouldn’t be able to approach the current series I was working on, so I had to explore a bit to see what I could actually accomplish with my left hand. It’s surprising how the left hand can pick up what the right hand usually does.” 

TIO: Now back to basics. Since you hold a degree in economics from the University of Calgary, but also studied painting at Alberta College of Art, is it fair to assume you planned to become an economist (or at least exercise that degree in a career of some sort) and paint on the side? If that story shifted – economics first, painting as a hobby – please explain when and why.

“After high school I decided to pursue a degree in economics and political science as I wanted a general understanding of world issues. I figured I could always pick up a paintbrush any time. My left logical brain seem to like the fact that there were equations that had one actual answer. After graduating, I worked in project management, moved to the West Coast, had two children and worked on contract basis for a large multinational office furniture corporation. I started pulling out my paints when it was nap-time for the kids, cleaning off the dining room table in a big hurry to create before they woke.”

TIO: In what ways do you relate to the following quote by Helen Frankenthaler used as a lead to a show at one of your other galleries: “Let mistakes lead to invention”?

“Although I attended Alberta College of Art and Emily Carr University of Art and Design, it’s definitely the thousands of hours I have spent in my studio, mark-making and moving paint around, experimenting with both acrylic and oil paints, different mediums, different grounds, always searching and pushing my creative limits. As an artist, it is essential to continually evolve and uncover how to express the feelings and images that have meaning.” 

TIO: Canadian landscapes are clearly your muse, but the arc of your career indicates a move away from literal representation to abstraction. How do you explain the shift? Sudden ah ha moment or gradual evolution?

“When I sit down to paint there’s a 95% chance that I will paint a landscape. My first painting was a landscape. That happened when I was 10 when we moved from small-town Saskatchewan to Calgary. We did a family outing to Banff National Park, which marked the first time I had ever set eyes on the mountains. While walking along the mini trails I came upon a painter and knew right then and there that’s what I was going to be. My parents bought me a set of oil paints and off I went! I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt a freedom because what I created was solely up to me. That thought process stuck and has influenced work towards abstraction over the years.  

“As I paint now, I try to bring together everythingI’ve uncovered while working in the studio and seeing how it all pieces together. It’s a sort of like revisiting all the little areas I’ve explored: dragging paint around, exploring different color combinations, using oil paint and figuring out how to squeegee it around.

“Piet Mondrian: ‘The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture.'” 

TIO: Please talk about some of your artistic influences. Dead men and women count.

JMW Turner and Claude Lorrain: the light, the atmosphere, the vastness, the layering of the paint.

Joan Mitchell: the energy the color palette.

Helen Frankenthaler: the large organic color washes.

Clifford Still: the bold irregular shapes that overtake the canvas.

Monet: the color palette, the approach, the dabbing of the paint, the mystery and glow.

Gerhard Richter: the amazing breadth  of his work from landscapes to large-scale squeegee abstracts.

Peter Doig: always a sense of solitude.

TIO: Pale blue seems to dominate your work. Of blue, Kandinsky once said: “Blue is the typical heavenly color. The ultimate feeling it creates if one of rest.” Is that feeling of rest, of quietude or stillness and calm, what you hope to instill in your viewers?

“Growing up in small town Saskatchewan on the prairies, I was always surrounded by a vast, calming blue sky and a sliver of earth. I am absolutely drawn to the color blue because of that, and I’m always searching to create a tranquil, serene, vast landscape for the viewer to enter and wander, pausing to take in all the little moments and vignettes hidden within. In my work you will almost 100% of the time find a strong horizontal line running edge-to-edge across the canvas. I figured out a few years back that is because I grew up on the prairies so a strong horizontal horizon line is etched into my brain. Even moving away from the prairies to the foothills and now to the West Coast I intuitively draw that horizontal line as my first mark on every new canvas or panel.”

TIO: Please describe the methods to your creative madness, the nitty-gritty of your creative process, including mediums (oil, acrylic) and technique. Do you work en plein air, from photographs, or from memory alone?

“Painting for me is quite an intimate process and experience. I retrieve memories I’ve gathered over time spent in the landscape, whether local or during my travels. My husband and I have traveled many miles on his motorbike where I am the passenger. Being enveloped in the 360 landscape, taking it all in and photographing potential painting ideas. I always sketch out my ideas for the composition and color palette before I hang up a canvas or wood panel on the wall and get to work. That gives me a clear direction of my intentions, but the process definitely is intuitive as the painting develops one brush stroke, or pallet knife, application at a time. All that seems so nicely organized, but trust me, my studio is a basic disaster zone at the end of each work.”

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