By Eliot Fearey
Seattle, WA, USA
With crocuses poking their heads out of the soil and cherry trees blossoming, one is hard pressed to think of a reason to head indoors. But, let me give you one very compelling reason to get up to Toronto and back inside. New York based artist April Gornik's solo exhibition of landscape painting will be opening on April 27, 2012, at Barbara Edwards Contemporary.
Gornik presents a body of work that takes her audience from seascapes to beach dunes and into wooded forests. Her impulse in painting nature is to alter what she sees and draw attention to the elements of landscape that she finds most meaningful. The work walks an unlikely line between photorealism and surrealism. What should look familiar somehow doesn't and, consequently, the paintings demand that the audience decipher Gornik's nuances.
In 2008, Ms. Gornik sat down with Stay Thirsty to speak about work of hers that had been presented by the Whitney in 1989. We invited her to speak with us again, this time about her upcoming solo exhibition, technique, and feelings regarding global warming.
Stay Thirsty: What are you looking for in the landscapes that you paint and how do you choose which elements of a particular landscape to include?
April Gornik: I can't really say exactly how it all works. Sometimes I'll look at a photo that I've taken and just use a small corner of it to make a much, much larger work. Say, a six-by-eight foot painting. My selection of imagery often has to do with a dynamic tension that I find when I'm “seeing” and then I try to pull the tension out by painting it. In painting, the subject is made clarified, emphasized, and hierarchical. But, more than anything, my selection process has to do with intuition.
Stay Thirsty: Are there reoccurring landscapes in your oeuvre?
Light Through Woods (2012) - April Gornik
April Gornik: I don't particularly like to work serially. I never make “series” of works and paint slight alterations of a singular element. But, I'll get obsessed really easily with something like the complexity and turbulence of waves, light running through and pooling beneath trees in a forest, or the stark abstraction of deserts, and then run with that element of landscapes for a while. I'll also revisit imagery years after first painting it. Whenever I revisit imagery, it is always quite different, I presume because of changes that I've gone through.
Stay Thirsty: As a landscape artist and gardener, is the environment and climate change something that you think about and address in your work?
April Gornik: I never started painting landscapes to express anything in particular. In fact, I initially resisted landscape because the genre seemed too old-fashioned and not trendy enough. But, I was so powerfully drawn that I couldn't, or didn't, ultimately resist. My initial and abiding interest is abstract and to represent a sense of light, space, and place for contemplation. Now that species extinction, dwindling wilderness, and global warming are increasingly present and irreversible, I spend a lot of non-studio time trying to get the word out and supporting organizations that try to slow global warming. My art is not necessarily made to inspire people to care about the environment, but I'd be very happy if it did have that effect. I think and worry about the environment and global warming CONSTANTLY. And, I don't like the euphemism “climate change” because it was coined to make people feel that it's less our fault.
Stay Thirsty: I enjoyed reading the conversation that you and Sally Gall published together in Bomb in 1993. You commented that you felt inviting the viewer into your work was especially important. In what ways do you hope to invite the viewer into the painting?
Other Deserts (2011) - April Gornik
April Gornik: Well, the painting itself is really the invitation. I guess I paint so that my work looks simultaneously “natural” and a little off. That way, hopefully, someone does a second take and starts to see the artifice in what is otherwise a depiction of something familiar. One thing I instinctively did when I first started painting was to raise the viewer's eye-view perspective slightly up above the picture plane. This has the effect of tipping them into the place I'm painting. The raised viewpoint is something that I associate with flying dreams. Then, hopefully, the paint handling and image making are interesting enough to allow them to engage in contemplation of the work, without being heavy-handed about it. By the way, I'm still a big fan of Sally Gall's work.
Stay Thirsty: I'm always curious about the source of inspiration for a particular artwork. Are any of the pieces in your upcoming Toronto exhibition a direct response to a particular moment, memory, or setting?
April Gornik: All of the work in the upcoming show is responsive to various places that are mostly projected and imagined, rather than truly specific to any actual setting. The only time I had a sort of place-specific show was the second to last exhibition that I had at Danese Gallery in NY; almost all of those paintings were inspired by places I visited in Africa.
Stay Thirsty: Sometimes when I look at your work it is difficult to pinpoint where exactly a painting is set.
April Gornik: I really enjoy it when someone looks at a painting inspired by Tanzania and asks me if the work has to do with, for instance, some place in Wisconsin. That happens more than you would think. I find that when people respond to my work they'll take it in and personalize it, and often I think they'll seek to make its familiarity related to some experience they've had. I'm always grateful for that response.
Cloud Over the Sea (2011) - April Gornik
Stay Thirsty: Is there a landscape, geography, or setting where you are most content, or happiest, and have you painted that location? Are you still searching for that “perfect” setting?
April Gornik: I am extremely lucky to be living in a house on Long Island that I built with my husband, Eric Fischl, twelve years ago. It's in the woods, but has a pond that leads to a bay in front and a view of a marsh in back. Living here is a dream come true! We were originally working in New York City, but I have found that I absolutely love being here and have worked much better since moving. I never thought of myself as someone who wanted to live in nature, but, like so many things in my life, I've learned that I'm not the person I presumed myself to be. Or, I've just changed. In any event, to me this house is the perfect setting. Turns out that I'd rather listen to birds than to city life, what a surprise!