Just as John Constable's paintings of the English countryside hinted that the Industrial Revolution was bringing change to the landscape, Gornik's world is permeated by her wistful recognition of environmental forces. She loves the scenery she paints and her work doesn't have the requisite ironic distance of true postmodernism: Gornik is too much in touch with the way she feels about the landscape, and in its spiritual potential, to let a cerebral approach dominate.
I recently interviewed April and asked her about her work, her methods and her personal concerns and interests.
John Seed Interviews April Gornik:
I was raised by my well-read but stay-at-home mom and my jazz trombone-playing tax accountant dad in a suburb on the east side of Cleveland. I have a younger brother who is seven years my junior. I went to parochial schools, first attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and then transferred to the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design for my BFA. My first realization of my commitment to art was when a guidance counselor I had for my senior year of high school said she couldn't fit my art class in that year's curriculum and I insisted pretty aggressively that it was my most important class because I was going to be an artist, so she had to make room for it, which surprised me as much as it did her. I did take that art class.
I have to mention that I was lauded at first for making ironic paintings referencing the history of landscape painting, and I just kept my mouth shut. Eventually people's inherent need for meaning and being moved took over, I guess, and I've been generally accepted as an eccentric. I don't think it's guts, it's some kind of necessity in myself.
I work only in the studio. I get completely overwhelmed when I try to work directly from nature. An image usually strikes me because it has an eerie familiarity, like something I already know or feel deeply. Then the trick is to get the scale right, so I typically order a canvas or cut paper after I've worked the image out compositionally for the scale I imagine will suit it.
Composition is where my work gets its power, and the work gets reordered all along the process of its making, from the initial sketch -- which is usually worked out in Photoshop -- to the drawing on the canvas or paper, to the actual painting or drawing, all of which have lives of their own and changes and adjustments -- sometimes radical -- that necessarily occur.
Oh man: I have a lot of causes. I'm very concerned about climate change and preserving wilderness. I was asked long ago if my work were meant to be "ecological," and I always said "no," since it comes from a more inner, psychological place and I don't feel political about it, but now frankly if it inspires people to in some way care about the world and what a mess we've made of it, I'm thrilled.
I'm a big animal rights person. I think factory farming is one of the greatest examples of mass sociopathology ever. The ocean is a mess. Need I go on? I'm proud to be a treehugger. And I am very involved in local organizations out in Sag Harbor where I've been living. It's easy to go nuts if you try to actually take on the global scope of all these problems.
I'm not against the fact that we're bombarded with images, it's just a fact. I prefer it to being starved for them, but I worry about people not being able to experience the physicality of art because of it, and that's really the way that art works. There's nothing like a painting, in its scale and physicality, to connect to another person through the hand, decisions, and imagination expressed there by the artist.
Paintings to me are machines that generate emotion, thought, and real experience through what's been embedded there by the artist. If a person is inured to that from image overkill, they'll just see a painting as an image and not go into the hand within the work. It's a loss I'm trying to push against.
I think people need to be taught how to look at art just like they need to learn to read literature. And the best way by far to ensure that is if a person has had art classes and understands the mind-hand connection that way.
Tell me a bit about one or two of the works on view at Danese...
Well let's look at two tree works. One of the paintings is called Green Shade, which is a reference to that great Andrew Marvell poem. It was an image I came up with by collaging, in Photoshop, various photos I had of the woods out back behind our house. I wanted to do a painting that had a kind of midsummer feeling, ripe and full but with a certain amount of stirring in the leaves & the light. I wanted dappled light, which turned out to be pretty daunting to paint, and I wanted an almost vertiginous sense of entry into the painting, so there's a kind of tipping of some of the trunks of the trees, the ground, etc.
Then comes a loooong time of just painting away, and watching the painting move in a direction I hadn't anticipated, which almost always happens, adjusting for that, adding and subtracting whole areas, etc. This is finally followed by the long dance to the end of the painting where at that point it looks like a painting should fundamentally, but isn't good enough. So that entails endless small adjustments and occasionally major changes. In the case of Green Shade the streaky lights and shadows of the forest floor were endlessly reworked. The color of the trunks of the trees kept changing: and then there's a point at which the painting just kind of closed up and was finished, and I couldn't get back into it.
I like to think of the paintings as having the potential to generate different emotions in different people. I hope I build them well enough to do that, so that someone might feel a soaring, happy feeling looking at, say, Radiant Light and someone else might feel a kind of vertigo and uneasiness at the way it shifts in front of you. Landscape for me is a complicated attempt to locate myself in the world spiritually and emotionally and there's never one single feeling I have looking at something that feels true -- as opposed to real -- although many people just see that they're "realistic."
Truth should involve complication.
April 25 - May 31, 2014 Danese/Corey
511 West 22 Street New York, NY 10011
Note: A new book, April Gornik: Drawings is being released this month by FigureGround Press and distributed by D.A.P. The book includes essays by Steve Martin and Archie Rand, an interview conducted by Lawrence Weschler, and a composition for piano and cello by Bruce Wolosoff. A book signing will be held at Danese/Corey on May 29 from 5 to 7 p.m.
The catalog for Recent Paintings and Drawings can be purchased on blurb.com (see below):