The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 30: ASSASSINATION: April Gornik, Artist Represented by Danese

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Photograph of April Gornik. Courtesy of Facebook.
April Gornik: Long Light, 2006, 67 by 102 inches. Courtesy of Danese.

A few years ago before I moved out to Salt Lake City, I would go to New York City as a weekly ritual while living in Philadelphia. Back then before becoming a conceptual artist, I was tied closely to more traditional painting, particularly Alex Katz. I would hit up often the gallery at Pace Prints and I really was moved by the works that were displayed there. One day, I viewed some rather unusual woodcuts that were being featured by a certain landscape artist. Most of the time, I hadn’t been interested in landscapes because they seemed to be too facile. These woodcuts were different and they touched me emotionally in an unusual way. I felt an awe but also a certain drama extant within the weather patterns that complemented the horizons of these landscapes.

I thought first “Were these photographic or magical creations?” I learned more about the artist who was April Gornik. Later on, I found out that she was the wife of Eric Fischl, whose controversial paintings from the 1980’s I had remembered rather well from a textbook. And these woodcuts were treasured gems. It was like reading the poetry of Wordsworth and feeling the beating of each line and meter within my heart. I am hoping that my readers here will share into contemplation of her work which is outstanding in its draftsmanship, composition, and sense of mystery.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak with Ms. Gornik regarding her art as well as other issues within the art world.

If you have any questions about Gornik’s artwork, feel free to contact Danese at contact@danese.com or at (212) 223-2227.

Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: As one of the foremost painters in today’s contemporary art world, your paintings focus on landscapes of the sea, lakes, fields, marshes, rain, and storms. What accounts for your strong interest in nature and the way that you portray it to the human eye? Would you consider your style aligned with an expressionistic or academic style or an admixture of both? What do you hope to communicate to the viewer regarding these scenes and the concept of beauty and/or representation?

April Gornik: I can’t adequately explain my interest in nature, except that I have always had it, ever since I was a child. I always liked to be outside, to draw animals, etc. On a deeper level, I know that for me landscape is the Other, a way by which I measure and understand my place in the world on some spiritual level I neither fully understand nor can fully occupy, but it’s a powerful impulse for me. I make my work accessible to the viewer so that he or she can mull over the same kinds of things I wonder about, without there being any specific questions asked or answered. I guess my style is a mixture of expressive and formal, but I would add that I think of it like good fiction writing, when it works, in that it describes something known or knowable but in a highly subjective way that should be engaging and interactive, rather than merely pictorial or descriptive. I do hope the viewer feels a certain physicality and reality in the places I depict, even when there is an evident element of surreality or peculiarity.

qi peng: You work in various media ranging from oil paintings to prints to works on paper. How has your style evolved since your first shows during the early 1980’s at Edward Thorp Gallery to your most recent exhibitions at Danese Gallery? Your work, on a superficial level, seem to have photographic tendencies on an initial glance. How would you distinguish between the act of painting and the act of photography in terms of intent and technique? How can each approach inform one another?

April Gornik: My work has become considerably more detailed over the years, and yet it’s not just a matter of it being more descriptively detailed (more blades of grass shown, e.g.). The question of detail has been a long meditation for me in my work. There’s a sense of detail I’ve found necessary to invoke kinds of turbulence (like the surface of water), or complexity (like how humidity hangs in air), or the weight of an element in a painting (which could be the depth of space or how a flat plain feels). Of course this detail can also be used to somewhat contradict what the viewer would expect to see in looking at a landscape. For instance, a grassy plain can be “pulled” tight by a certain kind of detail, speeding up its perception, or it can be slowed down by a different paint application. All of the ways I’m describing this detailing involves the manipulation of paint, and the slow building up of a surface, and are all perceptible to a person looking at them in a way photography can’t deliver. But I do usually use photographs as a starting point for arranging my paintings’ composition, and also to draw from for kinds of detail. Water surfaces are so much easier to see since photography, and I believe photography has greatly added to our perception of the complexity of turbulent or chaotic elements, and has informed my ability to make choices about how to approach them. I also love fine art photography, BTW, and want to add that it’s as much a victim of visual illiteracy as painting is.

qi peng: Within one of your essays, you mention that “we are bombarded to the point of being inured with images, and clearly a vast number of people are increasingly unable to perceive the importance of the physicality of images, even when they are declared to be art.” What do you mean by the term “physicality of images?” How does this idea relate to your overall philosophy of art and perception and our human existence? How does your approach to emphasizing the scene with rich meaning different from the approach of a Richard Prince‘s appropriated photograph where cropping is used to emphasize the flatness of our everyday imagery?

April Gornik: By the physicality of images I’m referring to both their scale and materiality (medium). Human beings are all about the same proportion. We see things with certain physiological restrictions (the arrangement of our faces, our height, etc), so the scale of a work of art corresponds to those restrictions, and choice of medium renders the art experience within those parameters. When a work of art is a painting, it has the embedded experience of the artist him- or herself making choices, changes, etc that reads back to the viewer in a very active way. The choice of scale for a work of art is also important because people project into works of art physically as so experience art somatically; think of Kandinsky‘s compositions and the near vertigo you can feel following all the intricate changes and choices he makes in one of his abstractions. We “wander” through works of art, we become their scale, and being physically present before art is a big factor in experiencing it fully. When we see mostly or only reproductions of art we’re lacking this. I wouldn’t want to argue for or against Richard Prince’s appropriated photographic imagery, which clearly hails from Warhol, but we already have plenty of examples of flatness, painting as object, etc. out there. There’s a place for all kinds of art and artistic intent, but the work that moves me the most is work that engages me somatically and viscerally. That also doesn’t preclude irony in art, but here I’m talking about high irony, like the stopping of time and the impact of the transient moment in art and how it engages us in our own existence, not the irony of having a work of art point out the superficiality of the culture.

qi peng: I really enjoy the understated approach within the images that you flesh out with paint on the canvas. Are there any spiritual or religious overtones to your work? How would you place your work within the context of landscape painting from the Renaissance era to the pre-modernist era such as Turner?

April Gornik: I think that the way I look at life has some sort of spiritual element, but I’ll be darned if I can name it. I don’t mind people projecting whatever they want on my work, be it something classically religious or pantheistic or atheistic, but I don’t paint with any kind of spiritual or religious undertone in mind. As far as my place in the history of landscape painting, I’m a product of my time. I couldn’t paint like anyone else, but I certainly love to look at landscape paintings from all eras.

qi peng: What are some of your thoughts of the current trends within the contemporary art world such as conceptual art or the new media art where technology and art intersect? Do you feel that there is a certain strength in more traditional forms of expression within the scene where curators are hunting for the latest cutting-edge work that may diverge from painting or printmaking on a support?

April Gornik: Conceptual art was popular in the mid-70s when I was in school, and I liked some of it then and feel the same way now, but the intersection of art & technology is not something I’m particularly fascinated by, nor am I adverse to it. As I said before, painting remains unique. The embedding of a person in a work of art by the time, intent and use of paint with which a work is made can’t be imitated by any other medium, and the history of painting also gives it a certain undeniable gravitas. To oppose that history by trying to do something that references and rejects it is nonetheless dependent on it, and it takes the culture to give it meaning. This is why much smart-ass work will probably not survive over centuries, but I could be wrong. It’s imaginable that the culture could become so historically removed that people wouldn’t even have that reference–a frightening thought.

qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism and art critics such as Jerry Saltz? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Denver or Chicago will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the present-day recession? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art, both visually and economically, within New York City where you live?

April Gornik: I’ve enjoyed some of what Jerry Saltz has written very much, as well as Peter Schjeldahl and Donald Kuspit, and very much appreciate Karen Lang‘s writing, but I’m woefully behind on my art reading, both in terms of reviews and art-critical essays. I hang out on the web a lot, but don’t have regular websites to which I go for information on art. I would hope that the globalization of art makes more art accessible, but I also fear being overwhelmed by it, personally. I suppose that’s just laziness on my part. In NYC the art market has slowed down, just as one would expect, and it may help winnow out some of the frenzied buying and support of bad art, but I also hate the idea that artists would have to struggle more. I don’t have romantic notions about artists in garrets. I confess I often feel I’ve wasted an afternoon when I go around Chelsea, but I’m still glad that so many artists have found support in recent years.

qi peng: Your formal art education was at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. What were your years of education like? Were there any influential professors and fellow students whose ideas or drive influenced your current painting style? Are there any memorable stories from your studio visits, studio critique sessions, or school days?

April Gornik: In school I really tried to please and impress my teachers. I was very susceptible to anyone’s opinion. So it was good to leave school, for me, after my BFA. I had several excellent teachers, but none of them directly influenced my painting’s style. At the Cleveland Institute of Art, my printmaking teacher H.C. Cassill, who recently passed away, taught me a lot about seeing work in a complex, metaphorical way. My advanced drawing teacher, Ed Mieczkowski, gave me a love of New York and the excitement of being an artist. Julian Stanczak was a phenomenal teacher, and taught me how to observe myself when I’d be making too-perfunctory moves in a drawing or painting, and stop myself. For him all surfaces were very much alive, and that was invaluable to witness. Richards Jarden, my “studio advisor” at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, and I spent hours discussing whether making art from Structuralist and semiotic writings was a good idea. We both decided it wasn’t. These were all seminal influences and wonderful people.

qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your visual eye and imagination?

April Gornik: My favorite artists range from my husband, Eric Fischl, to Giotto, with Matisse, Rodin, Roger van der Weyden, Turner, Charles Burchfield, Martin Johnson Heade, Ryder, Monet, Angkor sculpture, Japanese woodblock prints, to many of my contemporaries. I am a big reader, and read a lot of fiction as well as science and history writing. I’d recommend Bill Bryson‘s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, Michael Pollan‘s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and the book that influenced my art the most, which is Gaston Bachelard‘s “The Poetics of Space”. It’s now a pretty dated book but wonderfully rich in that it attempts to describe how poetry works by being itself poetic. As far as recent art shows, I loved the Morandi show at the Met. I’m looking forward to the Third Mind show at the Guggenheim.

qi peng: What is your opinion on juried art competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program or White Columns in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work, thus developing his or her career? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative? With the recent rise of online curated galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery, do you think that those type of galleries are a good stepping stone for a beginning art student entering into the larger art network?

April Gornik: I certainly think any positive reinforcement can have a great effect on a young artist’s life, work, and sometimes career, but I’m dubious about judging and being judged in general. I don’t enjoy doing it myself. Artists need nurturing just like anyone else, and it’s an odd person that doesn’t benefit from it. The online curated galleries are in the same boat as physical shows, with the exception of course that you’re not really fully experiencing the work. The recent pillaging of universities by galleries for artists is, by and large, probably not great for young artists in that they don’t have the chance to develop without becoming prematurely ossified by too-early success. But I certainly wouldn’t want to preclude a lack of potential support for anyone.

qi peng: In your artist’s statement, you allude to “art that makes me question, that derives its power from being vulnerable to interpretation.” Is the viewer to analyze as if they were reading a poem for its clues to meaning and the power inherent in its phrases similar to brushstrokes? Are there literary overtones to the work which you execute?

April Gornik: I like your interpretation! Let’s say yes. I really just meant that art that asks questions, and lets viewers have multiple interpretations and responses, is more powerful and to me more fascinating than art that doesn’t (problem-solving art, e.g.). I don’t think I could say whether there are literary overtones to the work I make; I’d let someone else decide that. It’s not specifically intentional but I wouldn’t be sorry to have someone react that way, that’s for sure. I once dedicated a work to the novelist Robert Stone, but that was after realizing that a book I had read of his (“Outerbridge Reach”) had greatly influenced a painting I was working on almost simultaneously. But that was as I was almost finished with the painting. I usually understand my work and its implications quite a while after I’ve made something, but not at the time.

qi peng: You are married to Eric Fischl, who is also a professional artist as well. What is family life like being together? What are the challenges and joys of being an artist couple? Is there any influence of your work on his painting style and subject matter and vice versa? Do you provide feedback or vice versa and if so, how does it translate into the new work that you pursue? If not too private, are there any wonderful stories that you would like to share with the readers about Mr. Fischl and you?

April Gornik: It’s wonderful to live with another artist, and we’re able to be sympathetic to each other in a very profound way, which is immeasurably helpful and satisfying. I am a big fan of his work, so it’s easy to be supportive of him and happy for his successes. But naturally it’s hard when one of us enjoys success that make the other jealous. We do look at each other’s work, but sporadically, and I think we’ve both had some influence on each other’s work. Eric was using paint when we first met and I wasn’t, but I really enjoyed looking at his work, and the fact that it was imagistic (he was doing shaped canvases of household objects floating in color fields with words written on them). I started painting landscapes rather unexpectedly a year or so after we’d met and then he started working with space in his work, which he hadn’t done previously. But our divergence into landscape in my case and the figure in his was just some natural proclivity that has continued to this day.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Is there a subtle political stance/subtext manifested within your artwork?

April Gornik: Working in a state of fear isn’t great for anyone, but artists are traditionally more conditioned to expect privation than many people, so hopefully most artists will be OK in spirit if not at the bank. It’s too soon to know what impact the art market’s (not to be confused with the art world’s) decline will have on artists. I don’t know how to predict the impact on subject matter and commercial viability, and then there are the natural swings of focus the art world manifests regularly. I hope non-profits will be seen to be valuable ways of keeping culture going in these rough times, and with there being more emphasis on service and less on shopping in the Obama administration, art may be able to cross the cultural line between culture and commerce and squeak through as it did in the early 90s recession of the early 90s. But it’s not going to be fun. In my case, I am asked all the time to donate art to support charities and will continue to do so as much as I can, but that’s another stress for them and for me, especially if collectors stop supporting benefits. There’s no intentional political stance or subtext in my work, subtle or otherwise, but I have said repeatedly that if looking at my work makes people more interested in saving the planet and its biodiversity, I’m all for it.

qi peng: On a lighter note, Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

April Gornik: I’ve been to Bottino since it opened in Chelsea, and Danny Emmerman, who runs it, has always been a great restaurateur. He used to have a place called Barocco in Tribeca that we hung out at. And it’s amazing that the Odeon still exists. I’m a fan of Italian food so Bar Pitti is also a favorite. If I were splurging I’d go to Chanterelle Restaurant. For bookstores, Three Lives is great, and I’m sorry so many little bookstores have been eaten up by megastores. Of course for art there’s Hacker’s, and Glenn Horowitz Booksellers has spectacular books, but is very expensive. Qualitatively, I like to keep things relaxed. I would say my model for a city is Rome, in that regard.

qi peng: What are some of your future projects that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new pieces be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead? Are there any forthcoming exhibits that you would to share with fans of your artwork?

April Gornik: I’m working on a painting right now for a show Eric is working on that will tour the whole country. The show is called America Now and Here (http://americanowandhere.org/), and it’s really exciting because it brings together visual artists, poets, playwrights, musicians, filmmakers etc in an attempt to reach into the middle of America and get a dialogue going about art and life and America itself. Very exciting. I’m working on a (so far) very difficult seascape for it. I can always talk about my work much better a year or 2 after it’s done, so I don’t have much to say about it, but it is a very challenging painting, and the challenge has to do with detail and complexity generally.

And I’m having a small retrospective show at a recently renovated, very beautiful small beaux-arts style museum called the Heckscher in Huntington NY this summer, which I’m looking forward to. There will be 12 paintings there, done from 1987 to the present.

qi peng: Is there anything else that you wish to share with our fellow readers here? Thank you very much for your time.

April Gornik: Think globally and act locally, and keep the planet’s flora and fauna diverse and healthy!

I appreciate you asking me to participate in your column.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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