May 18, 2017
Gornik has had a solo gallery show almost every year since 1981
By Karen Sandstrom
Artist April Gornik has had a solo gallery show almost every year since 1981. Her landscape paintings and drawings are in innumerable private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, the Whitney Museum — and that’s just the start of a very long list.
The New York Times described her as “a painter of eminence.”
But if those imprimaturs of success feel nice, so do the everyday kind.
“I’m constantly surprised by people who say, ‘I’ve been looking at your work for years, and sometimes when I’m feeling really awful, I’ll just go on your website and look at your paintings for a while,’ ” Gornik says. “It always makes me feel great.”
Gornik was born in Cleveland and attended the Cleveland Institute of Art before graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1976. She is the 2017 speaker for Commencement. (View her Commencement address here.)
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Gornik, who lives in North Haven, New York with husband, artist Eric Fischl. Gornik still has family in Cleveland, and visits often enough to notice the evolution in the local cultural scene.
“Personally, I think that cities all over the United States are getting the culture message,” Gornik said in a recent phone interview. “Restaurants are better, things are hipper, people are having more fun in a slightly more sophisticated way, unless they’re stubbornly trying not to. It’s a tide that’s raising all boats.”
Not that she doesn’t see room for improvement: “What I can’t understand about Cleveland is why there are no waterfront parks and waterfront activity. It doesn’t make a damned bit of sense.”
Brought up in the Cleveland suburb of Mayfield Heights, Gornik attended CIA because “I wanted to go to art school for college, and it seemed the logical choice.” She left for Nova Scotia with sights on becoming a conceptualist. After she graduated, “it was almost like my own psyche snuck up and ambushed me.”
The newly minted art grad was waiting tables in Halifax and working her studio practice when she was struck by the wish to make “something that contained light.” The only way to do that was with paint, she said. “I imagined this thing in my head and I kind of needed paint to make it.
“And I did it, and I looked at it and thought, oh my God, I just made a painting of a landscape, what IS going to become of me? It’s funny that the moment I did it, I thought, this is it,” she said. “This is the real me.”
Landscapes weren’t getting great press in the art world at the time. When she moved to New York, she tried to give them up and paint interior scenes “because I felt so embarrassed that I would be painting landscapes in New York,” she said. But the interiors didn’t work any better for her than conceptualism. “I really felt so claustrophobic doing them,” she said. “I was miserable. That didn’t last very long,”
Her heart leaned toward space and light, and over a 40-year career, that hasn’t waned. “I love making that happen on a two-dimensional surface.”
Her audience loves it, too. Her work has been compared to that of Hudson River School artists — lauded for being both important and beautiful.
“I think everybody going to art college thinks I’m going to be Picasso, I’m going to be Jackson Pollack, I’m going to be Andy Warhol, I’m going to be somebody famous,” Gornik said. “But if you’re really lucky, you actually find out who you are, and become the artist you are. And what’s even better becoming whoever else you could ever imagine you could possibly be.”
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