“Paintings and Drawings” Illuminate
Landscape painter and Ohio native April Gornik’s show, “Paintings and Drawings,” opened Friday, March 3 at the Allen Memorial Art Museum with a presentation by the artist and a reception.
Originally interested in conceptual art, Gornik was averse to painting as a medium.
“I saw painting as this dead thing that no one should be doing,” she explained to her audience Friday afternoon. Despite these artistic beginnings, Gornik’s fascination with light prompted her to begin a series of landscapes on plywood, and her career as a landscape painter began.
Gornik eventually abandoned plywood for canvas and linen, creating what has become her signature, sprawling, large-scale landscapes. These paintings, completed from photographs and from the surreal geography of her dreams, use only one color and then explore the range of that hue.
While challenging, this allows Gornik to develop light’s role within the composition, something she does masterfully; her dealer has commented that light is “the protagonist” of her work.
Her paintings are also striking in their large size, often measuring around 75 by 90 inches.
“I wanted to grasp it physically,” Gornik says of their size, “[but] I didn’t want there to be a sense of being overwhelmed by a painting.”
Her charcoal drawings, which are softer in texture and less dramatic, are also noticeably smaller for the same reasons.
Gornik’s work took a sharp turn from the conceptual art in which she had previously immersed herself, becoming increasingly open-ended in its implications.
“I don’t want to come to any conclusions,” she said.
Instead, she establishes paradoxical themes to question how people fit into the world. At what point do we enter a painting rather than just look at it, and where is the line between being an observer and a participant? How does the immense become intimate and the intimate become immense? The paintings on exhibit, inclusive because of their size, invite the viewer and then provoke these questions.
“I want the experience of the viewer to be a private, psychological moment,” Gornik said. ”What really gets me excited about painting is that it takes awhile to paint and when you get it done, it generates a reaction in people. They are animate objects.”
And she is ultimately successful. While her paintings are carefully composed and technically impressive, what is most arousing about them is the intensity of their quiet scenes. Her subject matter may be inhuman, but a viewer’s reaction to these works is strong and introspective.
We relate to the natural world she invents because there is a sense that the landscape, though void of people, presents many of the themes and experiences that affect us most in our own lives — pathways, beginnings, the cycle between storm and calm, and meditation. It is fitting that the experience of viewing these works is one of the themes within them: a response of simultaneous wonder and familiarity.
The show will run through Sunday, June 4.