New York

April Gornik

Edward Thorp Gallery

The two questions that April Gornik’s paintings raise turn out to be intimately related to each other. Why schematize nature to the extent she does, and why depict scenes that are half stereotypical nearly to the point of parody, half surreal in their uniqueness? Her style flings its flat commonplace over both ordinary and extraordinary landscapes to render the transitions from one to the other seamless, in fact nonexistent, with the effect that the eerie becomes at once familiar and even more eerie. But whose eeriness is it? The routineness makes the images seem sourceless; nature is made an abstract machine with the fearful symmetry of the Andromeda strain—a beautifully, amorally structured autocracy of self-absorption. All Gornik’s paintings are like Pulling Moon, whose white clouds and whitecaps have been aligned into rhyming pellets by lunar attraction. It’s as if the canvases had been passed by a magnet; pictorial elements are vectored filings, be they trees all leaning to the left in a storm, matching fire columns, or indistinguishable stalactites of rain.

On the other hand, knowing as we do that a human consciousness, Gornik’s, is involved puts us on the alert—the tamped-down rendering is perhaps a symptom of a voracious need for control which results in hysteria and hallucination (the surreal spectacles). That this is Gornik rather than nature is on one level quite clear—these are “natural” forms we could see only in paintings. However, that fact in itself implicates the audience: if we all not only recognize the shapes but recognize their universality as well, then Gornik alone is not responsible for them. If her nature is a construct, it’s a group effort. With our shared knowledge, our visual competence, we are too immersed in this system of imaging to disown it when “freaks” occur. Gornik gives them to us as our hallucinations. And nature has come to be so culturally tamed that any anomaly must feel imagined.

Among the landscape revivalists Gornik has none of Sylvia Plimack Man-gold’s irony, Louisa Chase’s style, David Deutsch’s narrative quality, or Lois Dodd’s painterliness. Instead she establishes a continuum whose poles are a dull realism and a dull and so newly startling surrealism. Somewhere along that line she introduces Frederick Edwin Church to René Magritte, a combination that, aided by Gornik’s passive surrender to mass culture, allows one to describe her Iceberg as a sci-fi answer to Church’s already weird style, possibly indebted to the arctic mise-en-scène of Superman.

Jeanne Silverthorne