New York

April Gornik

Edward Thorp Gallery

April Gornik has stuck to the initial attitudes toward both content and style she developed when she first began exhibiting regularly in the early ’80s. Though viewers familiar with Gornik’s work may take comfort in the assurance that no sign of habitation will spoil her open landscapes—that her untrampled fields, clear skies, and dramatic natural effects will remain constant—it is difficult to know how to respond critically to the work of an artist who has neither questioned her initial premises nor strived to master her materials. For the past decade, Gornik has depicted open vistas seen from a distance and veiled in diaphanous light. Despite the sometimes dramatic changes depicted, the balanced compositional designs evoke an overall serenity—an emotional sameness—that now seems more a habitual attitude than a discovered “actuality” of these imagined places.

In Source, 1989, the diffuse light and frontal view flattens the dramatic impact of the natural phenomenon, while the evenhandedness of Gornik’s dry, matter-of-fact painting style further drains the scene of vitality. In Vernal Equinox, 1989, the balanced design makes a perfect reflection of trees in a pond seem a clumsy, poetic affectation. In Moonlight, 1989, a clearly articulated moon floating above a reflecting patch of calm sea recalls Emil Nolde, Arthur Dove, Van Gogh, and Edvard Munch, all of whom imbued nature with religious or spiritual import. Gornik, however, is neither searching for an expressive symbol nor using a distancing style to problematize the nature of representation generally, as do contemporary artists such as Gerhard Richter and Jack Goldstein. Instead, she tries to pass herself off as an innocent, but without managing to achieve the expressive paint handling characteristic of Dove or Nolde.

In Gornik’s work, there is no connection between image and style, medium and subject matter. She uses paint diffidently, either because she is afraid it will tax and exceed her limited means, or because she cannot trust herself to do more with it. For all her supposed celebration of the visionary, Gornik handles paint in a manner that is too parsimonious to produce anything more than frail, nostalgic restatements of well-worn motifs.

During the past decade, Gornik has been associated with artists who are said to take their cues from the Hudson River School. Her recent exhibition made it abundantly clear, however, that her work is not fueled by convincing neoromantic sentiment. Gornik does not reimagine or envision the world around her, rather she seems unable to tell the difference between kitschy nostalgia and vision. Gornik’s painting has little to do with either the post-Modernist relationship to the Romantic tradition, which would uncover the ideological foundations of Modernism (Richter), or with work which uses paint to recover and develop a language of metaphor and belief (Bill Jensen). Instead she has come up with a pretentious alternative: an innocent nostalgia for the theatrical views of the Hudson River School.

John Yau