The weather in American Art's Lincoln Gallery has gotten a bit cloudier, thanks to the addition of April Gornik's 1992 painting, Virga. Its dramatic swirls of cumulus that dip like a crow's wing over troubled water depict a storm brewing on the horizon. The painting is a recent gift to the museum from James F. Dicke II, the sponsor of the museum's annual lecture in contemporary art that bears his name.
Three words appeared on the screen shortly after Gornik took the stage: Binaries, Details, Process, giving a bit of a roadmap to the lecture as the artist took us on a tour through her oeuvre, from her earliest paintings on plywood, to her formative paintings on canvas, and ending with images from an upcoming exhibition. Her signature works, like Virga, are unpeopled landscapes that are often imagined or reinterpreted through time and memory, and largely influenced by 19th century landscape painting. Virga (defined as when rain falls but evaporates before it reaches the ground), where "the painting is starting to devour itself," came after a difficult time in her life, and reflects the process of "coming back into the light from the dark."
In terms of the binary, Gornik's work often skates between dreams and the real world, the familiar and the unknown. Is a storm coming or is the storm retreating? The canvas holds a balance between shapes and shadows, between tension and release, the action in the upper register, and the often meditative space on the ground. With detail she wondered about the scale and physicality of the painting, "how much detail is enough." She added, "Painting is a strange animal, you really can't control it."
Process gave Gornik a chance to show a fascinating series of images of a painting from start to finish, beginning with the underpainting she applies at first. It begins with a vision and she draws it out until it's finally realized, and no more changes are necessary.
One of my favorite moments of the evening came when she commented on the power and importance of seeing a painting in person, rather than solely viewing it online. "If I'm staring at my computer for a long time and then I go to the [Metropolitan Museum of Art], and see Northern European Renaissance paintings in all their crazy, insanely detailed glory, I feel like I've fallen into a literal other world that is rich and satisfying and amazing as can be imagined. I worry about other people going through the museum and just seeing them as an image. I think it's so important for people to be taught what makes art powerful."
Watch the webcast of Gornik's talk.