April Gornik, "New Work," Oct. 14-Nov. 12, 2011, at Danese, 535 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Picnickers shed apparel to feel the grass pressing their skin. Rock climbers prefer less clothing and bare hands for a full body-embrace of the jagged outcrop. There are no coveralls on the beach because the point is to feel the warmth of the grains directly. Scuba diving is often referred to as skin diving as the body envelope is encased by the water covering the earth. Personal recreation in general is accomplished by touching the physical planet and in doing so reversing the self-splintering that comes from care for the morrow.
It is ubiquitous in contemporary painting of all stripes that thought often begins with the imagery of these exact sites of tactile re-creation, the meadow, the mountainside, the beach and the sea. Not only beginning with this imagery, but handling physical parts of it. Most pigment is still made of ground earth mixed with plant oil, egg yolk or beeswax, thinned with refined tree sap or other materials, and spread with hair from hogs, oxen, ponies, sable or mongoose. Some will spread the earth-mix using nylon hair made from coal onto canvas woven with cotton or linen, plants growing wild in the open countryside. Not only are artists working with pieces of the land, routinely they are painting the land.
Mark Tansey paints landscapes as a vehicle for ridiculing continental philosophy, portraying self-important individuals at odds with the mysterium tremendum that surrounds them. His early paintings of ironic interiors gave way to paintings of vast mountain ranges with an ever diminishing message, should one bother to search for it.
Anselm Kiefer is a painter of German folk history and mythology who uses landscape to invoke mythic fields and forests, often adding the physical material of straw or dirt onto the work. The Austrian artist Gustav Klimt paused from female figures in gold drapery to paint Attersee, peering through a telescope to mine the detail of the mountain lake.
Antonio Lopez Garcia, a painter of the culture of southern Spain, weaned himself from the magic-realism that occupied his early work in favor of landscape painting and drawing as "the physical world gained more prestige in my eyes,” he wrote. Julian Schnabel’s day job has overshadowed his recent foggy seascapes, done near his Montauk home, which have gone unnoticed.
April Gornik’s work is a postcard to herself, a close memory of what she saw and touched in her nature travels. She is a modern painter working from photoshopped collages, similar to Tansey, putting her closer to the previously mentioned artists in practice than to the direct observation of the 19th-century Hudson River School, to which she is often compared. Her technique results in a space-forward, blunt, sculptured image rather than the subtle shading of Albert Bierstadt or Frederic Church. Her skies don’t portray a divine fantasy but the real secular threat of a menacing blackish roil rattling the dogvane and the courage of the watermen onto whom it descends. Her Lowering Sky and The Rains made this sometime sailor anxious just viewing them.
Sand, Shadows, Time is a peaceful aside in an unquiet show. Its oblique shadings of magenta are found in timeless Sedona, where I crawled about in the southwest, and here her work functions best to bring a re-experience of primal nature. Less meaningful, other than the labor that must have gone into them, are the several paintings of waves arriving on the beach -- painting action is difficult and rarely convincing. Gornik is an avid scuba diver, so I would expect more paintings of the sea bottom, a private space she often feels and one more intriguing than the seashore.
Lion’s Eye is Gornik at her best. It’s a large, masterful work of the African savannah with an eerie light peering past the nimbus, coloring the ground beneath. It's a signature work, named for the wary eyes of the animal that dominates its grassland.
JAMES CROAK is a New York sculptor.