By Annette Hinkle
North Haven artist April Gornik is renown for her spectacularly ethereal landscape paintings. Her work can alternately speak of turbulence or absolute calm, and while the places she portrays can feel as familiar as our own backyard, something in them remains elusive, making us realize these are landscapes that are not accessible in reality.
While people around the world know Gornik’s work, few have been inside the artist’s working space. But this Saturday, residents will have a chance to do just that when Canio’s Cultural Café hosts a visit to Gornik’s North Haven studio.
In the late 1990s, when Gornik and her husband, artist Eric Fischl, were looking to build their house and studios on five acres overlooking Fresh Pond in North Haven, they turned to architect Lee H. Skolnick. Skolnick had already designed a studio addition for the couple at their Harrison Street home in Sag Harbor, but in North Haven, they were able to realize a vision.
The result is an Asian-inspired compound of sorts, with a house and separate twin studios for Gornik and Fischl all centered around an interior courtyard rife with garden areas and places for relaxing and entertaining.
“Architecturally, we liked Japanese and arts and crafts,” explains Gornik. “When you’re between the studios, there’s a hole in the connector portico and a Roman compluvium and impluvium. A compluvium collects rainwater and impluvium stores it.”
On rainy days, a trough in the concrete steps becomes a water feature, allowing rain to flow like a stream.
“That’s taken from houses in Pompeii and we loved them,” says Gornik. “We just wanted the feeling of the house and studios to be very inside/outside, so you didn’t have a formal differentiation between one and the other.”
“One reason the materials here look the way they do is we like things to look like what they are,” she adds. “Wood should look like wood, not plasticized, the concrete remains simple. The whole idea was to not stand out and it sprawls around the hill.
“This house just posed the possibility of making a dream house,” says Gornik. “And we did.”
Gornik and Fischl’s studios act as sentinels marking the entrance of the property. Their proximity gives both artists an opportunity to pop in on one another, check out their work, make dinner plans or look for a missing cat.
“The studios are identical. They have the same footprint, but we divide them differently,” explains Gornik. “I like my working space to feel like a square. I find it a calming proportion. Maybe it’s the old mafia ‘back to the wall’ notion.”
Inside Gornik’s studio, the working walls are in the neighborhood of 14” feet high while there’s another 10 feet or more of space sloping up to the peaked roof. While the design offers a light filled and airy aesthetic, Gornik doesn’t see the soaring ceilings as instrumental in her working process.
“It wasn’t a consideration,” she says. “I think a certain amount of human scale is necessary for me to be comfortable in a space, but even in inspirational spaces there still has to be a sense of the human scale.”
“My eye can be drawn up in here, but it’s not something that informs the work,” she says. “It’s a luxurious bit of air.”
“Any studio you’re not sharing with another artist is an inspiration,” adds Gornik who paints every day.
“I prefer working in the afternoon and I work up to maybe four hours — that’s paint to canvas time,” she says. “More than four hours is a stretch. I’ll go longer if I have a crazy energy burst but have to repaint a lot the next day.”
“Usually that involves whimpering and changes,” says Gornik.
One of the most striking aspects of Gornik’s studio is the massive wall of windows which face Fresh Pond looking southeast (she knows that only because she pulls out her iPhone and taps the compass app to assess the situation).
Obviously, the fabled northern light artists prefer was not a major consideration for Gornik and Fischl.
“I have to admit, we didn’t site the studios looking north like you’re supposed to,” says Gornik. “We sited the whole house in terms of views.”
“When I worked in New York, my studio was in an air shaft with no natural light coming in at all,” she continues. “I was always working in lofts where the light’s indirect — long and skinny. I’ve never gotten addicted to a direct kind of light”
What was important to Gornik, however, was the studio’s interior lighting.
“I wanted to match the kinds of lights that my gallery uses — the halogens,” she explains. “I also wanted to have the lights at certain distance from the wall and equally flooding the paintings.”
While the studio offers spectacular view of the woods and Fresh Pond beyond, it’s not one Gornik loses herself in.
“I’ve never had a nice view like this, but it’s not problematically distracting,” says Gornik. “I’m a very nervous and self-propelled person. It takes a lot for me to day dream and I’m not a ‘gaze out the window’ kind of person. I rarely do stuff like that.”
It may also be that, for Gornik, the view is largely irrelevant. That’s because though she is technically a landscape painter, Gornik’s paintings are never literal interpretations of a specific place.
“There’s always been a certain amount of artifice in my work that I think gives the paintings dynamic tension and feels more interior,” explains Gornik, “which is how I feel about the way nature strikes me.”
“It’s interiorized,” she adds. “For me, it’s like trying to locate my inner self in the outside world.”
Canio’s Cultural Café’s visit to April Gornik’s studio is Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 4 p.m. Guild Hall art curator Christina Strassfield will lead a conversation with Gornik in her studio. The event is a fundraiser and tickets are $125. To reserve, call 725-4926 or visit Canio’s, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor.