Artist April Gornik
paints in her lightfilled
studio in the
North Haven home
she shares with her
husband and fellow
artist Eric Fischl.
April Gornik in her
studio with two of
After the Storm
and Water World.
Gornik uses colors from nature, like
yellows and blues, to create the landscape
paintings for which she’s known.
who paints landscapes in oils,
works in her studio for several
hours every day.
Arching Woman, a
sculpture by Gornik’s husband,
Eric Fischl, on display at their
North Haven home.
“All artists want to be loved and understood,” laughs landscape painter April Gornik, who lives and works in North Haven with her husband, artist Eric Fischl, and the couple’s two Bengal cats, Hooper and Bebop. “Somebody said art is a desperate attempt to make friends.”
Gornik and Fischl first came to the Hamptons in the early 1980s and rented a house in Montauk. Over the years, they’ve gradually upgraded their living arrangements, starting with a farmhouse on Harrison Street in North Haven, where Gornik cultivated a massive garden, followed by their current residence, which they built on Fresh Pond Road. “I was horrified because I thought, I’m going to lose all that work, all those gardens,” Gornik recalls of their move to their current property. “I was really unhappy about it at first. Then when the land started to be cleared, I got it, belatedly. I’m such a slow learner. The ponds are so beautiful, and I love all that nature that surrounds us.”
Renowned for her landscape paintings, Gornik finds inspiration in local places such as Shelter Island’s Mashomack Preserve, but says the one Hamptons terrain she could never paint is her own. “I want someplace that’s wild and familiar to me at the same time, and my gardens are too familiar,” says the artist, who has pieces in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as the Parrish Art Museum and Guild Hall (which bestowed on her its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003). “I have never really completely figured out why I paint the stuff that I paint, but it has something to do with a necessary absence of people and humanity and the things that people make—like roads, cars, and telephone wires. But the presence in them is me, my projection onto them, and something that is familiar, meaningful, beautiful, and moving.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Gornik discovered art at an early age. “My dad was a jazz trombonist and was very encouraging; my mother thought that children should take piano lessons and art lessons, so she was perfectly happy that I drew and painted and used colored pencils,” says Gornik, who today also regularly practices yoga and indulges in her latest obsession: playing the Bach Lute Suites on a classical guitar, one of five that she owns. “I’m very obsessive-compulsive, especially with the guitar. I can’t resist it. I’m so fascinated by it.”
Gornik first met Fischl in 1976 while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. However, it was hardly love at first sight. “I would say a certain amount of rancor at first sight,” remembers Gornik of meeting her now-husband. “His technique to get my attention was to insult what I was working on. It was at a couple of parties later in the year that I ended up talking to him, and he was being really funny and adorable. And I thought, Maybe I got him wrong.”
Twenty-two years later, the couple married and now live and work year-round in the East End. “I think it makes life hard but rich; really, really rich,” she says of being married to a fellow artist. “Who else would understand if you said, ‘I’m going to be late or I can’t do it because I’m on a roll in my studio and I just can’t stop.’ Who else could you have a conversation about great art with at the drop of a hat, and who else can understand the kind of weird, obsessive-compulsive way that artists need to be? Of course, the competitive aspect can be really painful and difficult, but I think it would be very hard to be with someone else.”
Here in the Hamptons, Gornik is also involved in several local philanthropies, including The Retreat, which helps victims of domestic violence and abuse on the East End, and Save Sag Harbor. But being a part of the community is a small part of why Gornik hasn’t mounted a local show of her work in several years. “It’s rough showing at museums out here, because all the people I see all the time—people at the frame shop or people at the Y where I swim—will say, ‘Oh, I saw your show’; it’s nicer to just talk,” says Gornik, whose next show will be at the Danese Gallery in New York City in the spring. “[But] I like that really great art allows for all kinds of different responses and interpretations. A different person could look at the same painting and say, ‘She looks sad. She looks happy. This landscape makes me feel calm. This landscape makes me feel anxious and alert.’ I’ve had two different people go up to the same painting of mine and have completely opposite reactions. I was alarmed at first—I thought, Oh no! I’m not communicating right! Then I realized, No, no. I built them like that.”