Treasures from the Vault: April Gornik

Elizabeth Kilmer, Exhibitions Content Manager

There are moments in everyone’s life when they feel like they’re going through a storm, be it literally or metaphorically. At times, these storms may feel as if they’ll never end, but we must always strive to see the light that pierces through the dark. April Gornik embodies this narrative in her 1987 lithograph Light at the Source.

A landscape shows black, billowing clouds at the edges with a single line of light extending down the middle to what could be a lake.
April Gornik, American, b. 1953. Light at the Source. Lithograph, 1987. Museum Purchase, 1988.01. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

This print portrays a dramatic, tumultuous landscape comprised of voluminous storm clouds rolling above trees silhouetted against a lake. Both the left, right, and bottom of the composition are mostly black – there are slight textures outlining tree leaves and the edges of clouds, but overall this piece is predominantly dark. The center of the landscape is illuminated from a shaft of light breaking through a gap in the clouds, revealing the lake and trees. The stark juxtaposition of rich blacks and vibrant whites results in a dynamic composition that draws in the viewer. There’s clearly a violent storm raging, but, there is also a break and moment of peace in the madness. When it comes to Gornik’s artwork, the drama in her landscapes is entirely metaphorical.

Gornik is known for portraying dynamic landscapes. While her compositions resemble natural scenery, Gornik’s prints are purely imagined emotional spaces. She positions her viewer from mid-air looking out on an unpopulated scene. This bird’s eye, solitary view invites you to engage in intimate contemplation, and the mood is influenced by Gornik’s mastery of light and tone. Lithography, Gornik’s chosen technique, allows printers to create compositions possessing a wide range of detail and textures. The soft textures on the tree leaves and swirling layers of clouds invite you in, beginning the initial stage of intimate investigation.

Now that we know that Gornik intends for her prints to be introspective, what is she guiding us towards in this piece? We’ve noted that it’s a tumultuous storm – she shows us this through the billowing expanse of dense clouds and the strong light breaking up the middle of the canvas. But what’s the source for this light? One option could be lightning. I don’t think that fits this scenario though – the light Gornik has rendered is soft, illuminating the branches and lake on the ground. Instead, I think this is sunshine breaking through the clouds or, to be metaphorical, the light at the end of the storm.

Interpreting Light at the Source as the embodiment of light or relief during turmoil is the strongest reading. It’s a journey that almost everyone can relate to – most of us have gone through personal storms that have tested our positivity. The title of this piece, Light at the Source, also seems to reinforce this analysis. While we don’t know what this symbolic source is, for people, light typically comes from relief or outcomes that make us happy. This “light” often gives us motivation or hope in the middle of our storms, showing us the end and guiding us when we feel despair. We see this embodied in Gornik’s print, but it’s also the source that gives fulfillment and satisfaction once we’re on the other side.

It’s important to keep an eye on the positive, or the light, when everything around us seems like a mess. This is especially pertinent as the world is embroiled in the COVID-19 epidemic. As we’re bombarded day after day with news stories full of calamity and healthcare issues, it can be difficult to keep from spiraling. However, there are also stories of neighbors helping each other and of individuals stepping up to care for strangers. No storm can last forever and, in the end, light will prevail.

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