Work/Life: Gordon Winarick

December 15, 2023

The American artist and actor, Gordon Winarick and I spoke from his new space in New York City about his spiritual connection with his painting practice and the art he loves. 

What are you up to these days?

⎯⎯⎯ I just moved back to New York from Los Angeles. Lots of making of things. Even with the strike, we can still shoot short films so I'm shooting one at the end of the month with a great team. It's about how we behave while trying to be accepted by people who are different from us. It takes place within family dynamics and marrying into a family. Really excited to work on that because I get to work with other people, and acting just involves a different part of your imagination that I enjoy sitting in. And I'm opening a studio space here in New York. I couldn't be more excited.

A lot going on! Do you find with being an actor/painter that the two practices ever inform the other?

⎯⎯⎯ Both practices inform the other endlessly. The thing I like with acting is that you're bouncing ideas off of people and things around you. I like collaborating, I like the team aspect. It’s like a team sport in the sense that you get picked up by people, and you can pick people up. It's much more fulfilling when you do it with the community.  With acting there are fifty plus different minds bending the world around the collective, the script, an idea. But when it comes to the actual act of creating in painting, it's so solitary, and it becomes a conversation with yourself. And that's why I love it. I'm bending the world around me.

When did you start painting?

⎯⎯⎯ I started painting in 2019, in New York, right before the pandemic. I became so obsessed, it just felt so right. You can only explain things so much with words. When I started painting and drawing I found I could express so much more, without trying to explain. 

I remember you told me there was a spiritual inception to the project.

⎯⎯⎯ I believe deeply in meditation. Sometimes it's a shaman or a guide who can bring you into that space. I had an experience like that, and there were a couple things that happened. I accessed a memory from second grade art class, where I was drawing something and the teacher said “this isn't right, you're not doing it right.” This memory came up during the session. My teacher could have just been having a day. But as a kid that was the first time I ever felt shame or embarrassment and it attached itself to creation. 

Yeah, these random moments from early in life can actually be our first lessons about what we can and can't do. I’ve explored many of these moments in hypnotherapy.

⎯⎯⎯ Absolutely. Then you see it in front of you and you’re like, this is so funny because it meant absolutely nothing. We say things we don’t mean all the time. But those memories become lenses for things you will or won't do. So I couldn't look through the lens of wanting to paint or draw cause there was shame there. I hope I don't pass that on, hopefully that cycle ends with me in this world.

From my understanding, when we become aware of the subconscious hang-ups holding us back is when we get to move on from them.

⎯⎯⎯ After coming out of that the next day my heart felt “I need to go and do this now.” I also experienced so much truth about who I was in those sittings and things I experienced, accepted and saw. Putting it into words did it no justice at all. 

So what is it that you’re describing with your paintings?

⎯⎯⎯ It's a challenge to even try to explain it, but simply put, abstraction is my way of bringing the unseen to life. There's a collective consciousness that abstraction, and really art in general, just taps into and you can’t put your finger on what it does to you. 

Your paintings are these expansive, meticulous color studies that as a viewer you can just be present for. 

⎯⎯⎯ We’re so overly stimulated and we have lost ourselves in the tide of it all. I just wanna bring something into the world that helps people slow down and return to themselves. Return home. Cause then you get to understand things for what they are and what your reactions are to life. You become conscious through slowing down. I think I'm just trying to bring people into the present. Abstraction is great because your brain isn't trying to analyze or draw associations. 

I majored in art history, so I have this very annoying academic habit of always trying to decode symbols and references, trying to figure things out. On that note, I saw that cups are a recurring motif for you. 

⎯⎯⎯ I think of cups as vessels. There's energy flying around us at all times. Our world is limitless. But what we choose to put into our vessel is up to us. In meditations for example, you usually start with filling yourself up with love, or allowing a colored light to fill your body. You’re actively bringing energy into your body. And when you do it enough, you begin to naturally radiate that energy. Metaphorically, you’re flushing your vessel out with clean water. The cups are symbols of us as people and symbols for our spirit. We're just little vessels floating around. I thought it was a simple way of conveying that concept. My mom told me recently that my first word was “cup.”

Mine was “hot!” My mom was like, “don’t touch that oven, it’s hot.” So I went and touched it. Very symbolic of my personality. And for you too, with the cups. This goes back to your story of when you were a kid in art class - we go back to these early motifs and interests. 

⎯⎯⎯ It makes you wonder what happened along the way. At what point did others fill our cup up that we aren’t even aware of.

I noticed that you recently moved from bright, primary colors to darker, muted tones. What's that shift about?

⎯⎯⎯ A lot of it is about what I’m trying to make to soothe myself. That goes to color mixing, really looking, and adjusting. So everything is going in the direction of soothing. Maybe it’s moving to a new city and I'm trying to comfort myself in ways. I look back at work from the past and every single painting I’ve made really is just a way to process what I was feeling at the time. It’s humorous how clear it is.

So, your work is very much connected to your meditation practice.

⎯⎯⎯ Yes and no. I meditate and go inward, not to seek an answer but just to “be.'' That’s always the goal, not to “do it right” but just to breathe and be there. Sometimes it's a visualization, but mostly just a practice of acceptance of whatever comes up. Finding that space does something to your energy, I think it's the way of honoring yourself and tapping into something special. You become that energy. And as an artist, you take that energy to whatever you're doing and it flows through you to the medium that you're working in. 

Tell me, what artists or movements or artworks occupy space in your mind?

⎯⎯⎯ Brice Marden. You go through life then see an artist you love, it's comforting to find an artist who sees the world similar to how you do. I connect with his world, his surface. He changed my mind about what defines a painting. This energy you're putting up on something for others to receive. Minimalist artists comfort me in the same way meditation does. It just is what it is, and a lot of people feel the need to judge it. James Turrell. Seeing a Turrell in person was probably the most powerful experience I've ever had. You can’t put your finger on it, but you’re immediately taken somewhere within yourself that is both challenging and comforting. If there was a Nobel Prize for visual art he would deserve it. 

Everyone has a Turrell story. I have a friend who was dragged out by security because he couldn't bring himself to leave after his three viewing minutes were up. Because he was so moved, crying. It was a spiritual experience for him. 

⎯⎯⎯ Trying to put it into words falls miles short of the experience itself. Everyone should make a trip to one. Have you ever seen one?

Yeah, I saw one of his Skyspaces in Houston recently. Like your work, it brings you to the present moment - watching clouds go by. Okay, who else?

⎯⎯⎯ The Miro blue paintings. They’re so large and simple and playful and daring. The most powerful paintings I've seen are the Monet rooms at L’orangerie, they’re made in a time of war. Simply some of the most beautiful paintings, ever. Hilma af Klint would be a dream to exhibit alongside. She was exploring these spiritual spaces before it was fashionable or accepted. People saw her as a disgrace to religion and higher powers as a whole. She was daring and ultimately compelled to make what she made and some of the most truthful and awe inspiring totems of life that I have ever seen. 

You’re beginning to explore lighting now, with your lamp project. I noticed there’s a common thread with your paintings and lamps in that they both emit this inner, diffuse glow. 

⎯⎯⎯ Everything I make comes from the same energy. The imagination is this formless glowing ball. It’s limitless. Light is limitless until it's contained in something to keep it from dispersing and diffusing. The light project is another way for me to express that. Somewhere in my imagination a thought or a vision will stick and keep showing up until it forces me to interact with it in real time. It gets created and then “given” to the world as an offering. If people find it and it affects them, great, if they hate it, great. It’s just a humble offering.  – East Room is a shared workspace company providing design-forward office solutions, authentic programming and a diverse community to established companies and enterprising freelancers. We explore art, design, music, and entrepreneurship. Visit our news & stories page to read more.