Eric Fischl 1948 —
American painter, draughtsman and printmaker. After completing his BFA at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, CA, in 1972, he taught from 1974 to 1978 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, NS. In 1978 he returned to New York and began to produce paintings in a naturalistic style of uncomfortably intimate scenes of middle-class suburban existence and burgeoning sexuality, as in Master Bedroom (1983; Los Angeles, CA, Mus. Contemp. A.), in which a nearly naked girl in hair-curlers kneels on a double bed with her arms around a large dog. By depicting the figures larger than life, he placed the viewer in the role of a child, exaggerating the psychological force of the situations by presenting them as if retrieved from memory.
The historical lineage proposed by critics for the bravura technique of these works includes the paintings of Manet, Balthus and Edward Hopper, but the clear reliance on photography suggests a debt to the Photorealism of the 1960s. Perhaps to counter the misapprehension of his pictures as Neo-Expressionist, in the mid-1980s Fischl exaggerated their formal quality by fragmenting the image on to a series of separate panels overlapping at different angles.
Born in New York City in 1948, Eric Fischl grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, his parents having moved there shortly before his second year. Against a backdrop of alcoholism and a country club culture obsessed with image over content, Fischl became focused on the rift between what was experienced and what could not be said. Until the late 70's, suburbia was not considered a legitimate genre for art. With his first New York show at the Edward Thorp Gallery, epithets like "psycho-sexual suburban dramas" became Velcro-ed to his disturbing images of dysfunctional family life. He favored a more figurative and representational style of painting than the Op Art and Minimalism that was popular at that time. While the figures in Fischl's work appeal simplistic at first, they have unsettling undertones of insecurities, phobias, and anxieties with references to human sexuality.
Fischl began his art education in Phoenix, Arizona where his parents had moved in 1967. First at Phoenix Junior College, then a year at Arizona State University, and finally getting his BFA in 1972 at the recently opened California Institute of the Arts in Valencia,California. After graduation he moved to Chicago where he worked as a guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was in Chicago that Fischl was exposed to the non-mainstream art of the Hairy Who. "The underbelly, carnie world of Ed Paschke and the hilarious sexual vulgarity of Jim Nutt were revelatory experiences for me.", Fischl has said. In 1974, he got a job teaching painting at the highly touted Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. It is there that he met his future wife, the painter, April Gornik. In 1978 they moved to New York City where they continue to live and work.
Fischl is a painter of startling candor. He is a natural storyteller in paint and his willingness to catch private moments with chilling clarity and then talk about what he is up to without a hint of embarassment is perhaps his most singular quality. He explores the pyschosocial scene through the use of taboo subject matter such as themes of sexuality, often capturing figures in self-conscious and awkward moments. He does not work with live models, but instead takes polaroid pictures, of nudes if possible, and uses these pictures as his models, putting them into backgrounds that tell a story.
In 1978 he returned to New York and began to produce paintings in a naturalistic style of uncomfortably intimate scenes of middle-class suburban existence and burgeoning sexuality, as in Master Bedroom (1983; Los Angeles, CA, Mus. Contemp. A.), in which a nearly naked girl in hair-curlers kneels on a double bed with her arms around a large dog. By depicting the figures larger than life, he placed the viewer in the role of a child, exaggerating the psychological force of the situations by presenting them as if retrieved from memory. The historical lineage proposed by critics for the bravura technique of these works includes the paintings of Manet, Balthus and Edward Hopper, but the clear reliance on photography suggests a debt to the Photorealism of the 1960s. Perhaps to counter the misapprehension of his pictures as Neo-Expressionist, in the mid-1980s Fischl exaggerated their formal quality by fragmenting the image on to a series of separate panels overlapping at different angles, as in Portrait of a Dog (1987; New York, MOMA), a solution already explored in his six-part colour etching the Year of the Drowned Dog (1983; see exh. cat., p. 43).
Fischl has embraced the description of himself as a painter of the suburbs, not generally considered appropriate subject matter prior to his generation. Some of Fischl's earlier works have a theme of adolescent sexuality and voyeurism, such as Sleepwalker (1979) which depicts an adolescent boy masturbating into a children's pool. Bad Boy (1981) and Birthday Boy (1983) both depict young boys looking at older women shown in provocative poses on a bed. In Bad Boy, the subject is surreptitiously slipping his hand into a purse. In Birthday Boy, the child is depicted naked on the bed.
In response to 9/11, Fischl debuted his work Tumbling Woman at Rockefeller Center in New York, creating controversy since it reminded the viewers of people falling from the World Trade Center. When asked about the controversy in an interview, Fischl still felt "confused and hurt by [it]. It was an absolutely sincere attempt to put feelings into form and to share them, and it was met with such anger and anxiety in a way that used to be reserved for abstract sculpture, really." Fischl felt people were mourning the building more than the people since there were so few bodies but such a high body count, which he felt was wrong.
In 2002, Fischl collaborated with the Museum Haus Esters in Krefeld , Germany. Haus Esters is a 1928 home, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1928 to be a private home. It now houses changing exhibitions. Fischl refurnished it as a home (though not particularly in Bauhaus style, and hired models who, for several days, pretended to be a couple who lived there. He took 2,000 photographs, which he reworked digitally and used as the basis for a series of paintings, one of which, the monumental Krefeld Project, Bedroom #6 (Surviving the Fall Meant Using You for Handholds) (2004) was purchased by Paul Allen featured in the 2006 Double Take Exhibit at Experience Music Project, where it was juxtaposed with a much smaller Degas pastel. This is by no means the first time Fischl has been compared to Degas. Twenty years earlier, reviewing a show of 28 Fischl paintings at New York's Whitney Museum , John Russell wrote in the New York Times, "[Degas] sets up a charged situation with his incomparable subtlety of insight and characterization, and then he goes away and leaves us to figure it out as best we can. That is the tactic of Fischl, too, though the society with which he deals has an unstructured brutality and a violence never far from release that are very different from the nicely calibrated cruelties that Degas recorded."
The latest paintings by Fischl deal with the centuries-old tradition of the bull fight, more precisely with the Corrida goyesca de Ronda, a topic that since its creation in the 18th century has always captivated artists, from Goya to Hemingway and Picasso. The large-sized paintings show the protagonists in the typical light-flooded settings with strong, luminous colours, and contrasts created by the interaction between the harsh Mediterranean light and the deep foreboding shadows.
Fischl is usually categorized as a Neo-Expressionist, but that label seems to have been applied more for convenience than accuracy. He is closer to the realist tradition, but with important qualifications. Far from being subversive or unanchored, his unidealized vision fits into a tradition of dissecting the harshness and materialism of American life, a tradition that takes in artists from Eakins and Hopper to George Tooker, Paul Cadmus and Gregory Gillespie. Fascinated with the banal and sordid, Fischl updates the American scene, monitoring the stresses and fears of the eighties. Many affinities bind Fischl and Hopper; the blistering light, the desire to show how people act when they think they are alone or not observed, and the creation of a disquieting atmosphere.
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National Gallery of Canada - Musée des beaux-rts du Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
Ludwig Museum - Museum of Contemporary Art - Budapest, Budapest, Hungary
Scheringa Museum voor Realisme, Spanbroek, Netherlands
Berardo Museum - Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, Lisbon, Portugal
Daros Exhibitions, Zurich, Switzerland
Proje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, Istanbul, Turkey
UMMA - The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX, USA
Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL, USA
MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, USA
Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL, USA
Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC, USA
MFAH - Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Castellani Art Museum, Lewiston, NY, USA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA, Los Angeles, CA, USA
MOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA
MoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA
The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH, USA
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
The RISD Museum - University of Rhode Island, Providence, RI, USA
Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Santa Monica, CA, USA
Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, MO, USA
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY, USA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, USA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA
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