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Sweet, sensitive and often a bit sad, the work of Eric Fischl intimately portrays not only the human figure, but also the emotional complexity of life. Currently, the artist has a solo exhibition at KM Fine Arts in Los Angeles. This selection of work is multidisciplinary, ranging from watercolor beach tableaus (hand-painted collages with pigment inks and poured resin) to sculptures using bronze, cast glass, acrylic and steel. The oldest piece in the show dates back to 2004.
Part of the Neo-Expressionist movement in New York, Fischl first reached major prominence in the 1980s. Dealer Mary Boone championed him along with contemporaries such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. By the 1990s though, his work had quickly fallen out of fashion. Since then, this artist has learned how to weather the capricious turns of the art world. Depicting the mythology of American suburbia, the sexual nature of Fischl’s narrative paintings is wildly brushed out like a Cézanne still life.
The complexity of his work is linked to his upbringing in Long Island, NY. His mother’s addiction to alcohol led to her unpredictable and inappropriate behavior; she often walked around the house naked in front of Fischl and his brother. The title of his recent memoir, BAD BOY: My Life On and Off the Canvas (written with Michael Stone), is taken from one of his early works, Bad Boy (1981): a voyeuristic scene of a young boy shoving his hand in a purse while gazing at an older woman lying naked on a bed with her legs spread open, eyes shut. In 1970, days before Fischl started Cal Arts on a full scholarship, his mother died from suicide by driving her car into a tree. “It was at that moment that my future was set. I vowed that I would never let the unspeakable also be unshowable. I would paint what could not be said,” explained Fischl in BAD BOY.
In conjunction with the opening at KM Fine Arts, there was a book signing as well as a talk hosted by the Broad Museum with polymath Steve Martin. Being friends for 25 years, their banter was educational, insightful and humorous. They discussed his time at Cal Arts when the school’s philosophy was anti-painting (only abstract painting was in vogue), yet Fischl continued to explore his humanity through the medium. “What you see in a painted portrait is a relationship,” expressed Fischl on stage. Martin also shared a painting of Fischl’s that he owns, entitled Barbeque, which shows a kid blowing fire in front of his family poolside with a bowl of fish on a picnic table in the foreground. Fischl showed his newer paintings of art fair scenes, depicting the humor of that environment and of art in general. The artist also designed an annual banjo award out of bronze that Martin and his wife Anne Stringfield created.
During the gallery’s opening reception, Fischl leaned on Ten Breaths: Congress of Wits Study (2007) explaining how the “hand informs the eye” in creating a sculpture. He then encouraged those next to the work to touch it, to feel the weight and dimensions of the piece. In the entrance of the gallery, Tumbling Woman (Life Size) (2014) is situated in the front window looking out toward the street. His original rendition in 2002 was controversial since it commemorated September 11th. “America has an issue with the body,” Fischl said to Martin, noting that the loss of the Twin Towers was the primary focus of this historic tragedy. “We didn’t know how to grieve or mourn the loss of human life, so we turned to architecture. There was no way to understand . . . the suffering of the body.” He also elaborated that in such a trauma, communities didn’t turn to their artists. Martin replied, “Art has different response times . . . the time it takes to (actually) settle in.”
Eric Fischl (b. 1948) has established himself among the most respected and relevant figurative artists working today. His paintings, sculptures, and works on paper have been shown widely across the U.S. and are featured in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The exhibition, Eric Fischl, is on view through August 24, 2014 at KM Fine Arts Los Angeles.