Eric Fischl: Cargo Cults, 1984
Oil on canvas, 92 x 132 in.
Ludwig Forum for international art
Photo: Anne Gold
Photo courtesy of Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Eric Fischl : Paintings and drawings 1979–2001
WOLFSBURG • Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg • Ongoing
|In the nine years since it opened, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has regularly devoted solo exhibitions to personalities whose work has a strong impact on young contemporary artists. One such figure is without doubt the American painter Eric Fischl. Born in New York City in 1948, Fischl has been one of the most influential artists of his generation since the late 1970s. |
Although Eric Fischl’s art has been shown extensively in Germany, particularly during the 1980s, one seeks in vain paintings by him in German museum collections. Nor has there been a retrospective of the artist’s work in this country up till now. The last major European presentation was in 1991, at the Aarhus Art Museum and Louisiana Museum in Denmark.
The exhibition concept devised by the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg brings together approximately 40 paintings and an equal number of drawings. The selected works are divided into nine chapters, encompassing not only his voyeuristic and bizarre interiors and beach scenes but also his paintings from 1989 onwards – images inspired by his travels, self-portraits and the recently completed series The Bed, The Chair...
Eric Fischl grew up in the suburban environment of Port Washington, Long Island. In 1966 he started college, then moved to San Francisco and began studying full-time in 1968 at the Arizona State University in Phoenix, where his parents had settled. In that same year he discovered painting, and in 1970 he finally enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. In 1974 Fischl took up a teaching post at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada. The paintings he made at this time were abstract, however the results satisfied Fischl only up to a point. He wanted to "create meaning" and found the dogma of abstract painting to be a limitation.
From 1979 onwards Fischl produced the works which were to provoke great consternation on the American art scene, such as Bad Boy (1981), a risqué and shocking bedroom scene where a young boy stares at the open crotch of a naked woman, while at the same time he has his hand behind his back and is fumbling in her handbag. Fischl went on to paint other scenes that display a similarly strong sense of sexual ambiguity and enigmatic narrative. Time and again he took the claustrophobic, self-righteous aspects of American suburban life as his theme, later extending his painterly explorations by devoting his attention extensively to the creation of lustfully exhibitionist beach scenes.
Gijs van Tuyl describes the artist’s work as follows: "Fischl’s paintings and drawings tell the by no means heroic tales of representatives of middle-class America, capturing these in allegorical depictions, portraying the protagonists or representing them with figures from the past. They are to a certain extent history paintings ex negative."
Fischl uses many of his own photographs as the basis for his paintings. The photograph is the starting point for a painterly process that led to the particularly loose and lively touch of the pictures from recent years, but which seldom allows one to completely forget the photographic image on which it is based. His paintings, which frequently have erotic subject matter, have on occasion been termed "voyeuristic"; by placing figures in the pictorial space they suggest narratives – comparable to a film still. Fischl himself acknowledges the importance to him of images from the media: "I belong to a generation that grew up with film and television. That is where my figurative sensibility comes from: making pictures stems from making film."
In the 1990s Fischl found new impetus for his art on journeys to India and Rome, where he encountered the paintings of Manet and Caravaggio. New themes came to the fore, such as a preoccupation with the foreign, with age and death. Above all in his painterly treatment of light and shadow his art reached a new high point. In the late 1990s Fischl also took great interest in portrait painting for the first time. Here, too, he drew upon photographic source images.
Between 1999 and 2001 he completed the 15 paintings that make up the series The Bed, The Chair..., the most recent group of works in the exhibition. Here, Fischl employs a complex montage technique whereby he creates different constellations of meaning by combining a small number of recurring objects with selected new elements. Again based on photographic source images, Fischl stages an intimate play by arranging people and furniture in a stage-like bedroom setting, using a number of different protagonists and conveying cryptic messages. With this series the exhibition circles back to the paintings from the late 70s and early 80s.
A catalogue has been published by Hatje Cantz Verlag to accompany the exhibition Eric Fischl: Paintings and Drawings 1979–2001, approx. 144 pages with around 70 full-page colour plates, a preface by Gijs van Tuyl, a conversation between Eric Fischl and Frederic Tuten along with essays by Carolin Bohlmann, Jörg Garbrecht, Victoria von Flemming, Annelie Lütgens and Peter Schjeldahl.
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