12 Feb 2011

The painting of Eric Fischl

I have yet to see an exhibition of the work of Eric Fischl (painter, sculptor and photographer), and I may have to go to the US to do so, but I find it very interesting, both seductive and, quite regularly, also disturbing. If I wanted to simplify and classify (both of which I hate doing), I would say that Fischl is a worthy follower of Edward Hopper (this shows clearly in the painting above, from 1983), but who has also been tainted by the brush of both Lucien Freud and David Hockney, as well as something of the spirit of Francis Bacon. But the strong sexual charge that many of his paintings carry seems more heterosexual than that which surfaces with the last two aforementioned painters. 

This work, from 2001, clearly still shows the Hopper influence, but sexual liberation has come to stay. Part of a series featuring a bed and a chair (the latter with its characteristic, carefully painted pattern fabric, is present in every painting of this series), it is called "Bed, Chair, Touched". She has clearly been touched, but by whom...? There is usually more a shade of mystery in Fischl's work as well as a strong sense of voyeurism. Here is another work from the same series.

The strangeness of the scene and the atmosphere is palpable here. The painting, from 2000, is called "The bed, the chair, changing". Why is the man walking on the chairs, and is his body in scale? (it seems rather small). Is there the urgency of desire in his movement, or is something else being suggested. It could be scene from a Hitchcock film. The handling of paint, lighting and colour are all admirable in any case.

The mystery deepens with the third painting I have selected from the series. Or does it? In a way, this scene could be more everyday that the previous one. You never quite know where you are with Fischl, which adds a permanent tension to what are otherwise very carefully (and brilliantly) painted scenes in an almost classically figurative mode.

In more recent paintings, like this one from 2006, the use of photography as a first stage for his paintings becomes even more obvious. And perhaps also the mystery recedes, at least in the series related to beach scenes and summer holiday or weekend life. The body, female or male, is almost always central as a theme.

The body is shown as it is, ageing or overweight, as in the work of Lucien Freud, but with less harshness and a far more sensual feel to the painting. The above work is from 2009. The theme of ageing seems to become more and more of a preoccupation in fact as in this painting from 2006, from the series "Scenes from late Paradise".

His compostion also owes a lot to photography, and in particular the apparently unframed (or barely framed in apparence, but in fact carefully composed), snapshot kind. Looking at Fischl's waterpaint work, the freedom of the brush work is greater and the feeling becomes more spontaneous, as it needs to be with this "instant" medium.

I may well return to Fischl's work, perhaps when I have actually seen some other than through photographs. I would also like to investigate connections with Bonnard and Degas, amongst others.

Or even with a 19th century "pompier" like Bougereau, who clearly dealt in what I suppose we might call today "soft porn".

If you want to see more of Eric Fischl's work for yourselves, here is the link to his web site: http://www.ericfischl.com/