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/


  1. David, I did not know you considered “pompier” as soft porn! I’d like to read more of your “hard core” then. President Clinton might be interested too.
    Apart from this obscene remark, I’m happy to prove my point of yesterday: there are MANY things I don’t know! To me, Fischl was ... a wine estate in Austria. Call me a “one track mind”.
    But – unknown to me till 10 minutes ago - your Eric Fischl impresses me. Thank you for the discovery. A very important person in my life – whom I once mentioned to you in private – had a set of artistic nudes made of her by an “amateur” photographer. Mind you, my opinion on that hobby is clearly that they are all “voyeurs” who do not want to pay the fee of a peep-show. But the guy had talent on top of his perversion. She showed me the snapshots and I loved them. Most were taken on her bed. They are very similar to your exhibits 1 through 4 (apart from the dog). She is a very pretty person and quite muscular, just like Fischl’s models. I share your view on their sexual load (good word, is it not?).
    Tell me, you don’t present video’s, do you?

  2. I was fairly sure that Luc would pick up on the "pompier"/soft porn link, and the slight contradition that may be implied. For those of you who only read English, some sub-notes are required.

    The term "Pompier" is often applied to 19th century painters in France who eschewed the Impressionist movement (or who preceeded it) and who continued to paint (usually) huge, almost hyper-realistic paintings of mythical or historical subjects. French museums are full of them. They were called "les pompiers", I suupose to mock the pomp of their style and subject matter. But the word "pompier" has another, more colloquial meaning, apart from its regular sense in the French language of "fireman". It also can mean "a blow-job"! Hence Luc's allusion to President Clinton. Whether one should infer something about the sexual habits of fire brigades from this I am not sure.

  3. And Fischl also means, I believe, "small fish".

    Luc, you may not remember but I did show another painting of Fischl's in a previous article in this blog published on December 21st last year.

    Yes, sexual load is a good term indeed. I have tried to present videos in the past, although I am no good at the technical part, but I don't have the kind you have in mind in stock. Maybe I should work on this to increse the numbers of the followers of More than just Wine. Did you manage to see the video trailer of the Belgian Vincent sidecar ride around a track? I would love to know, just to see if the link works.

  4. Well, the first link works. And, in earnest (but don’t ask me why) I had a faint idea it might be Chimay (probably the trees nearby and ... the railing, brrrrr) even before the end pictures say so. The rest of the links say error, video not found etc ....

  5. Thanks Luc. Yes, that railing.....
    I will have to improve my technique, or stay away from videos.

  6. Respect, David.
    You know they call a racing side-car passenger a “singe” in French. Me, even in a street-legal side-car, I feel scared and abandon all my claims to being a primate. Did some hundred kilometers in a Jawa 350 cc machine – not a monster - with a very sedate driver and was glad to reach my destination and call it a day.
    You’ll have to show me the bruises on your elbows, Chimay’s tarmac has always been famous for its abrasive properties.

  7. Luc, it was not me in the panier of that side car. Wish it had been though! Have never ridden around Chimay. Maybe I should take the Norton up there when she is ready.

  8. Problem is, Chimay’s not a permanent track, as you surely know. The road is open to the public, outside the competition week-ends, which limits the possibility to take the bends flat out! And I used to know the guys in charge of the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at the local hospital pretty well. They are rather good ... credits to the workload provided by the racing track.
    A friend of mine has inherited a scarlet red Porsche 944 when his daddy passed. He registered it as vintage car now so he’s only allowed to drive it in daylight by law, but she may be good company to your commando.