Bad Boy – Eric Fischl

Bad Boy Eric FischlHere’s a book that’s hard to put down. About one very interesting artist’s path. The art market in the 1980’s. Wonderful bits about other artists. The changing nature of art. What art is FOR, doggonnit!

Eric Fischl took a community college introductory art course in Phoenix in the 1960’s as a way to meet people and because – well, nobody fails art:

It became more interesting when we were given materials and told to do something of our own choosing. That’s when I actually started to make art, and from that moment I was filled with an energy and focus I’d never known.

He hadn’t painted or sketched growing up. He admits he had no natural facility for drawing or abstraction. You have to read what happens next. And after that. And after that too. How does an artist find a voice?

I was surprised. I hadn’t thought about how you make your brushstrokes is everything:

I came to understand the significance of how one holds one’s brush. There are those who grip the brush tightly and use only their knuckles. There are wrist painters who begin to introduce a more sensuous gesture because of the longer stroke. By the time you get up to the elbow and shoulder painters, you’re seeing larger canvases, broader gestures, longer strokes. And once you’re into the shoulders, you’re using your whole body, like Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko. Understanding this somatic experience of painting helped me to define my voice and to find the natural scale of my imagery.

I myself am intrigued with making a picture about the moment before something happens. Or just after.  Stopping the train at the right station. Here’s Eric on that:

Working toward that moment – what painters call the frozen moment – led me to a new way of narrative painting. Painting is about trying to get to that instant that is pregnant with some special kind of energy. Done right, there’s an exquisite tension in the picture that comes from a precise set of relationships – between forms on an abstract level and between people on an image level. Finding where to arrest the action, where to stop time, is where the artistry lives. The most dramatic moments are the moments just before or just after something happens. The viewer entering the scene at those moments rushes to complete the narrative with his or her associations and feelings.

There are a lot of first hand takes on the art market and how it’s changed. On styles and whether they amount to much. On finding forgeries of your work.

Go to page page 304. My favorite. Eric Fischl says his gripe with a lot of the work he was seeing (1997-2002) was its self-conscious ambition to be totally unlike anything that’s been seen before, and the art world’s obsession with the literalness of that sensation. Quoting Ed Ruscha, Steve Martin describes what happens to him on seeing many of these shocking canvases:

First I go “Oh, Wow!” Then after a few minutes viewing, “Huh?”  What you really want is a painting that does the opposite. You want it to make you go, “Huh?” and then “Oh, wow!”

Well said.