Interview with Eric Fischl on the occasion of his show Meditations on Melancholia at Skarstedt Gallery, in New York

Eric Fischl, Inexplicable Joy in the Time of Corona, 2020, acrylic and oil on linen, 78” x 105”
, courtesy of Skarstedt Gallery, New York, NY.


Eric Fischl
Meditations on Melancholia
Skarstedt Gallery, New York

Daniel Maidman:

What formal and thematic elements were at the fore for you in creating the current body of work? How are you building on earlier work, and in what ways would you say you've gone beyond or away from earlier work? 

Your earliest figurative work, including the glassines, generates narratives which take place in a kind of floating semiotic space. In the 80's, your spaces and people evolved toward a much more chromatic and realistic mode of representation. Your current work seems to hover between the modes, sometimes edging toward psychological narrative in a stripped-down semiotic zone, and other times telling its stories in a more representational world. How has your sense of the figure in space evolved, and what does space mean to you in your work? Is it an active, analytic tool of expression? An intuitive reflection of your emotions? 

The sea is a frequent element in your work. The way I read your depiction of it is simply that you find the most natural human location to be the edge of the water. The depiction of water enhances and expresses mood in your work - from the bright daylit ocean in "Preparing to Swim the Channel" to the oceanic dark water of "I Dreamt I Was Dancing With The Moon." Can you discuss a bit what the sea means to you as an artist, and the role it plays for you in creating your work?

Eric Fischl:

Daniel, your questions are excellent. They are the same questions I ask myself while painting. Please feel free to answer them yourself. I do not own interpretation. I only encourage it.

Here are some things I’ve learned over the many years trying to make art: 

My early work was a search for my “voice”.  The rest has been using it.

There is life. Then there is seeing yourself living it. 

There is experiencing life and then, in making art, there is re-experiencing it.

Art is a representation, as simple as that: a re-presentation. 

For the artist, there is Art and there is artistry. Art is a search engine for meaning and meaningfulness. Artistry is how meaning is most fully and compellingly captured.

Everything in a painting is there because decisions have been made. Nothing is there without purpose and intent. Everything you see in a painting should be considered in every possible way you can interpret it. There is no “face value” in art.  

Art is the meaning of its own revelations.

My art is a process, a method, that aids my search for a clarity about myself. It is the language I use to talk to myself loud enough for you to overhear me.

It is my sincere hope that in looking at my painting you will find places where our lives have intersected. 

DM:

It’s interesting, we have very little intersection in the narratives of our lives. The psychological motifs in your work do not answer to my own experiences. This is not to say that they cannot be deciphered or recognized; only that there are elements of your primal experience and outlook which are very clearly distinct to me from my own.

On the other hand, and I think this is why I brought them up, your analytic and perceptual spaces are very harmonious with mine. I intuitively recognize the semiotic null-space you use to stage some of your scenes, and this conforms not only to my native habits of thought, but also to some extent to the years I spent working in black-box theater, where this kind of minimalism is essential. Now that I think of it, actually, do you have any experience with theater? I can’t remember ever reading about it, but there is a sense of artificial staging in some of your work which is very theatrical – the foregrounded artificiality which creates a space within which manufactured elements can be transmuted into something True, a true phenomenon which unites audience and performer in the moment they share together…

And then, your evocation of the textures of flesh, especially flesh in sunlight, and the dazzling glare and purity of color of light by the sea, are also very familiar. This is where our experiences overlap, though to me, that overlap is less important than the ability of an artist to build radically on the tiniest of shared experiences to induce a new experience in the viewer – I’ve never stood in a tall dark room with a royal family, but I feel like I’ve acquired many elements of a profound experience of it from Velazquez. I don’t share your preoccupations, manias, and anxieties, but to me, the success of your work results from my ability to feel those things, as if they were mine, through the bridge you construct from a shared territory in our ways of thinking and seeing.

Eric Fischl, Cleansed by the Flames of Water, 2020,
acrylic on linen, 98” x 68”, courtesy of Skarstedt Gallery, New York, NY.

EF: 

I project my emotions into shapes and watch to see if they can animate those forms.

Though I have never worked in theater, I have always been inspired by it and rationalize the irrationality of my realism by aligning them with those of theater. An example would be how in my work, there are often a variety of contradictory light sources that still give the sense that what drama I am creating is happening at the same moment and in the same space. That is also true of scale shifts as well as perspective disjunctions. 

I also agree that one doesn’t have to have the specific experiences depicted and animated in a painting in order to experience it. One only has to come to a work of art with the willingness to be open to it. 

DM:

Theater does have wild lighting, even its extremely chromatic “realistic” lighting, which one learns rapidly to accept as a tool to produce the heightened reality of the theatrical space. I feel like your Krefeld paintings come closest to theater – their complete spaces and dramatic scenes are most easily compared with film stills, but for me they are closer in texture to the theatrical moment, and all the life and observation that is contained in theater.

A couple questions to wrap this up. First, are you seeing any new work that inspires you? Work that opens up new avenues which you couldn’t have anticipated? This is one of my favorite things about life among artists – discovery.  

Second, what are your ambitions in the next little while? Is there any aesthetic or thematic terrain you’re looking forward to exploring, whether to return to something with new perspective or to strike out in a direction you haven’t tried yet? 

Thanks for an excellent conversation, and best wishes in all your projects.

EF:

It’s interesting you point to the Krefeld Project when talking about theater because it was the first time that I actually used professional actors. I loved it. I loved working with them and they brought something to the work I couldn’t have gotten to in any other way.

To answer your questions, at this moment in time with the art world opening up to previously marginalized groups, I am seeing a lot of very fresh and vibrant figurative painting. It is a great range both stylistically as well as in content but all of it places emphasis on the figure, the body, the person. One artist, Arcmanoro Niles, I knew as a student and I have watched his work grow deeper, clearer, and more poignant. There is a hard-earned tenderness in it, which in the art world can be considered quite a risk.

In a recent Whitney Biennial I saw the virtuoso paintings by Jennifer Packer, whose work was previously unknown to me. She has such a delicious unabashed sensuosity to her work which is expressed through her wide ranging paint language and, for lack of a better word, exciting way she balances letting paint be paint, go where it wants to go and corralling it in areas of the canvas to form perfectly articulated images. I cannot describe them as beautifully and compellingly as her work is.

My ambition now is simple: stay alive and healthy in my mind, body and spirit while trying to keep it interesting in the process. WM

Eric Fischl, A Moment of Tenderness, 2020, acrylic on linen, 78” x 110”, courtesy of Skarstedt Gallery, New York, NY.

 

ERIC FISCHL: MEDITATIONS ON MELANCHOLIA

Skarstedt Gallery

starting 10-27-20, 19 East 64th Street, New York

  

Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman is best known for his vivid depiction of the figure. Maidman’s drawings and paintings are included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Bozeman Art Museum, and the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art. His work is included in numerous private collections, including those of Brooke Shields, China Miéville, and Jerry Saltz. His art and writing on art have been featured in The Huffington Post, Poets/Artists, ARTnewsForbesW, and many others. He has been shown in solo shows in New York City and in group shows across the United States and Europe. In 2021 it will be included in the first digital archive of art stored on the surface of the Moon. His books, Daniel Maidman: Nudes and Theseus: Vincent Desiderio on Art, are available from Griffith Moon Publishing. He works in Brooklyn, New York. 

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