For over four decades, Eric Fischl has produced uncompromising images of American society, presenting a challenging and often surreal perspective on the forms and functions of middle and upper class malaise as reflected in the body itself. Figures routinely share space on his canvases, yet their gazes rarely meet, lounging or posed in a manner that reflects a certain deconstruction of the body as persona. Even when they do, through composition, pose and gesture, they are trapped in the midst of strained exchanges, moments of exchange and interaction that seems to place the viewer in the midst of a meditation on the body and on the societies it constructs. Marking his first solo exhibition in LA in 25 years, the artist’s current exhibition, Complications From an Already Unfulfilled Life, marks both a continuation of this thread and a new path forward, marking his first show in the Californian metropolis with Sprüth Magers.
The exhibition includes a series of recent works centered on bodies of water: pools, oceans and lakeside views provide the settings for images of aspiration, desire, frivolity and ennui. The artist’s work and his impressive technique is on full view here, working through a range of different techniques and approaches that underscore his intuitive ability to both understand inherent capabilities for paint, and to explore new ways forward. Densely layered washes, quick improvisational strokes, subtle lines of dripping paint, mingle with untouched areas of canvas, driving at the artist’s impressive abilities in rendering both human flesh and light, empty space and vivid action with the same sense of meticulous attention to the potent emotional states he so often dives into.
The show is also noteworthy for Fischl’s return to stomping grounds he has long been away from. A former student of Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari at the California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s, Fischl notably forged his own path during an era when painting was considered at a conceptual standstill, and used his training with conceptual masterminds to imbue his work with a new potency and spiritually-resonant practice. His idiosyncratic approach, building compositions progressively and intuitively using a range of marks, skewed perspectives, and charged emotional and psychological content, made for an inherent sense of tension and potency that continues to this day.
In The Exchange (2019), two standing figures frame the work vertically, staring off in separate directions, absorbed in their own thoughts and dialogues. Creating a horizontal line below them are another couple, their hands overlapping but their lines of vision interrupted by the man’s uncomfortable grimace. Complicating the composition yet further is the expansive sky that plunges to the bottom of the canvas, with no horizon line in sight. Palm trees whip in an intense wind that doesn’t seem to affect the figures, as if this were a movie-studio backdrop. In another, Unwinding (2018), his figures showcase shared sagging areas, aging features and asymmetry that characterize the majority of men and women as they age, a sort of shared study in psychological and physical states that makes his work all the more potent. This sense of almost hostile depiction, of suspended energy and tense moments, makes the artist’s return to the laid-back Californian city an important event.
– D. Creahan
Eric Fischl: Complications From an Already Unfulfilled Life” [Sprüth Magers]