Jealous Rivals, Day 2 / Eric Fischl

The finger is not threatening enough yet, but these two girls are not destined to be friends.


I’ve been looking at Eric Fischl, and I love his mixture of the familiar and the disquieting. I feel a kinship with his images, although his subject matter is so different from mine. Part of the reason I started looking at him is that I was feeling like some of these images I’m making haven’t yet achieved the level of disquiet that I’m hoping to give them. But I don’t know if I’m just a few steps away from getting there, or if it is the compilations of all the images together that will bring about that change in how they’re viewed, or if it even matters. So far I’m following where they lead, and I’ll have a better idea later. Looking at Fischl’s work has helped me to see why I don’t actually want to declare that something is wrong in too direct a way.

Eric Fischl

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The Beginning and the End, 1988

Fischl came on the art scene after the death of painting had already been declared, and realist painting was long dead and buried and gone, and they had planted daffodils over its grave. He has this beautiful description of how he knew he wasn’t an abstract painter, in Eric Fischl: 1970-2000:

“When I was an abstract artist every painting I did was basically the last painting I could do. It was always such an existential drama to make a picture…. Looking at artists I knew who were abstract painters, I could see that for them the language was totally natural. There was no hesitation; they knew when they should change the size of their brush. I never changed the size of my brush: Why change, what’s the rationale? …It seemed arbitratry to change or mix up any of those things. That’s where realism becomes interesting because I can actually say, I can’t paint a flower with this big fat brush, I have to use a smaller brush.”

What a perfect way to express the differences between artists! He could have spent his whole life thinking he was missing something, but instead he followed his inclination for realism, and it paid off.


Eric Fischl became the realist painter who fleshed out what David Salle and Julian Schnabel, Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman were doing in the neo-expressionism movement. He said,

“Modernism has always allowed painters from the realist tradition to be part of each movement… Balthus was included with the surrealists, David Hockney with the pop artists, Philip Pearlstein with the minimalist painters, or Fairfield Porter with the abstract expressionists. There’s always one realist because they address the issues in their work, but they’re still connected to this other tradition. They justify the avant-gardists’ program because they become the dialectic.”


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Sleepwalker, 1979

Fischl became a rockstar in the art world with “Sleepwalker” and “Bad Boy”. He was setting out to prove that painting was not dead, because it still had the ability to shock.

Yet these paintings do so much more than discuss which images, if any, still have the ability to provoke. They open up a whole dialogue about the presence of beauty in a realistic image, and the psychological private life of children, and their location in suburbia gives Fischl the ability to talk about people as they really are, without their cultural aspirations standing in the way.

When I talk about this, I call it being ‘at home’.

Fischl is definitely in my artist’s family tree, but given the fact that he’s still making paintings today, he would be my artistic father or grandfather. Yikes! I should be trying to meet him!

For more about Eric Fischl, take a look at:




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