Brooke Shields isn’t the typical artist’s model. She’s been a celebrity for decades, acting in films like Pretty Baby (1978) and The Blue Lagoon (1980), and posing for high-profile photographers and fashion campaigns. (“What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”)
didn’t exactly have an ingenue on his hands when the two paired up for a photo shoot. Asked to contribute to an auction for Southampton’s Parrish Art Center in 2013, the painter offered the opportunity for the highest bidder to sit for a portraiture session that would culminate in a collaged artwork. Chris Henchy, Shields’s husband, was the winning bidder.
A year later—Shields’s schedule was hectic—Fischl arrived at her Southampton home. The actress had hired a hairdresser and make-up artist, and brainstormed characters she could personify in front of the camera. Shields told Fischl that she is a Gemini and often feels as though she is two people at once. Fischl came up with a narrative about a pair of twins—one who followed social conventions (wearing white and a hat to the Hamptons Classic horse show) and one who didn’t. Shields developed a series of costumes that would correspond to the theme.
“The thing about Brooke,” Fischl recently told me by phone, “is that she’s such a good actor, she disappears.” He didn’t feel he was capturing a celebrity, but rather an invented persona. Fischl, who’s known for eerie depictions of upper-class Americana, generally catches his models unaware. He takes candid photographs of people without their knowledge, looking for “authenticity, rather than preconceived gesture.”
Even when he uses live models, Fischl prefers in-between moments, like when his subjects are shifting posture or walking away from the camera. Until 2000, during a project for a German museum, he hadn’t enlisted actors to pose for him. The experience was something of a revelation. “Actors come alive,” he said. “They use their bodies in deep, expressive ways.” Their drama fuels his own practice.