Even bad boys have to grow up. American artist Eric Fischl came to prominence during the late 1970s and early ’80s in gritty downtown New York alongside artists like David Salle and Julian Schnabel, gallerist Mary Boone’s original stable of apostates. Early iconic paintings such as Sleepwalker (1979), which depicts an adolescent boy masturbating in a plastic wading pool in broad daylight while two empty lawn chairs stand witness, employed lush brushwork to create emotionally eviscerating scenes of sexual confusion and suburban rot. Now, at KM Fine Arts Los Angeles, in a solo show that spans the past decade of the artist’s practice, Fischl returns a little older but all the wiser to probe, ever more subtly, our secret vanities and vulnerabilities.
The exhibition at KM Fine Arts presents an artist never ceasing to experiment and push boundaries, but removed from the peacocking and frenzied angst of youth. Collages, hand-painted with pigment inks and poured resin, are looser and more sensual. In works such as Untitled (2013) middle-aged men and women saunter along a beach or hover self-consciously. The combination of musculature and loose skin is also observed skillfully in his bronze cast sculpture Kneeling Woman. Diluted colors and the use of white lend watercolors like Untitled (2009) a sun-blanched quality. Light, at times blinding, is central to Fischl’s practice. Across collage, sculpture, and watercolor, the reflection of sunlight on flesh heightens, exposes, even sanctifies, subjects in a troubled aura.
Nowhere is light more central than in the exhibition’s centerpiece: a life-size iteration in glass of Fischl’s Tumbling Woman, a work inspired in part by those who fell or jumped to their deaths on September 11, 2001. The original bronze sculpture, installed in front of Rockefeller Center in 2002, caused such great controversy it was eventually removed. Fischl, however, is not one to shy away from difficult subjects. He has always shown us the things happening before our very eyes that we don’t want to see. Of these unacknowledged truths, death is the hardest to face. In Tumbling Woman, Fischl suspends the figure mid-plummet so as to appear almost floating. Falling and standing still sometimes look the same. Perhaps this is one more, unsettling lesson Fischl teaches us about aging.
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