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Dive Deep – Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting at PAFA


Eric Fischl catches a moment in a story. That moment, when he’s lucky, pulls the past into the present and suggests ways the present may evolve into the future.

Eric Fischl in his studio
Eric Fischl in his studio. Courtesy of PAFA.

Fischl is a narrative painter who avoids melodrama. The original PAFA next door exhibits masterpieces of melodramatic 19th century narrative art. Such paintings depend on history and literature that an educated viewer would know. Fischl, on the other hand, enters in media res and leaves the viewer wondering: What happens next?

Fischl Dog Days
Eric Fischl – “Dog Days.” Courtesy of PAFA.

Fischl tantalizes in other ways as well. Why do people love looking at other people naked? In the left panel of the diptych “Dog Days” a naked woman with two dogs stands on a balcony overlooking a beach. In the right panel a different woman stands on a similar balcony with a man naked below the waist. He has an erection. Who can guess a likely third panel? It would make an altar for a very secular 21st century.

Fischl Portrait As Old Man
Eric Fischl – “Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.” Courtesy of PAFA.

There are some ten paintings in the show accompanied by photos, drawings, clay maquettes, oil sketches, photo-shopped photos, and portions of a documentary film. I like Fischl’s “Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.” It was painted a long time ago but he now looks like his painting — judging by the film.

Fischl Clay Maquette 15
Eric Fischl – “Clay Maquette # 15.” Courtesy of PAFA.

I was happy to see a portrait of the novelist Richard Price and his attractive family. It was a frisson Warhol rendered regularly years ago. Fischl is an art star. But I do have mixed feelings about the persona Fischl presents in the accompanying documentary. Are all art stars such self-important narcissists? But even self-important narcissists can make wonderful art. Fischl can write a novel with no words and a single image.

Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting is at PAFA‘s Hamilton Building through September 30.