Eric Fischl hates art fairs. ‘They’re like speed dating events,’ he says sardonically. But an artist always needs subject matter and one day figurative artist found himself asking the question; ‘what if I make the art galleries and art fairs themselves the subject matter?’
Art fairs and gallery openings make up the subject matter for his first exhibition with Gallery II, based in Wharf Road, London. People from all kinds of backgrounds and of all of kinds of fashions and temperaments are depicted making their way through galleries, observing paintings as much as each other. Fischl, an ever acute recorder of body language, paints the way they react to their surroundings.
An art gallery seems like the perfect setting for Fischl to explore social dynamics. He has long had a taste for such things. Whether it be thronging crowds at nude beaches, or adolescent boys watching mature women exhibit themselves, Fischl’s paintings are never far away from a charged setting, where the tapestry of social relationships are played out. And what could be a more apt setting than a busy art fair, where capitalism, fandom, wealth, idealism, elitism, pragmatism, and so on conglomerate? Where paintings hang whilst the people mill around, interact with one another, avoid one another, play with their mobile phones, look interested, look disinterested, and so on.
‘For a painter, it (an art gallery) is a rich environment to try and capture. I am falling in love with it. Not because it is the proper place for art but because it’s such a rich environment to make art about.’
This quote from Fischl is instructive. In his earlier works, there has been a suggestion that there is a perversion, an erotic vulgarity too glaring to ignore. In Sleepwalker (1979), a young boy is masturbating in a pool. To the layman, it would seem like a crude, almost immoral subject matter to tackle. But for Fischl, it is merely a ‘rich environment to make art about.’ To him, the nude beaches, the contorted naked women he has painted are fascinating subjects to make art about. They are a chance for him to impose a thin narrative, to explore how humans react with one another. In this sense, there is a cinematic element to his work.
Fischl’s somewhat disparaging remarks about art fairs and galleries do not mean that he is a grump who detests the art world of which he is a major component. He loves it. But he is a man who has always had more than a passing penchant for biting social satire, and the kind of interplay of human interaction he has witnessed taking place over the years in galleries around the world was just too much for him to ignore any longer. Taking photographs of art fairs in Miami, Southampton and New York, he brought them all together before constructing the images he wanted to turn into paintings. He wanted to create a melee of pompous artists, curators, self-obsessed hangers-on. He wanted to satirize the events, show us the absurdity, the aggression, the energy, the clutter, the boisterousness. He was succeeded in creating a series that is rich, amusing, and curious.