Eric Fichl's rise to prominence began in the late 1970's with a form of figurative art that left his viewer feeling as if he or she had stumbled across some private moment between characters unknown to them. The complex psychological properties concerned with the dynamics of watching or looking is a good place to begin exploring Fischl's art. For example, he has painted boys watching a naked, barely pubescent girl walking on a beach, eating pizza; he has also painted a lone boy, cast in the shadows of the voyeur, watching a middle-aged woman on a bed. This intellectual dynamic, associated with empowerment and ownership, is then filtered into the viewer's practice of looking at Fischl's paintings. His protagonists are brought together in readable environments, but their roles are manipulated; they are often naked, and happily so, when they 'shouldn't' be; they do things that some of us would never dream of doing. They get caught in acts we hope no-one finds us doing. Rather than shy away, embarrassed, the viewer cannot help but be captivated by these often unerring compositions: products of an engaging, elastic narrative that rather than answering questions, begs us to ask who these characters are; why they are situated together in such telling circumstances.
At the beginning of the 1980's Fischl executed a series of Still Life paintings that play no small part in the evolution of his larger, more arresting figurative compositions. Boy's Toys (Bedroom Still Life) is such a painting. As if the artist had gone into the young adolescent boy's bedroom, and arranged a snapshot of objects that signify his character's teenage passions, hopes or anxieties. The present work clearly delineates Fischl's sensitivity to and embrace of the Still Life tradition, but with a twist. It is as if the Still Life becomes a portrait of an unknown boy: his 'toys' reflecting aspects of a personality we can only feel in absentia and which is later placed in the more charged arena of sexual dynamics. Fischl's treatment of light, and the props he employs to receive such treatment, is uncanny. This serves to dilute any sense of temporal or spatial fixing. There is no 'real' realism at force here. Objects are configured anathematic to the compositional perspective, sometimes oversized, sometimes too small. What is privileged by Fischl is a sense of 'being' in each object, letting the Still Life seem really 'alive'. Just as his figures and the narratives that they act out are all realized through the subtlety of an object metonymy, enhanced by an extraordinary vibrant handling of paint, so too does the present work vibrate with a subtle psychological tension by the same means. It is not the face value that matters, but the potential of the situation painted that lends Fischl's works such electrical charge, and one sees the seeds of this enterprise being sewn in this wonderful early work.
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