The idyllic suburban childhood was a facade. What appeared like American perfection from the outside was, from inside, a living hell. Eric Fischl’s mother was an alcoholic, their family life often violent and dark. Fischl, thought of as America’s foremost narrative painter, attributes this early duality with the focus of his art:
I began to experience a profound, dizzying sense of disassociation. I became acutely aware of the disconnect between appearance and reality, between people’s emotional needs and desires and the status symbols and objects they surrounded themselves with….I became increasingly aware of the differences between what things looked like and how I felt as my world spun erratically and dangerously off its axis.
Fischl’s art came of age in the turbulent, decadent 80s and in Bad Boy (Crown), the artist spends a fair amount of time with us in New York in that decade of almost violent artistic change: the drugs, the friendships and what it was to be a rising star in that place and time.
Throughout the book, Fishchl’s own words are peppered by sidebars written by friends and family. His wife, celebrated landscape artist April Gornik, painters Ross Bleckner, Julian Schnabel, Bryan Hunt and others, writer/actor Steve Martin and even tennis great John McEnroe, with whom Fischl swapped tennis lessons for painting lessons for many years.
Fischl emerges from this self-portrait as the truly great talent we know him to be. He writes engagingly about his life and his journey as both an artist and a person, while continuing what he calls “the great debate”: What qualifies as art? And, in a way, where does art stop and life begin? “I’ve been searching for a sense of wholeness and belonging all my life,” Fischl writes at one point. “If there’s been any theme uniting the stages of my life and my art, it’s been that theme of redemption — the recovery of openness, intimacy and trust.” ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.