Eric Fischl Questions America’s Obsession With Dolls


The sacred and the abject have always danced around one another. Eric Fischl, who began painting in the '70s, has moved with grace between the two, capturing the sterile beauty of the suburbs of his youth — he grew up in Port Washington, New York — and the troubled people who inhabit them. Both his aesthetic and his subject matter, which he found through his own complicated relationship to his mother (an alcoholic who eventually committed suicide), allow for an uneasy kind of voyeurism that exposes the security of domesticity and reveals a deep isolation that no one can quite escape. In Sleepwalker, an early painting of his, a naked, adolescent boy with his knees slightly bowed and his back hunched stands with water up to his shins in a kiddie pool, jerking off.  In Bad Boy, which Fischl painted two years later, a grown woman sprawls on a bed as brilliant filaments of light trace the contours of her torso with the alternating slit shadows characteristic of Venetian blinds. She lies there as a boy leans against a dresser, staring at her and, behind his back, slipping his hand into her purse.

Fischl worked with a mix of erudition, ennui, and humor that made his paintings, at first glance, accessible. They often trailed off, however, into unanswered questions or unresolved narratives. But in the years that followed his career's success, Fischl has tried his hand at putting together exhibitions of other people’s paintings, poems, and photographs. When Glenn Fuhrman, founder of the FLAG Art Foundation on 25th Street, approached Eric Fischl about curating a show, Fischl proposed "Disturbing Innocence," a show with clear affinities to his own work and based on another broad question he’d been turning over in his mind. "Why, in a country that is arguably the richest, most powerful, most technologically advanced in the world,” he wondered, “do we find so much of our artistic talent playing with dolls? Is it something about a profound ambivalence towards the future? A terror of the future that causes a regression? Is it about individual artists not really feeling like they're connecting to a bigger public, so they're basically left playing with themselves, which is the arena of dolls?” SEEN spoke with Eric Fischl about several of the works he included in the resulting show, "Disturbing Innocence," which runs through January 31.