Until November 8, Eric Fischl is showing his new body of work (Art Fair Paintings) at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road London. The pictures are great because of their skilled understatement and non chalance. I would call them non chalant both formally and from the point of view of its iconography. Regarding the latter, the figures are always doing the opposite that they should but they are still very real. For example, in this image, the artist is the only one that cannot see and no one, absolutely no one, is looking at the art (which, at the same time, is impossible not to be seen).
In the following image, the masque of death mirrors the masque of the collectors’ disdain. The artist seems to show us that that face with which these rich housewives construct their precarious identities is as much as a construction as the portrait of a dead person. So Fischl seems to explore the difference between artificial disdain and graceful non-chalance in order to push paintings (as a craft) forward as a vehicle of elegance. In other words, the elegant are not those in the picture but those who appreciate the making of the picture.
In the XVI century, Baldassare Castiglione in his book The Courtier defined ‘grace’ as ‘calculated non challance’ or, in other words, as making something extremely difficult look like it is done effortlessly. Fischl, however, adds a twist to the equation turning this effortless non challance into an ironic coolness of sorts. In his own words: ‘Without the academy, painters have had to answer the question of how much is enough, which is a question that each painting made seeks to answer but never does answer. The question persists. When is a painting done/finished? And of course the answer is always personal, transient and, for me, volatile. I take courage from jack Kerouac, who sought to find a language of description that was full of flavour, full of atmosphere, rich in detail and observation, written at the speed of light. Your are convinced, listening to him read, that he is devoted to the discipline of spontaneity; the act of naming at the moment one sees it. Listen to him describe a room full of people, a band, music playing, smoke and the smell of beer, sometimes with just a words, sometimes with colours and body language, all unfolding in front of you as he speaks -and as he speaks, you feel him encompassing something complex and teeming. His accuracy is in what choices he makes. Not too laboured, not too fancy, not too arty but full of life’. I would say: ‘just cool enough!’.
In a way this has been the concern of the moderns since Proust, Turner and Beaudelaire and has become an obsession of art after the crisis of Clement Greenberg-ian modernism. I am referring, of course, to Pop and its ‘French’ counterpart (cinetic art) where art gives it a go at visually embodying the speed and rhythm of what is going on in the streets. That is the point where art becomes spectacle because it is not anymore about exploring a theme but about representing the look of life. The interesting with Fischl is that he tries to bring it back to modernism as a conflation of iconography (‘the transience of art in the art fair’) and brushwork (‘painted as it happens’). I think that in that nostalgic optimism lies the strength of Firschl’s new paintings at Victoria Miro. I loved them.
WATCH MY ONE TO ONE INTERVIEW WITH SWISS ARTIST ANGELA LYN