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‘Bad Boy’ by Eric Fischl – book review

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, artist Eric Fischl,

‘Bad Boy’ by artist Eric Fischl – book review

I imagine when artist Eric Fischl wrote ‘Bad Boy,’ about his journey as an artist, it must at times been excruciating to write.  Fischl along with his co-author Michael Stone goes deep with stories about the uncertainty of life as an artist.   He includes narratives of middle-class white America, from his messy dysfunctional family to his roller-coaster career.  However, the highlight for me is the journey Eric Fischl took to realise the type of artist he wanted to be.


Eric Fischl talks a lot about his time at art school at CalArts, California Institute of the Arts under the informative instructor Allan Hacklin. Fischl says of his tutors work, “I thought [Hacklin’s] work was intelligent, optically sophisticated and elegant but unemotional.”  Hacklin’s approach to art was to encourage his students to make work with no tricks of metaphors, no tropes or narrative pretence and no literary or historical allusions.  Hacklin believed that painting should be about materials, shapes, lines and colour.


Under Hacklin’s tuition, Fischl rose to the challenge.  At one point when all the students in the room where floundering, trying to get to the bottom of what Hacklin wanted, Hacklin walked up to Fischl work and stared.   Hacklin then announced to the room, ‘You did it!’   Eric Fischl happily received his tutor’s congratulations in front of the rest of the envious class.


Artist eric Fischl, Stuart Bush, contemporary artist

Contemporary artist Eric Fischl

Stuart Bush Studio Notes

Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’
That moment, although at first, it seemed trivial and confusing, clearly it had an impact on Eric Fischl progress to becoming an artist.  After following the strict path of Hacklin, Fischl discovered what he didn’t want to do!  He didn’t want to completely deny his emotions when making work.  Fischl realised that it was his emotions and their psychological meanings that he wanted to make his work about.  He realised that he wasn’t a natural abstractionist:
“There was little fluidity in my work. Every stroke was pre-determined, rationalised, every decision support with doubt.  Every painting I made felt like the last painting I could do. It took everything I had to finish, to figure out how to solve its particular set of problems and challenges.  And it didn’t lead naturally to the next painting. It didn’t flow. A natural abstract painter doesn’t agonise over every decision. I had to have a rationale or an excuse for everything. The limitations of the form were not unlocking creativity in me. They were bottling it up.”
Fischl wanted to come to terms with his strong thoughts and feelings in his work.  His deepest wound was living with his alcoholic mother, who at one point said to him, “I would rather be dead, then face the sterility of suburban life without booze.” A moment in his life that clearly had a massive impact on Fischl.  He needed to try to get to the depth of his feelings by painting them.
artist eric fischl, Stuart Bush, contemporary artist,

©Eric Fischl Art Fair- Booth #1 Play:Care, 2013 Oil on linen 208.3 x 284.5 cm All rights remain with the artist

Artist Eric Fischl – links

Artist Eric Fischl's Bad Boy book website page

The painting ‘Bad Boy’, is a painting about an adolescent young boy staring at a naked woman, (his mother often walked around the house naked), while at the same time, the child slips his hand into her purse to steal her money.  This is a painting full of psychological depth, pain and discovery.  Sometime later Eric Fischl’s mother was picked by the police running through the streets naked.  She eventually succeeded to kill herself.  She was found dead after driving her car into a tree.


This was yet another stepping stone that leads Eric Fischl to create deep and powerful work full of emotion.  This work enabled Fischl to reach the upper international art world in the 80s.  He soon got used to the bohemian life of parties and cocaine.  However, in the 90s, he was informed that he would not meet the cut in his gallery spring cleaning.


I have to admire Eric Fischl honesty and his authentic journey as an artist.  It was very interesting to read and understand the struggles he faced and the perils of recognition. The book provides an account and an education for art lovers who want to know more about the real-life journey of an artist.


Contemporary Artist Stuart Bush Studio Notes

One brushstroke at a time
 l thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Bad Boy’ by artist Eric Fischl and would recommend it.  Below are some memorable passages.

“Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.”


“You need to steal yourself away from the voices in your head that tell you how much you suck.  I turned out workmanlike canvases at a steady rate. Not caring about perfectionism. I would go for good enough.”


“Painting. Is a process that guides me back through complex experiences that I didn’t have words to describe or understand.  It relieves feelings and memories and brings them forward with clarity and resolution.  Each one of my paintings is like a journey, a process to excavate nuggets of emotion, artefacts of memory, the treasures buried in my unconscious. My imagery evokes feelings that were once too painful to ephemeral or too embarrassing to articulate or even to remember.”


l felt the need to highlight them and store them in my memory.
My rating 5 out of 5.
Please read the book, and come back debate it with me and make a comment below.
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