Eric Fischl was born in New York City in 1948. The family moved to the suburbs of Long Island, where Fischl and his three siblings were raised.
His father was a salesman and his mother an artist. It was his mother’s erratic behavior that influenced much of Fischl’s work. She drank excessively, flew into rages, walked around the house naked, and was even arrested for running through the neighborhood in the nude.
The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. Fischl spent a brief time at school in Pennsylvania, then on to a short stay in San Francisco. Neither suited him, and he moved back home to take classes at Arizona State University, then at the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts). It was during this time that Fischl began to paint scenes of suburban ‘dramas’. It was also the time that the drama at home came to a head.
Fischl’s mother, who had often threatened to kill herself, died after crashing her car into a tree. It was then, Fischl said, that he began to see how keeping family secrets was as dysfunctional as the secrets themselves and said, “I vowed that I would never let the unspeakable also be the unshowable. I would paint what could not be said.”
After his mother’s death, Fischl returned to CalArts and graduated with a BFA in 1972.
After graduation, Fischl took a job as a guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, before moving to teach at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design in Halifax from 1974 to 1978. It was at the school that he met landscape painter, April Gornik, to whom he is still married.
In 1976, Jean-Christophe Ammann, the Swiss art historian and curator, began to include Fischl’s work in exhibits in the U.S. and Basel, Switzerland. Fischl’s career began to take off, and he and Gornik moved to New York, where Fischl had his first solo show at the Edward Thorp Gallery in 1979.
The 1980s saw a boom in the art market. Fischl and artists like Julian Schnabel were treated like rock stars. Though Fischl’s dramatic, suburban, psychosexual scenes were bold and, often, brash, they were embraced by collectors and museums.
His works often depict moments in time that leave the context to the viewer. The relationship of the figures in the paintings, what came before and what will come next, is left to the imagination.
In the late 1980s, the Whitney exhibited 28 of Fischl’s paintings, which helped to establish himself as a force in the art world.
Fischl also paints beach scenes, figurative works and sculptures.
His works have not been without controversy, especially a sculpture he was commissioned to create for display at Rockefeller Center after 9/11. Tumbling Woman, which represents a body falling from one of the buildings, was removed after public criticism of the sculpture.
Fischl said that he made the sculpture to remember and honor those who lost their lives on 9/11. He was disturbed by the public, media and government focus on rebuilding the towers, whose images were shown repeatedly, and not on the victims in the buildings who lost their lives.
A bronze version of the sculpture is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.
In 2013, Fischl published his autobiography, Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas, in which he writes about his dysfunctional childhood and his struggle with addiction during the height of his career.
Fischl’s works are in the permanent collections of major venues, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modem Art in New York City, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, St. Louis Art Museum, Louisiana Museum of Art in Denmark, MusÈe Beaubourg in Paris, The Paine Weber Collection, and many others. Fischl has collaborated with other artists and authors, including E.L. Doctorow, Allen Ginsberg, Jamaica Kincaid, Jerry Saltz and Frederic Tuten.
Eric Fischl and April Gornik current live and work in Sag Harbor, New York.
Brienne Walsh. A Triumph Of Bad Taste: Inside Eric Fischl’s ‘Late America’. Forbes. June 14, 2017.
Laura Kipnis. Charged Images. The New York Times. June 21, 2013.
Christopher Bollen. An Interview with Eric Fischl. The Believer Magazine. January 1, 2005.
Robert Berlind. Eric Fischl with Robert Berlind. The Brooklyn Rail. March 19, 2014.
Thierry Somers. The Lengths to Which Artists Go. 200% Magazine.
The Southampton Press. The Story Behind Eric Fischl’s ‘Tumbling Woman’. September 8, 2015.