A.M. Homes: In your earlier work, a little boy showed up in various incarnations, and then around the time of the India paintings he disappeared. What happened to him?
Eric Fischl: I haven’t been able to go back to him. I mean, he is gone.
EF He grew up. He got past the outrage of a child’s psyche when what they’re promised and what they’re given aren’t the same thing. You know what I’m saying, right?
AH Yes, I do.
EF We’d all love to find something that gives us fertile ground and makes us famous that we could do for the rest of our lives and that we’d still be good at doing all the way along. But what happened psychologically and emotionally for me was that the early paintings looked up into the adult world, literally, from the point of view of a child: The planes were tilted, the scale was larger than life. At some point after going through the emotional stuff, reliving, re-experiencing, and expressing that emotional discomfort that was there as a child, it was like clockwork. The plane came down, the gaze became eye level, became a one-to-one relationship, it had nothing to do with becoming happy or those kinds of things.
AH That’s good to know. (laughter)
EF I just started to see it in a more ambiguous way. An adult can accept that situations can be ambiguous, you can have multiple feelings, multiple relationships to the same thing.
Fischl made the piece above, Tumbling Woman, shortly after September 11th. It was intended to be (and briefly was) a public monument at Rockefeller Center. The sculpture was on display for a couple of days before it was curtained off from view, and it was removed completely shortly after that. It generated controversy and outrage for its bodily representation and was generally said to be in poor taste. Fischl maintains it does not represent the moment of impact, though to me it does.
His take on the controversy:
"America has a hard time with the human body and the issues surrounding the body and certainly, mortality is one of those problems. The thing around 9/11 is that it was this horrific event killed 3,000 people but there were no bodies. If you remember all the passion was centered on architecture to replace the Towers. To secure the footprints of the Towers. It had nothing to do with human tragedy because it was too painful. So I think that the Tumbling Woman reminded people that it was a human tragedy. ...You know in the rest of the world people were not spared the gory images, they saw the bodies. In America we very briefly saw the leapers, jumpers, fallers."
We saw the jumpers but imagined bodies vanished before they landed. The rest of his interview with poet Ilka Scobie is here.
The Shootings of May 3, 1808, Francisco Goya.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso.
American Soldier Shot by German Snipers, Robert Capa.
Fischl's "little boy" paintings are here, here, and here.