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Artists Eric Fischl
Eric Fischl Photo

Eric Fischl

American Painter and Sculptor

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: 1948 - New York, New York

Eric Fischl Timeline


"Art never is exactly what you hoped it would be. It always falls short."
Eric Fischl
"Discovery and execution should happen simultaneously on the canvas. That's real painting. I love that idea. It makes painting seem so important, so existential. You go into the void with just your wits and you just struggle through this thing."
Eric Fischl

"I vowed that I would never let the unspeakable also be unshowable. I would paint what could not be said."

Eric Fischl Signature


In the 1970s and 80s, Eric Fischl became Neo-Expressionism's noted bad boy with his psychologically charged depictions of American suburbia. His own dysfunctional childhood centered upon a mother who was desperately depressed and an alcoholic, which became a large influence on his paintings. Committed to "never let the unspeakable also be the unshowable" he offered a refreshingly unflinching glimpse of the underbelly in human relationships and everyday life, which lurked beneath society's manicured facade. His work invites us to reflect upon our own place within the worlds he portrays and to explore our hypocrisy, internal conflict and complacency. He asks that we never grow too comfortable. This keen critical analysis weaves from his earliest work through today in which he continues to welcome us to consider what's hidden beneath the exterior.

Key Ideas

Many of Fischl's paintings portray moments in which potential disaster or the taboo can be felt lingering on the periphery. They evoke feelings of discomfort or human vulnerability within the viewer transforming the personal into the universal.
Fischl's work can be seen as a way in which the artist processes his own internal conflicts. In the early suburban pieces we see him probe the unseen dynamics of family. In later pieces, showing the leisurely seaside lifestyles of the elite, we see him exploring his own place within its privilege. In recent work, highlighting participants at major art fairs, we see him emphasize the divide between the beauty of art making and the commodification of art within the market.


Eric Fischl Photo

Childhood and Education

Eric Fischl was born in New York City in 1948 to a salesman father and an artist mother. During his ensuing upbringing on Long Island, he and his three siblings experienced a stereotypical childhood ensconced in the burgeoning facade of American suburbia. His home life was secretly peppered with the dysfunctional behavior of his mother, a tragic character who articulated her depression through bouts of erratic rage assuaged by a teeming alcoholism. When reflecting on his childhood, Fischl disclosed that his mother often walked around the house naked and was even arrested for running through the neighborhood in the nude. The family strove to keep her struggle private and succeeded for the most part. There is no doubt that this hidden chaos provided him with an anxiety that would express itself later upon canvas.

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Eric Fischl Biography Continues

Important Art by Eric Fischl

The below artworks are the most important by Eric Fischl - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Bayonne (1985)
Artwork Images

Bayonne (1985)

Artwork description & Analysis: Fischl called the separation between these two subjects a caesura, a metrical break in verse; the older woman and the young girl may be related, they may be the same person in different times, or they may have no relationship. Perhaps they share a room - notice the similar walls, floor, and lighting - but the overlapping canvases hint at an emotional hierarchy. The woman might be reflecting on the girl with envy, affection, or bemusement within her lounging posture of resignation. Note the girl's stiff posture in contrast to her ballerina costume, her inelegant foot position and forward lean; now look at the woman's graceful pose, the muscled calves and relaxed nudity. Both subjects are trapped within Fischl's framing and the limitations of their age: the woman is no longer nubile, the young girl lacks grace. Cynical portraits, perhaps, but when viewed straight on the duo become a singular piece. It's only when viewed from an angle that the break, the caesura, occurs.

Through this comparison, Fischl gives control to the viewer. Is he making us responsible for deciding how the subjects interrelate? His answer is unusually generous: all interpretations are valid, though only a few are consciously intended. Read left to right, Bayonne evokes the sorrow of memory, even as the girl seems to reject this label. With her outstretched hands and rooted pose, she pushes back, perhaps against her future self, perhaps against our projections of her yet to be realized life.

Oil on canvas

Sleepwalker (1979)
Artwork Images

Sleepwalker (1979)

Artwork description & Analysis: A young man stands in a plastic swimming pool in a suburban backyard, shoulders hunched, gaze fixed downward, penis in hand. A hint of prurience mingles with the conservative hues and totems of everyday America. The boy might be sleepwalking or just peeing in the kiddie pool.

Completed shortly before his career took off in New York, Sleepwalker typifies Fischl's blend of voyeurism and sexually-tinged banality. It is also a great example of the Neo-Expressionist style in which painters known as New Fauves, or "The Wild Ones," portrayed recognizable subjects with jarring intensity and vivid color. Although we don't know who this boy is, we are thrust upon his private moment, perhaps triggered into feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, disgust or compassion for our common human foibles. Are we witnessing an unconscious foray in the middle of the night or a brash pubescent marking of territory as household rite of passage? Regardless we are reminded of the resonant human vulnerability that lurks within the perceived shelter of our own homes. Note the quadrupled circles - his head, his head's reflection, the round pool, and the round lawn - allusions to a spotlit subject on an accidental stage. The light, whether from moon or sun, is glaring. The pool is still. The lawn chairs bear silent witness, as do we.

Oil on canvas

Bad Boy (1981)
Artwork Images

Bad Boy (1981)

Artwork description & Analysis: Slatted with gauzy light, a nude woman sprawls out across a bed. She appears unaware of the boy standing directly in front of her. The boy watches the woman as his hand slips into what is presumably her purse. The woman's pose is languid, post-orgasmic, and unashamed. The boy is seen in mid-theft but his pose suggests preternatural confidence, as though he's done this before. Perhaps she has, too.

Bad Boy offers a scene of daytime noir in which the harlot and the scamp are dramatically lit, the sheets are rumpled, and a screw is followed by a theft. But Fischl's Freudian puns nudge the observant viewer like an elbow to the ribs with the phallic bananas in the fruit bowl and the boy's hand in the woman's purse. Even the shape of the purse's opening conjures her sex. The Old English pusa means purse, slang for vagina, leading to our modern-day pussy. Fischl offers a wink amid the weirdness, just enough to lower our guard. The scene suggests a triple-manipulation: the boy gets what he needs, the woman gets what she wanted, and we get a narrative suitable for the cover of a pulp mystery. Although a lesser artist would have closed the woman's legs, Fischl's daring establishes himself as a master of clinical hedonism.

Oil on canvas

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Eric Fischl
Interactive chart with Eric Fischl's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin
Gustav KlimtGustav Klimt
Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Edward HopperEdward Hopper

Personal Contacts

David SalleDavid Salle
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Eric Fischl
Eric Fischl
Years Worked: 1970s - present
Influenced by Artist


Lisa YuskavageLisa Yuskavage
John CurrinJohn Currin

Personal Contacts

Jerry SaltzJerry Saltz
David SalleDavid Salle
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel



Useful Resources on Eric Fischl






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas Recomended resource

By Erich Fischl & Michael Stone

Eric Fischl

By Klaus Albrecht Schroder & Elsy Lahner

written by artist

Dive Deep: Erich Fischl and the Process of Painting

By Eric Fischl & Harry Philbrick

Sketchbook With Voices

By Eric Fischl & Jerry Saltz

More Interesting Books about Eric Fischl
Victoria Miro

Information on past and current works

Eric Fischl Recomended resource

Artist's official website

Artsy: Eric Fischl Art

Works, articles, and information on auctions

'Bad Boy,' by Eric Fischl and Michael Stone Recomended resource

By Laura Kipnis
New York Times
June 21, 2013

To the Bone: In New Book, Eric Fischl Talks Painting, Drinking, Snorting Recomended resource

By Andrew Russeth
The Observer
May 7, 2013

Fender Bender

By Emma Allen
The New Yorker
October 6, 2014

Nightstand: Body Issues

Christopher Frizelle
The Stranger
August 31, 2006

More Interesting Articles about Eric Fischl
Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series Recomended resource

Smithsonian American Art Museum, September 17, 2014

The Un-Private Collection: Eric Fischl & Steve Martin

The Broad Museum, June 23, 2014

Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting Recomended resource

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, July 24, 2012

Eric Fischl: The Beauty Behind Controversy

The Reserve Channel, May 22, 2014

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols
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