BAD BOY: My Life on and Off The Canvas. By Eric Fischl and Michael Stone. Crown. 357 pages. $26.
Eric Fischl wanted to tell stories with his art. In his biography “Bad Boy” he begins the story the old fashioned way, with a car chase, heated dialogue and a fight.
Co-written with Michael Stone, “Bad Boy” reads like a memoir with tales of an inappropriate, alcoholic mother and a dysfunctional family life.
Filled with photos of the artist and friends, and even passages written by celebrities such as Steve Martin, the book is a mixture of self-reflection and artistic exploration.
“All art is a style, and in great art you cannot separate style from content. They are one and the same thing,” Fischl writes.
Desperate to escape the dysfunctions of his family, the budding artist took off for the West Coast and enrolled in the newly formed Cal Arts in Los Angeles on a full scholarship.
Fischl explains that he struggled with the conceptual artists at CalArts and the notion that painting was dead. After several years of intense studying and partying, he left California for New York.
The storytelling began to turn inward and once Fischl began examining the psychological dramas of his youth, his art began to gain attention. With the painting “Bad Boy” he explored the “psychosexual subjects: the taboos of middle-class suburban life” and writes that the painting is about “desire, voyeurism, appropriateness, and boundaries.”
On the canvas a naked woman sprawls on a bed and young boy stands above her, his back to the viewer. Fischl explains that this work extended the larger themes of family dysfunction, the disconnect between parents and their children, and the superficiality of suburban life. With this unconventional painting, his work grew in demand and his prices rose dramatically. He was coming of age in the heyday of the 1980s art market where “Dealers and collectors had usurped the roles of critic and curator.”
This fast pace couldn’t last, of course, and the transition from hipster artist to Long Island tennis champ is anti-climactic.
At times, “Bad Boy” suffers from too much naval-gazing and celebrity name-dropping. However, this honest insider’s guide to the fickle art world is a compelling read.
Reviewer Amy Mercer is marketing and communications manager at the Gibbes Museum of Art.