Eric Fischl: The Krefeld Project | Skarstedt

Sorry Lucian Freud, but when I think of a painter who captures the vulnerability and variety of the skin we live in, it’s Eric Fischl. The American artist, still active and showing at Skarstedt this autumn, works with loose, sparse but unerringly suggestive brushstrokes. He’s an unsentimental, relentless chronicler of skin, our skin, as it stretches, puffs and sags.

This show zooms in on a particular series Fischl undertook in 2002. The artist pitched up in a private museum in Krefeld, Germany - hence the title of the project - hired a pair of actors, and obsessively photographed them performing various scenarios of his devising.

eric fischl - krefeld project

Back home, the artistic power trip continued, as Fischl collaged the 2,000 photos he collected, and painted the results of these collages. Despite the various removes from the original, from these various artistic devices, there’s something lividly immediate about these paintings.

The man and the woman appear in various stages of undress in their beautiful surroundings. There’s a gorgeous yellow vase with flowers here, a Barcelona chair there. Light streams in from the high windows, lighting their clothes, hair and skin.

That skin! Fischl’s extraordinary trick is in his incredible economy of brushstrokes, sinuous marks of white, pink and deep red oils close up, become the milky bulk of the nude male actor when viewed from further away. He’s standing, eyes averted, podgy and vulnerable, in that pitiless light.

The two figures don’t tend to look at each other - they’re alone, together. Edward Hopper is an obvious - and acknowledged - influence, and there’s something of his Morning Sun in Fischl’s window, always on the right of the frame.

Who are this pair? To Fischl, that’s hardly the most important thing. “Each scene was full of emotion and drama that left unresolved the questions that had inspired the scene,” he said.

Don’t look for Fischl to tell us a story, then. Leave it to him to show us the skin that we’re in.

Eric Fischl: The Krefeld Project is at Skarstedt (London). 12 October - 27 November 2021