Nicole Eisenman’s new paintings at Leo Koenig are inventive and challenging. In Beer Garden With Ash the androgynous character in the forefront gives the feeling that the chatter behind is in his head. For me, the Triumph of Poverty is successful even if her references are obvious, she uses them well and its fun. The little Bruegel figures at the bottom make a small and fabulous entrance. The spatial handling gives the image more presence, it resonates in the space because it is not in pieces. Its challenging for her, I think, to make a cohesive image without too much stuff everywhere. One gesture can say more than 100 little pieces. We are witnessing her evolution as a storyteller and the lump of a group rats huddling near the bottom of the painting are a surprise. The painting doesn’t reveal all right away, in terms of subject too, this is a painting for our time. It looks like Oliver Twist begging for a bowl of soup, the family has lost its house and the ‘pleasantville’ suburban houses have morphed into a car-house of horrors for the family.
Guston said it was okay to paint cartoons and now we see not particularly inventive cartoon paintings everywhere, down 25th St Mike Kelley’s are similar but he is better at it . A lot of contemporary painters went to the same R Crumb cartoon school. She succumbs to it in her small work; she is inventive and over the top with some of her character creations. I think of Ensor, but his vision was less cluttered and more invented. For her less can be more and her repertoire of crazy types can become more her own.
Eric Fischl takes on the bullfight and toreador theme with mixed results in “Corrida in Ronda”, an exhibition of paintings by ERIC FISCHL at Mary Boone.
In most of the paintings in the Corrida in Ronda series the bull wears a garland of flowers and the animal is skewered there resulting in a mixture of blood and flowers as death surely and slowly follows. It is pretty distasteful but in a culture like ours that is steeped in surround sound simulacra of violence, what the paintings signify is tame. It is a difficult subject because the ritual is alien to our culture, it is uniquely Spanish and I wonder if the local Spanish attitude toward the bullfight has changed since the modern age. This theme also fueled the work of several major artists.
Manet, who some refer to as the dry modernist who created access to Spanish painting for our contemporary age, struggled mightily with and may have felt that he lost the battle with his Dead Toreador. which is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. He initially constructed the painting to include a bullfighting ring on the upper half. After much public criticism, Manet cut the painting and what we see now is the the Dead Toreador. The Bullfight is the upper half and can be seen at the Frick Collection.
Many painters consider painting to be a battle from which to emerge victorious. At times while painting I have imagined myself fencing with the brush. The bullfight could be viewed as a metaphor for the fighter’s lightness and dexterity versus the bull beast’s dark massive force, man versus nature, artist vs. art, and painter vs. painting.The bullfight ring and the toreador encompasses the grand gesture, and like opera it HAS to work. The bravado and or mystique that accompanies the bullfight in Spanish painting in Picasso’s La Corrida , and Tauromaquia Manet’s Dead Toreador, Goya ‘s Tauromaquia and Bullfight is a tough act to follow. It is grand gesture. Goya painted his bullfight as in one of his last paintings during his exile in Paris, shortly after his Disaster of War series, his emphasized the sacrificial and brutal aspects. I believe part of Fischl’s process was to take photographs and base his paintings on the pictures and his actual experience. As a group the paintings seem like a stage separate from the place with no noise, clutter or crowd. Neither is the blood a major player on the stage as in Goya’s Bullfight. They are distanced from the spectacle and informed by the photographs as a separate experience from the actual hot, dusty, smelly, brutal reality.
Eric Fischl is light and deft with his strokes in Corrida In Ronda #8. The sword is key and consists of a single red stroke of paint. That paint stroke bisects the canvas into thirds and sets up a triangular relationship with the toreador, sword and dying bull. In triumph, the fighter is pictorially equal to the bull, the thin red stroke; delineating the sword is key and is also evidence of the grand gesture of the painter himself: his stroke of blood red paint in battle with painting, which he has subdued. He takes a back seat because the stroke is king, the brush is like the sword in battle as the bull wears a garland of flowers and is skewered there. The bull dies slowly in the mix with a garland of blood and flowers. The pictorial construction here marries the content, hand in glove. This grand gesture encompasses the struggle between man and nature: subduing nature with bravado and delicacy. As is the tradition in Goya’ hometown, Zaragoza, the fighters make their own costumes and according to the press release Goya created the costume’s basic design. This violet one Fischl represents so delicately in Corrida In Ronda #8 ,that I thought I was looking at a vase of lilacs for a moment. Thinking of Manet’s last flower paintings I also considered the lightness of it, almost too light in color and weight, difficult to believe the painting is about ultimately about killing and death. This is an elegant and light drenched piece, with no trace of awkwardness but it with left me with an emotional ambivalence. Does the painter emerge victorious and does it matter?
I think Eric Fischl is more convincing painting pictures with more relational objects in them. The plane that stands in for the arena is vast and bleached. It is challenging to paint a black mass, bleached by the light with a lone figure emerging victorious on the margins. It is technically difficult to draw while looking down. Across is always easier (he does look across in some, but there is flatness and a staged feeling). And there are few distinguishing characteristics on the mass of the bull. He does well in a few, but not in all of them. And why is that red blanket not a player in at least one? In Corrida La Ronda No. 6 the space looks chopped up and the blankets look incidental while main figure seems stiff and to have his head falling too far forward. In Corrida La Ronda No. 3 the Bull is too prussian blue, the fighter feels merged with the bull and I am not convinced about the presence of his right leg, the one that is hidden by the blanket. To compare, Hopper always convinces us that what is hidden and necessary is there. The bull looks to long for the whole configuration and the group: man, blanket and bull, appears to separate from its environment, cut out, and also connected like leggos in a funny way, and stiff. That said, Corrida La Ronda No. 1 and 2 are masterful, the space has to be believable for a grand gesture to work. It is a stark and unforgiving approach, these individual shapes on this plane with so much at stake there.
David Hockney has come full circle. Personally I didn’t respond to his work in the past, but since he has returned to Yorkshire, he’s been seeing a lot in those Yorkshire woods. He has discovered painting after years of doing good illustration and making pictures. The two shows are a pleasure to behold in Fauve-like color. In the left hand Gallery at Pace on 25th St, Fauve meets R. Crumb again in amazing technicolor. He can’t seem to leave the cartoon images behind. Turn the corner into the main galleryand it shifts into painterly invention like a garden of forking paths. A magical feast for the eyes as his strokes make space and colored light we travel that space and/ or surface. It is a painting, he invents and solves his own pictorial riddles as he works and we are engaged in the process. He also seems to have had a visitation from Cezanne. We are not just looking at an ipso facto picture, his strokes are realized as he is drawing spaces with color. David Hockney is making a world and this paintings are fresh and engaged. Perhaps they do recall van Gogh, or whomever, it doesn’t matter. We are looking at a living process now and while in some of the individual paintings on 57th st seem simple, they are present to us and they are about his vision, and I don’t mean just what he sees with his eyes.