Peter Plagens

Confessions of a (Six-) Figure Painter

Nonfiction from NER 34.2

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Bad Boy jacket image - © Eric Fischl by Gérard Rondeau 1993

To get a couple of things out of the way at the top: Eric Fischl isn’t all that bad, either as a painter or a person. As a smart-ass conceptual artist friend of mine (who has no particular affection for the dauber’s craft) points out, “He can move it around.” But before I get to Fischl’s recent memoir,* this personal anecdote:

My wife, Laurie Fendrich, teaches at a university that, in 2006, organized a symposium about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She invited Eric Fischl, whose commemorative bronze sculpture, Tumbling Woman, had met with great protests and ultimately a rejection, to participate. He did, for free. The school scheduled several simultaneous sessions, so that the audience for the Fischl panel was much smaller than it should have been, and, moreover, the tech stuff got screwed up so that the artist was unable to project images from his computer. But he took the snafu like a trouper and, afterwards, over a cup of coffee, waxed calm and philosophical about the whole event. A real gentleman, she said.

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Peter Plagens is a painter who has shown with the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York since 1974 and is also represented by the Texas Gallery in Houston. The staff art critic for Newsweek from 1989 to 2003, he now writes for the Wall Street Journal and other publications, including NER. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Arts Journalism Program. His book Bruce Nauman: The True Artist is forthcoming from Phaidon in 2014, and his novel The Art Critic is available from Hol Art Books. Other publications include Sunshine Muse: Modern Art on the West Coast, 1945–1970 (University of California Press, 2000), Moonlight Blues: An Artist’s Art Criticism (UMI Research Press, 1986), and an earlier novel, Time for Robo (Black Heron Press, 1999).