by Eric Fischl


  1. Tim Gardner
  2. Yu Hong
  3. Natacha Merritt
  4. Jill Musnicki
  5. Claudette Schreuder
  6. Chie Shimizu
  7. Rebecca Tillett
  8. Helen Verhoeven
  9. Anahita Vossoughi
  10. Cynthia Westwood
  11. Liu Xiaodong

There are two kinds of artist: One kind infuses his or her artwork with energy and gesture and spontaneity, the other with detail and memory. The work of the first kind of artist I find consuming and satisfying, but the aftereffects fade all too quickly into general impressions. The second kind of artist seeks in the frozen moment a unique, summary image that becomes, for me, unforgettable in its specifics. As great a painter as Jackson Pollock was, I can’t recall with precision any one of his paintings; yes, I can talk about drips and reduced palette and the canvas’s size and energy, but these are features that apply to much of Pollock’s work. By contrast, I remember every Edward Hopper painting I’ve ever seen, with great clarity.

The young artists I have chosen for this issue of the Believer are mainly members of this second group of art makers. I saw their work, and I remembered it lucidly as if the images were burned on my brain. Maybe it is no coincidence that many of these artists work from photographs (with the possible exception of Claudette Schreuder). Cynthia Westwood paints predominantly from life, but she uses photos as well. David Hockney suggested in his controversial book Secret Knowledge that even the old masters used an optic device called a camera obscura to achieve their lifelike effects, and I’m with him. I have always used photos to make my work, and I don’t understand the bias people have against painters and sculptors using photos. The photograph is a great tool for the painter, and I’ll tell you why. First, the photo shows us stuff we didn’t see at the instant we pushed the button, even though we witnessed the image firsthand through the lens. When you cut a moment into a fraction of a second, nothing is still. A photo captures people off balance and unself-conscious, and for me that is when truth lies exposed.

Every artist must ask, “How much is enough?” How much description, how much paint, how much light or color, is enough to create a powerful and memorable experience? For artists dealing with representation, the photo suggests how much detail they need to make their representations “believable.” That’s what I like—believable representation. Magic occurs when an inanimate object talks back to you. We want to feel that the object is, for a moment, more alive than we are. During the Renaissance, the highest form of praise was to say that the sculpture was so real, so alive, that it turned one to stone. That is what I want as a viewer and what I strive for as an artist. I want an object to still the moment. Our being frozen gives us the chance, the fighting chance, to peer into and perhaps grasp the substance of meaning. Art is, after all, about revelation, and you can’t have a revelation unless you are, for an instant, pulled out of the dark flow of your life.

For the most part, the artists I’ve selected draw inspiration for their work by focusing on events or people in their personal lives or by using their bodies as vehicles of exploration and expression. Some address sex, some death, some violence, but mostly they address undercurrents, psychological stuff, repressed feelings, and disappointments. For some it is a spiritual journey, for others an immediate release. All of it is intelligent and beautifully executed. Most of it is expressed with humor or irony. My hope is that you will be sufficiently impressed by these artists that you will seek them out and experience the beauty and complex subtleties of their work “in the flesh,” so to speak.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Eric Fischl received a B.F.A. in 1972 from the California Institute of the Arts. After graduation he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1974, he got a job teaching painting at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. There he met his future wife, the painter April Gornik. In 1978 they moved to New York City, where they continue to live and work.

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