A bronze sculpture of cavorting figures in the gallery’s front window (“Ten Breaths: Congress of Wits, Study”) belies the artist’s reputation for edginess. By now Fischl (b. 1948) is an old master of contemporary art, famous for sexually provocative paintings like “Bad Boy,” 1981—the title of his recent memoir, incidentally—and for the controversy over “Tumbling Woman,” 2002, a commissioned sculpture for 9/11. This show features a dozen of the artist’s works from the last ten years.
Fischl’s New York roots might account for the darkness of his themes, his West Coast art education for the Hockney-ish sunlight in his paintings. His brief time in Chicago—he was a guard at the old MCA—exposed him to our underground comic style. But Fischl’s reputation can blind viewers to his confident handling and interest in materials, from large-scale paintings to cast glass and bronze sculpture, all on view here. The fetching splashes in the watercolors and the shrill tones of the syrupy resin beach paintings (built up in collaged layers) remind us of his genuine love of making things.
Fischl conjures bodies with just a few strategically loose strokes. The knotted crouching and squatting women—in all his various media—throb with energy. A dodgy sort of Mannerist, he loves the soft geometry of elbows and knees, the loops and ribbons of muscle and joint. Overall, there’s a pulpy profundity about Fischl’s figures, as if The Hairy Who and Degas had teamed up to make them. A mesmerizing tabletop glass version of Tumbling Woman brightens the dark bronze of the original which had so offended literal-minded New Yorkers. A Rodinesque bronze “Kneeling Woman” is surprisingly academic.
For all the putative suburban angst in his work, Fischl is an artist firmly committed to age-old artistic principles: a mastery of materials, clever color and compositions, and above all the expressive figure. Content-wise, he has said that he is intrigued by the difference between our bodies and our selves. The distinction has never been more urgent than now, as our devices threaten to reduce us to a pair of legs for their transport. (Mark Pohlad)
Through December 6 at KM Fine Arts, 43 East Oak.