A celebrated contemporary American artist, now in his 60s, paints his life and offers a review.
Fischl, whose striking painting Bad Boy (1981) provides the title, teams up with veteran journalist Stone to tell the story of his unlikely discovery of his passion for art, his rise to celebrity in the 1980s and his adjustment—not always amiable—to the arrival of the next generation. Fischl begins with an epiphany occasioned by a 1986 traffic incident. He realized he had lost control of his life (booze, cocaine) and did not like “the miserable, belligerent guy I had become.” Time for a rebirth. But first he takes us back to his childhood, advancing swiftly to the mid-1960s, when he discovered that art was the only endeavor he wished to pursue. Throughout, Fischl surrenders pages to other players in his story—family members, friends and colleagues—and allows them to relate their version of events. It’s a novel strategy, but unfortunately, most of them just shower praise on the artist—it all grows rather cloying. Fischl describes his love affairs, his life with (and eventual marriage to) artist April Gornik, his screw-ups and triumphs and his relationships with fellow artists, dealers and buyers. He pauses continually to talk about his philosophy of art and specific works, describing their origin (he says he never knows what he’s going to do until he’s done it), their execution and their not-always-positive reception. His sculpture Tumbling Woman for 9/11 had a hostile reaction and was removed from its site. Generally generous and self-deprecating, he does attack some of his successors, among them Damien Hirst, whose work he calls “shallow.”
Best for the discussions of his own work; worst for the gushing offered by some of his contributors.