January 2010: Eric Fischl's Corrida in Ronda: a Discussion
In an era when the metaphor for everything we see is ourselves, these paintings are cleverly vague on some details, like facial expressions, but very fine in others, such as the elaborate clothing of the toreros and matador as well as the various stages of the bull’s demise. Eric Fischl suggests, as in his earlier work, that these figures are extensions of ourselves. In fact it is this tension and mystery that eventually captures the larger act of self-doubt, making the paintings of Corrida in Ronda all the more transformative.
Jill Conner: What drew you to the theme seen in Corrida in Ronda or Spanish bullfighting?
Eric Fischl: The theme of the bull fight was initially suggested to me by Rafael Jablonka, my dealer in Germany. He had been to a bull fight the previous year and wondered how I might handle that subject. I told him I had never been to one so I couldn't say whether or not it would ignite my creative fancy. He took me to see the fights in Rhonda at the Corrida Goyaesque, which as you can see from the name, is where Goya would go and paint his paintings. It is also where many artists and writers, like Hemingway and Picasso have gone revealing its deep tradition within the arts. That made it even more compelling. It is such a challenge to see if you can bring something fresh to a well-worn genre.
Jill Conner: As one watches man fight against beast in each painting, a physical tension emerges in your work. Is the act of bullfighting still a convincing metaphor for masculinity? Or could the event be viewed in a different way?
Eric Fischl: We live in a time where the old model of masculinity has been thoroughly discredited and yet no new model has emerged that is convincing enough to be embraced and shared by the larger culture. Yes, bullfighting is an old model and my relationship to it is that of an outsider, but it is one of the most compellingly, complex rituals that I have experienced which deals with the transition from boy to man. This transition is one of the most powerful times in a boy's life and one that has virtually been dismissed as nothing more than growing pains, idiocy, and something that will pass.
Jill Conner: How do the pieces in Corrida compare to some of your previous work, like the Krefeld-series (2002-2005) and The Bed, The Chair…-series (1999-2001), which exudes more of a sexual tension? Is there a parallel between bullfighting and virility?
Eric Fischl: My process of making a painting is more or less the same, so on that level there is no major difference in approach between Corrida, Krefeld, and The Bed paintings. Thematically as well, they explore relationships and tensions that spring from other relationships. But the Corrida paintings are not about man versus woman. Instead they are about the male versus masculinity, which is a very different angle of approach for me.
If you look closely at each painting you will see that the torero and the bull trade off consciousness. In some paintings the bull is the consciousness through which the scene must be viewed, and in some it is the bullfighter. Also the bullfighter's age changes from painting to painting. In some he is adolescent and some mature and in one he has peaked.
One meditation that runs through the work is a meditation on mortality; not just about virility but death itself. What struck me in watching the terror and anger of the bull in the last moments of his life was how, from his perspective, these last moments were utterly incomprehensible. He acted and fought instinctively but without the slightest chance of knowing why he had been placed into this moment. To me, this is an existential truth and a devastating experience to witness. Two of the paintings in the show deal directly with last few minutes in the bull’s life and it kills me to see it.
Eric Fischl, Corrida In Ronda No. 3, 2008; Oil On Linen; 72 X 108 Inches; Courtesy of the artist
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief