Lot # 052
Spring 2017 - 1st Session Live auction

Eric Fischl
1948 - American

The Cat's Meow
oil on canvas
on verso signed, titled and dated 1982
36 x 48 in  91.4 x 121.9cm

Provenance:
Edward Thorp Gallery, New York
Sable-Castelli Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, British Columbia

Exhibited:
Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, Scenes from a Private Beach, Paintings and Drawings: Eric Fischl, March 9 - April 3, 1982
Sable-Castelli Gallery, Toronto, Eric Fischl, October 2 - 16, 1982

Eric Fischl is a leader among American artists who inaugurated Neo-expressionism in the USA in the 1980s. This movement was a return to the medium of painting in its figurative, expressive dimensions and often painterly potencies that ran parallel to Neo-expressionism in Germany and Italy. He remains prominent thanks to his frank, sometimes disturbing visual explorations of middle-class American mores and peccadillos and his unabashed renditions of the nude, both female and male. Fischl has enduring connections to Canada. He taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 1974 to 1978, when the school was a fabled hotbed of avant-garde art in North America. While there, he reacted to the dominant Conceptualism of the school with a realist sensibility. His first solo exhibition was curated by Bruce W. Ferguson at the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax in 1975. He was represented by the renowned Sable-Castelli Gallery, Toronto, until Jared Sable’s death in 2012 and continues the connection to that city now at Barbara Edwards Contemporary.
Although in Fischl’s signature images of the 1980s, which draw on his own childhood and which he categorizes as “early interiors,” we often feel like voyeurs to a scene we would rather not witness, the prurience in The Cat's Meow is displaced onto the feline in the first instance. The boldly painted black cat basks like a model consumer in the artificial light of a TV screen. The unnatural green tints of the TV screen reflect across its coat, making the animal both present visually and unreal because of the lighting. This harsh, strange light also washes across the reflective surface of the table on which the cat lies and colours the bowl that completes Fischl’s uncanny “still life.”
The cat is looking, but what does it see? Its eyes appear narrowed, focused on the female figure on the screen, who, half undressed, dances for herself as far as we can tell. We must assume that the cat is oblivious to the woman’s display. But its tail is up, twitching. Its titillation is olfactory and arrives from the nearby fish in the still life. The tip of the cat’s nose is tinted in a flesh tone that draws our attention to the sense of smell. We might imagine the stimulation the cat feels, but it is not ours. More interested in TV and people than in still lifes, the woman performs for us, the viewers of Fischl’s painting. Key to the considerable psychological power of this painting is its title. “The cat’s meow” is a common colloquialism suggesting something that is outstanding and gives pleasure, though again, to people, not cats. While the feline seems content, the phrase is sexualized in a way that refers to the woman whom we, as viewers of the picture within the picture, watch. She is “the cat’s meow” for us.
Fischl offers us four interiors in this scene: two are literal—that of the room in which the cat, TV, table and bowl with fish stand, and the more brightly lit and fully decorated domestic interior in which the woman moves. Two are metaphorical but are more important: a sense or question mark about the cat’s “inner life,” and ultimately, our human self-consciousness about what we are seeing and thinking, especially about the woman on TV who comes to inhabit our consciousness.
We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Postmodernism: Trends in Canadian Art, 1970 – 1990, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $100,000 ~ $150,000 CAD  
Sold for: $181,250 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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