New York

Eric Fischl

Edward Thorp Gallery

Eric Fischl shares Salle’s ambition to make art that makes a difference. Art which acknowledges its debt to the past, but is not intimidated by it. Though he is not as angry as Salle, his work has its fair share of malice, sharpened with a mordant wit which gains immeasurably from the acuity of Fischl’s observations of ordinary behavior. His main area of concentration is suburban life, within the realist tradition most often thought appropriate to depicting it.

A typical work of his is Gals from the Office, a painting in which meanings and methods abut one another, by turns enhancing each other and cancelling each other out. The painting, of four women and a dog in water, is executed in a style of careless realism which Fischl manages to locate at the exact point between pastiche and ineptitude. Just by looking at the surface of a painting like this, one becomes confused by its abrupt and unexplained disturbances. This unsettling is furthered by the strangeness of the composition—an old-fashioned sounding issue made relevant again because of the apparent realism of the work. Three of the women are seated, part submerged in the clear, shallow water. They are ordinary looking. The fourth one, who has a more conventionally good figure, stands back, further into the water: she might be beautiful, but we cannot tell because the painting is cropped so that she appears headless. A range of narrative and psychological possibilities are set in motion, but left suspended. And they are confounded as well by the specter of a hunting dog, with bird in mouth, splashing out of some very dark, stormy looking water at the top of the picture. Expectations are raised, but situations are left unresolved, so that we are left in a state of morbid anxiety.

Like a good soap opera, the painting is loaded with possibilities, and executed with an economy which invests little value in virtuosity. The comparison is important, for it indicates that Fischl is concerned with a great deal more than a couple of esthetic issues.

Thomas Lawson