Eric Fischl, Rift/Raft, 2016, oil on linen, 8' 2“ × 18' 4”.

Eric Fischl

Skarstedt Gallery | West 21st street

Eric Fischl, Rift/Raft, 2016, oil on linen, 8' 2“ × 18' 4”.

My earliest reviews of Eric Fischl’s “narrative paintings”—they date some thirty-five years back—bore the titles “Snatch and Snatching” (1981), and “Analytical Pubism” (1985), their snarkiness meant to take note of the then-tenderfoot painter’s louche imagery. In the early 1980s, Fischl was negotiating the shoals between Conceptual art and figurative painting, a divide that also marked the curriculum of CalArts, where Fischl graduated as a member of the school’s initial class in 1972. For a while, it seemed that the Conceptualist adherents of John Baldessari, a justifiably beloved figure at CalArts, had won the day. Now, however, the split is not so clear: Conceptualism and representational painting are, often enough, thoroughly entangled.

In their long evolution, Fischl’s paintings have moved from blunt ungainliness to breathtaking virtuosity, and this expertise was

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