Skarstedt is pleased to announce Late America, an exhibition of new paintings by Eric Fischl, opening at the Chelsea gallery on May 2, 2017, and remaining on public view until June 24. In these major works, Fischl continues his exploration of moral ambivalence and social malaise against a suburban backdrop. Here, the backyard swimming pool serves as a stage set for a variety of personal dramas that can scale up to reflect a society in crisis.
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The titular painting echoes our precarious times. A young boy draped in the American flag examines a crumbled male, while two immigrant day laborers passively mine the landscape in the background. This is a striking depiction of a fractured nation divided not only by class, ethnicity, or political affiliation, but by the hope, potential, and desire for connection embodied by the small child, and the depressed paralysis of the older man, presumably his father. Painted in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Late America is response to a moment marked by bewilderment and incomprehension.
That said, it would be insufficient to read the work, or the exhibition, as a political statement. Politics is simply another outcropping of cultural terrain that Fischl has mined for nearly four decades. In his ambitious canvases, long considered a hallmark of contemporary figurative painting, he creates a tense world of both comfort and portentous ambiguity. In low-lit suburban bedrooms, on speedboats and beach towels, in art fairs, the figures act out cryptic psychological and social dramas akin to the stories of John Cheever and John Updike, or the films of Mike Nichols and Robert Altman.
All of the paintings in Late America take place around a pool—a generic, all-American habitat just as common to Long Island, where Fischl grew up, as to the rest of the country. His characters are set apart from their wholesome surroundings either by dress (nudity, rumpled evening wear), drink, or louche demeanor. In Feeding the Turtle (2016), a woman stands poised to dump a beer over the head of a child, who is bending over to feed the reptile. Her act is a foreboding non sequitur—exacerbated by the fact she has the high coloring of a heroine of Sargent or Cassatt—propelling the painting towards a terminus of Oedipal grief instead of a portrait of elegant insouciance we associate with the impressionistic style. Like most of Fischl’s work, the driving tension lies in the ambiguity of the mise en scène, of the relation between the figures, as well as their actions and intent.
In Daddy’s Gone, Girl (2016), Fischl revisits the young girl from his 1984 canvas Daddy’s Girl. In the earlier work, the child is wrapped in her father’s arms as both recline in a deck chair outside a Mediterranean villa. Here, over three decades later, Fischl revisits the young girl, now a young woman, now alone, wearing disheveled, funereal garb, gazing forlornly into middle distance. This is the first time Fischl returns to a character from an earlier work. In doing so, he amplifies a feeling central to all his paintings: the cause and effect of the depicted tumult is always off canvas. We are privy only to a poignant portrait of her distress.