Eric Fischl is something of an oddity. He wandered into an art world dominated by academic theories that ignored the personal side of the human condition and eventually found success as a painter of unsettling human quirks. In retrospect, Fischl seems to have had perfect pitch when capturing the apprehensive psyche of latter-day America as seen in his favorite subjects: Long Island, New York suburbanites lounging around comfortable homes crackling with uncomfortable secrets, or furtively cavorting on the beach in search of elusive pleasures.
Early on, his oddly virtuosic paintings evoked the creamy luminosity of a queasy anti-hero Johannes Vermeer of Sag Harbor, but the mostly collagelike works here and in other recent shows reflect a tersely fluid, near finger-painterly quality of gesture appropriate to figures who, like characters in a John Updike novel, inhabit a familiar world that seems to be shifting under their feet. This is Fischl's home turf, literally and psychically, and his unsettling narratives resonate no end of quiet innuendo.
“Handstand” depicts three people on a beach who are, at least momentarily, alone together as an older man on a chaise lounge reads a magazine, a woman does a handstand and a young man ambles distractedly through their midst. The sketchy ephemerality of the dye sublimation medium on mylar recalls that most of Fischl's images start out as photographs whose subjects he rearranges to suit the labyrinthine twists of his vision, so if similar figures turn up elsewhere, it’s not a total surprise. As individuals, the figures in “Family” and “Poolside Loungers” may be unique, but the paradoxes and disconcerting ambiguities of their lives are widely shared. In a unique work in poured resin, “Untitled” (pictured) features five sunbathers in awkward poses. Familiar yet remote, perhaps even to themselves, they embody the disjointed vulnerability of the world today while reflecting Fischl's belief, repeated in several recent interviews, that, “Art should be embraced as a journey. Result-oriented, not product-based. Understood as a process and a dialogue with history, culture, and time.”
Through Jan. 26. Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia St., (504) 309-4249; www.octaviaartgallery.com.