The first thing you notice as you climb the steps between the vaulted, glass-front studios of Eric Fischl and his wife, April Gornik, is a small sculpture of a woman writhing in torment.
Compared to that, Fischl's new exhibition at Guild Hall, just down Route 114 from the couple's North Haven home, is like a walk on the beach. "Eric Fischl: Beach Life," his first solo show at the East Hampton museum since 1991, encompasses 15 paintings from 1983 through 2010.
"I don't work from models," Fischl says. "I wouldn't know how to direct them. . . . So I take photographs."
Fischl's paintings, expressively figurative in their body-language vernacular, are revealing in the beach context. And not just because the subjects are naked or nearly so. "In this country, we think of nudity as private," he says. "But in St. Tropez," where some of the '80s paintings were inspired, "it's much more hedonistic. I try to capture a narrative -- relationships, desires, disappointment, discomfort with one's body. The beach is supposed to be about pleasure, relaxation. But that's not exactly what's going on."
Three of his most recent "Beach Life" works are propped against the Sheetrock on one side of his studio. Pointing to an untitled painting of a topless woman, he says, "She's not particularly noticing you watching her." Two nude women in a second untitled work "are engaging you as an interruption."
LONG ISLAND ROOTS
Born in New York City, Fischl, 64, grew up in Port Washington in the '50s and '60s and recalls family weekends at Hamptons beaches. He studied art in California and lived in Chicago and Nova Scotia before returning to New York and, eventually, Long Island. Fischl and his wife, a noted land- and seascape artist, moved to North Haven in 1999. Fischl's early work, he says, "focused on what was experienced and what could not be said. . . . Growing up in an alcoholic family, the contrast between chaos inside the house and manicured lawns outside was striking."
The "Tumbling Woman" sculpture near his studio entrance is a smaller, simpler version of a statue he created in response to 9/11. As the 10th anniversary of its unveiling at Rockefeller Center approaches, the controversy it stirred remains fresh for Fischl. "Maybe it was too soon," he says. "We didn't see any bodies from 9/11, except fleeting images of people falling. It was like a disappearance. How do we process that? My intention was to create something indelible to capture that feeling."
Fischl was accused, often vociferously, of taking advantage of the calamity. The statue was removed. The original, along with four others from the same cast, are now in private collections.
WHAT "Eric Fischl: Beach Life"
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays, opening reception 4-6 p.m. Saturday, through Oct. 14, Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton
ADMISSION $7 suggested donation; guildhall.org, 631-324-0806
WHAT The last major Parrish Art Museum exhibition in its current Southampton space on Jobs Lane, "Landmarks of New York," is accompanied by a complementary photography show. "Liminal Ground: Adam Bartos' Long Island Photographs, 2009-11" concentrates on overlooked scenes that on closer inspection make a remarkable impression. Among them are a rusted truck chassis abandoned in Greenport and the faded word "Florist" painted along County Road 80 in Southampton. The museum moves to its new Water Mill location in November.
WHEN | WHERE Museum hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 4, Parrish Art Museum,25 Jobs Lane, Southampton
ADMISSION $3-$5 suggested donation; parrishart.org, 631-283-2118