Galleries | Cate McQuaid

At Adelson Galleries Boston, Eric Fischl goes to the beach

“Digging Boy” is in “Eric Fischl: Recent Works” at Adelson Galleries Boston.
“Digging Boy” is in “Eric Fischl: Recent Works” at Adelson Galleries Boston.(Image courtesy of the Adelson Galleries)

At the beach, we’re all nearly naked together. Painter and sculptor Eric Fischl, who first garnered international attention in the 1980s depicting the prickly underbelly of suburban life, sees the beach as a place to watch and record people inhabiting their flesh.

Fischl has always focused on the ways bodies express the kinks and knots of the psyche. His sultry exhibition at Adelson Galleries Boston features people who slouch, ruminate, and dig in the sand, physically exposed yet concealed by decorum, depicted in loose, virtuosic gestures.

These are not, strictly, paintings. Fischl prints scans from his archive of beach paintings onto transparent mylar, cutting out figures, covering the back of each with white to make the image pop. He paints a background, then collages the printed figures on top. Alternatively, he embeds them in layers of resin, each along its own transparent plane, introducing minute degrees of depth.


It’s like playing with paper dolls. He experiments with proximity, building relationships and stories.

“Digging Boy,” on mylar, has five characters: a boy in the sand, two middle-aged men watching him, and two women with their backs to the scene. Fischl renders sea and sand in broad strokes; tonally, the people seethe against the cool, calm water. The drama lies with the men: a potbellied fellow in tight trunks who leans over to watch the boy, and a balding man in red board shorts. They look like the digging project’s board of directors — authoritative, full of advice, chary of getting down in the sand themselves.

Fischl’s figures interact, but the connections feel glancing and inadequate. The beachgoers are self-absorbed — isolated despite the social setting, hidden despite the uncovered flesh. The tension between self and society bristles.

Two eloquent sculptures in cast glass, “Tumbling Woman” and “Untitled (Arching Woman),” are comparatively unfettered: alone, these figures let go like dancers into pure expression. Granted, they are idealized. But after an afternoon at Fischl’s quietly desperate beach, the purity of the sculptures is a balm, like aloe on a sunburn.


ERIC FISCHL: Recent Works

At Adelson Galleries Boston, 520 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 19. 617-832-0633,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.