Eric Fischl and David Kratz curate an exhibition for the Southampton Arts Center that captures an artist’s perspective on bodies and water.
Sandy Dunes, Alexis Hilliard, 2016.
In Eric Fischl’s 2010 painting Black Water, a man and a woman wade into inky depths bordered by spindly trees. They are seen from the back, their exposed skin illuminated by the dwindling light of dusk, or perhaps the first rays of dawn. The woman’s raised arm reaches out in warning or greeting—or is she simply trying to maintain her balance? Fischl has been composing psychodramas such as this on canvas for nearly 40 years. Beaches or pools figure prominently in his work. This summer, the Sag Harbor-based artist dives even deeper into one of his favorite settings as cocurator of the New York Academy of Art’s “Water|Bodies,” an exhibition on view through July 31 at the Southampton Arts Center.
“So many of the themes in my work deal with questions surrounding issues that surface when in the pursuit of pleasure,” says Fischl, referring to his preferred subject: “the problem of the flesh.” “What could be a more perfect setting to explore those questions than the beach—the sun-warmed, light-filled, open expanses of two essential forms of matter, water and earth?”
“Water|Bodies” brings together paintings, photographs, and sculptures selected by Fischl and New York Academy of Art president David Kratz, who is also a painter (both have works in the exhibition). “This show is about life in and around the water,” says Kratz, a Southampton resident. “It looks at water as an element, its form, its color, its light, and it looks at the infinite ways in which we react to it. It looks at it from the point of view of humans and of nature. It even looks at it as a medium with which to make paintings.”
The artists represented share a connection to the East End and the NYAA. Among the more than 65 works on view are rippling swimming pool surfaces captured by Clifford Ross, storm-clouded horizons by April Gornik (Fischl’s wife and a specialist in glorious landscapes), and the vividly colored solo sailor and wader of Isca Greenfield-Sanders. Ross Bleckner’s painted water lilies suggest a dreamy perch for the abstracted sea creatures of Sag Harbor’s Jill Musnicki, while Enoc Perez, Ralph Gibson, Elisabeth McBrien, and Alexis Hilliard take on the perpetually reposing figure of the sunbather.
“Other shows have looked at life on the water, but this one presents the water from an artist’s point of view,” notes Kratz. “Each image is a celebration of the senses.” He points out the distinctive misty haze of Lisa Lebofsky’s painting on aluminum, the haunting nature of John Alexander’s night-fishing scene, and the submerged figure in a photograph by Patrick Demarchelier, whose work embodies the show’s theme. Like Fischl, Kratz resists declaring which piece he likes most. He won’t, however, pass up a pun. “I wish I could choose a favorite, but honestly, with a pool of talent like this, none of them should be missed.”