Painted in 1983, Dog Days occupies the uncomfortable and ambiguous pictorial domain that Eric Fischl has made his own unique terrirory. In the two panels of this important diptych, the same balcony is presented as the scene for a strange encounter. In one, a naked woman gazes unselfconsciously at her dogs, caught in some private moment as she carries a bag inside; in the other, the viewer is the intruder in a moment of sexual exploration between two adolescents. This action takes place incongruously on a balcony that clearly has a view over, and therefore can be seen from, a road with passing cars and a beach where bathers are visible. The juxtaposition of these two scenes is heightened both by the parallel venue and the contrast between the number of people visible in the background, which is in proportion to what one assumes would (or should?) be the privacy of the scene. This leads to a potent sense of the uncanny emanating from Dog Days, despite the invocation of the Californian sun, sand and sea. Like some discordant Contemporary update of Edward Hopper, Dog Days is racked with poignancy, filled with bleaching brightness and buzzes with a strange sexual tension. California, where Fischl studied before spending time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and then returning to New York, appears to have remained a touchstone for his paintings, often acting as the implied, light-drenched, liberated open-air setting for the strange scenes with which he pries open the private acts and private events of his characters, exploring the baggage, hang-ups and prejudices with which so many are indoctrinated and encumbered.
Nudity, and by extension sexuality, is a key factor in Fischl's paintings. They explore strange situations forcing us to confront some of our own thoughts and feelings about sex. Fischl has stated that, "I paint to tell myself about myself," yet it is also true that his paintings allow us to know ourselves as well (E. Fischl, quoted in A.C. Danto, Eric Fischl 1970-2007, New York, 2008, p. 10). Dog Days is a brazen challenge to notions of prudishness, depicting a pair of private scenes taking place in an expansively public, well-lit, sun-filled space rather than some night-shrouded bedroom. In this sense, Fischl appears to explore, and critique, the senses of shame and self-consciousness that are so often attached to the body and to sex in the West, filtered down through Judaeo-Christian thought, advertising, fashion and so forth. After all, as the artist himself has pointed out,
Adam and Eve, as everyone knows lived in the Garden, without any clothes... (E. Fischl, quoted in B.W. Ferguson, "Corrupting Realism: Four Probes into a Body of Work," Eric Fischl: Paintings, exh. cat., Saskatoon, 1985, p. 18).