A rarely seen collection of Robert Lostutter’s watercolors, dated 1968 – 1973, are on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey. They will be for some a sharp departure in Lostutter’s oeuvre, considering he is far better known for his images of male figure sheathed in masks made of bird feathers.
I had to see this show in order to satisfy my juvenile curiosity about the pre-homoerotic Lostutter, and fantasized that in seeing it I would be able to smartly delineate the transition in his work. I would be able to tell, I supposed, exactly when Lostutter turned his back on the exaggerated form of the emotionally detached female subjects of the earliest work and ushered in the arrival of the fierce, clandestine, and virile male figures that would populate his work forever thereafter.
It turned out not to be so sudden. In many of the works during this time, men and women inhabit the same surreal space, facing off amidst geometric zaps and zig-zags. The bodies share not only the space, but also a similar predilection for corsetry and what looks like highly refined, custom S&M wear. Their bodies are also rendered akin, like personalized sensory homunculi, with each the most crucial sexual elements bulging and ballooning with proportional importance according to the artist. In the ladies, elephantine thighs protrude from giant granny panties tightly clinging to barely concealed pudenda. (That’s right, I said “pudenda”). In the men, sturdy, block-like torsos are supported on huge square asses and trunk-like legs, nipples featured prominently and treated occasionally with garments that further accentuate their central role. Now, this might be where I go too far in acting like I see Lostutter’s transition on paper as a time-line mirror of his transition in real life, but I am pretty sure I can parse in many of the works the way in which the male figures begin to assert their dominance. In 1969 for example, a female figure, shown in profile, sports a dog’s elongated face as a protrusion from the groin area through her skirt. But by 1970, who’s wearing the strap-on dog? Big Daddy, that’s who. (Okay, I’ll quit with that, but it does bear examination if you’re interested in such things.) From that year forward, the fecund, monumental females are encroached upon by men with jutting chins in trench coats, mostly tucked subserviently into the scene- emerging from the edge of the picture or hiding behind curtains and camouflaged by graphic elements. This goes on for a few years until, at the turn of the 1970’s, Lostutter dispenses with the gals altogether and trains his vision on more and more intense psychological renderings of vulnerable bird-men.
While not officially a member of the “Hairy Who?” group of Chicago artists, Lostutter existed on the fringe of all the Imagists’ sub-groups and is often mentioned in the same breath. Like them, he eschewed prevailing trends in New York and focused on a tightly rendered, highly illustrated surrealist vision of the figure in space. His work has been remarkably consistent in its passion for precision over the years, even as his figures have softened and relaxed. In these early works, his expert handling of the watercolor medium is shown off in both broad fields of delicately managed color as well as areas where it is fit within tightly knit abstract elements and illustrative details. These flower petals and energetic zig-zags found in the early works would later metamorphose into the brilliant feathers adorning the artist’s more recent work.
This early body of work will be a welcome respite from the obsessive detail that emerges in the work as the years go by (and as fewer bristles remain on Lostutter’s paintbrush, seemingly). If you find some of the more recent work cloying in it’s florid detail and color, the broads in these early watercolors will give you an opportunity to see a more tortured and terse version of the artist’s fetishistic renderings.
“My dealer is acting weird,” a friend from New York said to me recently. “Weird, how?” I asked, starting to work on my probable list of dual sided offenses and defenses between the two parties. “Weird like, I can never tell if she likes my work. She keeps putting off studio visits and some other stuff. I don’t know what she wants from me”
“…other stuff…” Okay, so I can surmise that one of two things is happening.
One: this dealer is fixin’ to screw my friend. The dealer has lost interest, found something better, is disappointed in sales. The dealer probably got an early pass to the MFA exhibition at one of the local Young Artists Vocational Schools of Instant Success and has replaced nearly half her roster of artists with youngsters whose installation work revolves around their “like, umm, genuine interest in Hip-Hop culture”.
Then there’s option Two, [Read more]
The first exhibition of paintings by Ciaran Murphy at Kavi Gupta gallery features twelve paintings on canvas, all small or medium in size. They’re painted in a style that’s become all the rage of late– that low key, often monochromatic rendering of disparate objects and interiors, you know the one. The one Luc Tuymans made famous; the one that brought back small painting from the bombastic Eighties. We’ve all learned to appreciate a little meditative, personally scaled rumination on delicate palettes and sensitive brushwork. I know I have.
Ciaran’s paintings do just what this brand of painting aims to do. Well, some of them. The idea is really lovely; what at first seems simply under-described, gives way to a transcendent moment of reverie. That by flinging off all sorts of extra baggage, the paintings may, if done well, describe ever so much more than the ones that contain excessive information. In the case of this exhibition, the effect is achieved so well in a few of the works. “Frozen Tree” is a superb painting. Barely breathing through the flat gray field of color is a vibrant, odd fleshy tone of under painting. The fallen tree and its exposed root clump are rendered just enough, and not too much. The root clump, like an explosion on the otherwise quiet composition, makes the work a succinct beauty. “Storm Damage” and “Circular Cloud Formation” achieve the same thing- calligraphic gestures doled out in minimum, and with confidence. Like a good haiku, if I dare say.
Why is it so GOD DAMNED hard to sell a piece of art around here? I can’t help asking myself this as I soon join the ranks of civilians outside the Art World proper and close the doors on my 4 year long project, Lisa Boyle Gallery.
Seems I am in fashion though, since a handful of my compatriots are shutting down near the same time. 40000 last December, soon Navta Schulz, Gesheidle and others. Closings here, closings in New York, even my friend in Boston are hanging it up. What gives, you ask? A writer for Time Out Magazine recently talked with me and a couple of the other dealers about this little black cloud and what conditions exist that make this happen, particularly in a clump, as often occurs. “Whose fault is it?,” she wanted to know. I told her in a conspiratorial tone that I had plenty of ideas. [Read more]