The properties of flesh are the subject of Jim Lutes’ painting retrospective, spanning twenty-six years of the artist’s career. Given the broad range of work on view, we’re able to see various changes in Lutes’ renderings of skin, a veritable transmogrification of cells from squishy meat to wafer-thin crisps of light. Early paintings show a body extended beyond its means, so that a thick neck is blobular, as if throwing itself up. Later, the body piles itself into endless folds and is threaded with blues and greens—sickly colors, no doubt, but alive. Taking cues from Lucian Freud and Ivan Albright, Lutes sees the body as a contradictory thing of beautiful carnage. The latest paintings disperse the flesh’s substance into smoky or ghostlike auras, composed with thinly layered washes of egg yolk mixed with pigment, like steaming piles of the soul. Where did the body go? Look to other forms in the show, such as interiors with floating abstract swaths, for the answer. Paint moves dust mote-like upon the air as if propelled by some blunt spiritual spermatoza alongside dried skin flakes and other airborne waste. If you take a piece of thinly sliced meat and drape it over your eyes so that you can see through it—this is the surface of a Lutes painting circa 2006. Such viscera is no doubt called for here, but given the ethereal aspects also portrayed, one must concede that ritualistic upkeep of the body is the worship of an all-too-knowable god—the self. (Jason Foumberg)
Jim Lutes shows at The Renaissance Society, at the University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis, through February 15.