Robert Lostutter’s latest exhibition, which just opened at Corbett vs. Dempsey last week, consists of several small-scale preparatory watercolors made between the late sixties and early seventies. These works depict stylized portraits of bare-breasted, curvy women that tower over the other elements, such as 3-D zigzags and oversized floral blooms, in these tightly controlled compositions.
The watercolors themselves were initially intended as studies for larger paintings, and several are adorned with penciled marginalia and swatches of color tests that provide unique glimpses into Lostutter’s artistic process. Over time however, Lostutter began devoting as much energy to these watercolors as the resulting oil on canvas paintings, and his skilled watercolor handling, and varying color saturation and opacity attest to as much.
Robert Lostutter. Untitled, 1969. Watercolor on paper, 18.25" x 14.5". Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey
It’s a mistake to think of these domineering, serenely expressioned women as “girls;” their demi-nudity reveals mature bodies, and their often direct gaze is worldly and uninhibited. Lostutter has rendered these figures in an almost one-point perspective, with an implied vanishing point hovering just above their heads. The resultant figures flaunt elongated, elephantine thighs that support their enigmatic and even comical busts as they recede into the distant horizon. This gives the impression that, despite their compact scale, these female figures are always looking down upon a submissive viewer.
As a former illustrator for Playboy, a company that employed dozens of Chicago artists mid-century, Lostutter’s early work reflects the mixture of the many high and low cultural references he was inspired by. They range from an acknowledged debt to the painting and collage of German artist Richard Lindner, to what can be seen as an awareness of the pop animation of Yellow Submarine and Monty Python.
Although these watercolors reveal the notational experiments and ideas for later, more large-scale works (one of which is actually on display in the exhibition next to it’s preparatory watercolor), this body of work doesn’t necessarily foreshadow Lostutter’s later, more mature style. An introduction of avian and bound, costumed figures appear in several of the works on display, but his slow shift away from depicting pyramidal female figures, to depicting exclusively male, and what now Lostutter considers androgynous figures, has absorbed his practice for the past many years.
Sarah Canright. Double Take,1969. Oil on canvas, 32" x 29". Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
The show is book ended by exquisitely rendered geometric and organic abstractions by Chicago painter Sarah Canright. The first of a handful of oil on canvas works begins in the petite East Wing, at the front end of the gallery, and caps off the Lostutter show with a pair of paintings on the far back wall of the space. Although abstract, Canright’s layered, interlocking patterns composed of snaking pill-shaped columns, undulating drapery conjoined by bulging knots, latticed ribbons of a Celtic design, and what look like succulent plant fronds piqued every which way read like portrait busts. The pastel colors employed in this grouping of works are all so blanched by titanium white that without the intense overhead spotlights, it may be hard to see them with any clarity. They certainly merit a viewing in person, since their reproductions do them a disservice.
--Thea Liberty Nichols
(top image: Robert Lostutter. Untitled, 1970. Watercolor on paper, 14.25" 11.25". Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.)