Paint the town


Artist Jim Lutes calls Chicago home, so it’s fitting that his first mid-career retrospective is on display now at the Renaissance Society. Lutes, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute, has painted scenes with roots in the city for two decades. But his Chicago is not picturesque lake views and sparkling skylines—it is surrealistic exposure, with figures that seem to squirm in empty apartments and on gray sidewalks.

The Renaissance Society retrospective traces his career from his early explicit work to newer, more abstract pieces such as Worryburg (2006), above, a small canvas filled with a mass of figures painted in mostly neutral shades of egg tempera. Lutes’s paintings, especially the more recent ones, must be seen in person to be fully appreciated—the subtle glow of the egg tempera gives them a luminescent quality, and they almost shimmer. Curator Hamza Walker, AB’88, notes in his essay on the exhibit: “The tempera has yielded an ethereal quality that is less expressionistic and more psychological, capturing a state of mind for which doubt and uncertainty serve as the basis of thought cum reflection. They are arguably the same paintings he produced at the outset of his career, only now operating under the rubric of self-reflexivity.” Walker characterizes Lutes as an essential “Chicago artist,” in the sense that he is a painter who continues to experiment with who he is, on his own terms.

lutes-video.jpgIn the fifth video from a series recorded for the Renaissance Society, Lutes and Walker discuss the shift in medium and attitude that Lutes has experienced and the range of expression afforded by the tempera he now uses.

Rose Schapiro, ‘09

Painting reproduced with permission from the Renaissance Society.

January 14, 2009