JIM LUTES | Killer B Actuary

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Killer B Actuary, 2018
Egg oil tempera on canvas
28 x 22 in.


For over four decades, Chicago-based artist Jim Lutes has produced a varied yet unmistakable body of work that explores the specific tensions between figuration and painterly abstraction. Often discussed in the context of Chicago Imagism, Lutes's distinct style draws from an expansive set of art historical sources, blending elements of West Coast Funk, Abstract Expressionism and postmodern appropriation. He overlays ribbons of gestural brushstrokes to both reveal and obscure darkly comic tableaux that include distended bodies, gritty interiors, trashed city streets and wistful images from memory and television.

Around 2000 Lutes began innovating what is now his preferred material: using egg tempera, both on its own and, in some instances, as a whirling, semi-translucent surface atop more figural, oil-based paintings. Art historian Barry Blinderman finds this technique delightfully confounding: "There is a climax-defying irreconcilability to Lutes's work. While the thin glazes of the egg tempera technique allow the viewer to peer into the paintings' guts... the logic through which his trademark squiggles and swirls cohabitate anxiously with the underlying images remains oblique, even impenetrable. How can near-transparency be honed to such exquisite opacity?"1Curator Hamza Walker finds this duality equally puzzling. Walker views the artist's ethereal surfaces with another question in mind, asking "Where, when, and how do they begin or end?"2

1Barry Blinderman, "Grooving in Analog (What the Paintings Sound Like)," in Jim Lutes: Paintings and Drawings, 1995-2008 (Normal, IL: University Galleries of Illinois State University, 2009), p. 14.

2 Hamza Walker, "Painter on the Make," in Jim Lutes (Chicago: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2009), p. 13.