Critics’ Picks

Lui Shtini, Skin I, 2016, oil on board, 29 x 24''.

New York

Lui Shtini

Kate Werble Gallery
83 Vandam Street
April 23–June 4

Like George Condo portraits stripped of specificity and affect, the Albanian-born, New York–based painter Lui Shtini’s whimsical, bulbous abstractions are centrally positioned against monochromatic backgrounds. While meticulously labored, Shtini’s works are refreshingly spare. They are also explicitly spiritual—an attempt to make manifest the aura of the supernatural jinni beings who, according to Arabic mythos, influence the fates of those in our own realm.

Shtini’s works are best when they explicitly evoke the corporeal “skins” of these supernatural creatures. His careful etchings and concise palette marks in color fields of wet oil evoke body hair and feathers. Despite their physicality, these paintings, weirdly, are somehow unphotographable. Their vivid textures dissolve under most lenses, and flatten them into Pop iconography, making them lose their psychic verve. Up close, the brushy buildup of paint that forms the inverted crescent of Skin I, 2016, for instance, suggests a mustache à la Nick Offerman, bristling below a symmetrical black, vaguely facial form.

Shtini’s works demonstrate a sculptural consideration of his oil medium—with hatched carvings into dense areas to reveal the layers beneath and knifed impressions to produce the illusion of scales. These paintings operate like Rorschach inkblots, revealing facial features, torsos, molars, bare bottoms, or genitalia—indicating the jinn’s shapeshifting powers, or the viewer’s preoccupations and interests. Choose your own adventure.