New York

Robert Lostutter

Phyllis Kind Gallery

Robert Lostutter’s birdmen are voluptuary creatures produced by a wondrous metamorphosis of the human into an eroticized ornithological world. Always tense and alert, his figures sport exotic plumages that advertise sexual availability. This decidedly hothouse esthetic infuses Lostutter’s depiction of a world in which the appearance of things reflects an obsession with the sexuality lurking beneath the surface: leaves start to ripple with labial rhythms, and tight buds of flowers take on penile erectness only to burst open like little paeans to sexual desire.

Lostutter’s use of a visionary and painstaking verisimilitude plays a great role in rendering his transformations palpable. Tremendously subtle and rich coloration informs these watercolor and pencil works, many comprised of sequences of very small images—tropical plumages, ranging from deep purples to acid greens and oranges, everywhere facilitate the discovery of a devolution into birdman. And where there is sex there is role playing—the figures vary from the rapacious to the vulnerable. A kind of insidious evil underpins these full-lipped and pouting creatures, with their menacing gaze. Lostutter often uses the same figure in several different works, modifying it only slightly in appearance or scale.

Frequently, he combines a few studies in a seemingly random pattern across a single sheet of paper, as if they were sketches for another project. In Untitled, 1991, two renderings of a green-faced man turn away from some closely observed flowers and leaves. Each object is singly seen and described with a determined fury and focused concentration: one leaf and flower are brought out in full color while the others remain in a grisaille realm of pencil. The sprigs of flowers here, and in another untitled piece from 1991, are especially satisfying, reminiscent of the intensity of Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of nature. The green-faced man from this drawing appeared in at least three more pieces in this exhibition, meticulously reproduced down to the tufts in his hair. But Lostutter avoids repetitiveness by adjusting the other elements of his repertoire surrounding this figure, seeking and finding new possibilities.

If the drive toward sexuality is a reflection of our animal impulses, then Lostutter’s achievement is his ability to represent this condition metaphorically using the bright and ornate world of male tropical birds. Their raiment becomes spectacle; desire is manifested in explosions of highly evolved color and precisely struck poses. It is a vision more phallic than fecund, driven more by the mechanics of attraction than the desire for procreation. Lostutter immerses human sexuality within the larger panoply of nature, arguing that if men were birds, how beautifully precious and evil they would be.

James Yood