Cristóbal Lehyt made his first foray into site-specific sculpture in the exhibition “Iris Sheets” at the Americas Society. For this show, the artist, born in Chile in 1973, built a massive, untitled structure out of sweetgum and oak logs, which had been soaked in Chilean red wine. The burgundy-stained segments of tree were bolted together in a series of interconnected triangular modules that spanned the length of the main gallery. Bifurcating the space, the sculpture forced the viewer to negotiate its form in order to get to the alcove at the back, where two more works from 2013 were on view. Aquarium consists of two small sealed glass boxes filled with sand, wine and sulphur. Iris Sheets, part of his ongoing “Drama Projections” series, is a black-light-enhanced fluorescent wall mural, featuring five genderless, contour figures in a black expanse punctuated by neon orbs and flecks of paint.
Concurrent with the Americas Society show was “Iris Sheets II: This Time It’s Personal” at Johannes Vogt. Here, Lehyt showed seven large paintings (all 2013) on unstretched polyester, each depicting one figure. Like the wall mural, several of the paintings were made by creating a polychromatic ground and overlaying it with a matte-black surface. Lehyt then drew his figures by scratching into the black to reveal the neon and primary acrylic colors. One such work at Vogt presents the outline of a body with its arms held slightly out to the sides; its eyes, mere dots, are set in a bald, misshapen head and seem to stare blankly forward.
A selection of pencil drawings on layered sheets of tracing paper (made between 2003 and 2013) were presented in glass vitrines in the rear gallery. It was the first time Lehyt’s source drawings have been publicly exhibited. Among the drawings, we recognize a frontal view of a bowlegged figure from the mural at the Americas Society that also appears in one of the paintings at Vogt. Despite the series title “Drama Projections,” Lehyt did not project the pencil drawings onto the canvas, but drew each figure freehand. The viewer is easily deceived, as the large versions appear to be exact replicas of the drawings.
In one painting, a slouching creature, its crested head tilted forward, seems to be in mid-step, emerging from a blue nebula on the left of the canvas and heading toward a trapezoidal form that juts in from the right. Another painting shows a winged person that looks like a mutant Icarus. Its body is rendered in a spare, rust-colored line against a pink stain that mirrors the general shape of the body. This work stood out since a majority of the canvas was left white, allowing the viewer to see the history of the artist’s stains and markings.
While Lehyt’s personnages share an aspect of the contorted postures of Egon Schiele’s figures as well as the tragicomic characters of Maria Lassnig, they do not have the same degree of specificity and detail; instead Lehyt’s bodies have the look of space aliens. Lehyt noted in a recent lecture that he tries to draw “as if he were someone else.” This approach, in addition to his simplification and repetition of forms, accounts for the hollow, disembodied feeling of his creatures. Always cast in indeterminate voids, Lehyt’s figures are images of alienation incarnate.