An artist of beaded installation tableaus*, still lifes, and portraits, Liza Lou has gained recognition for installations* such has Kitchen
and Back Yard
and for her beaded portraits of all forty-two presidents of the United States including George Bush, Jr.
Her work, described as "Pop suffused shrine," began in 1989 as a nod to Andy Warhol. In an interview with Tracy Tynan, December/ January 98-99 MADISON, the artist said that "Pop art* was the first art that made sense to me. . . .If I had my way I would definitely bead the whole world because everything is so lackluster in everyday life."
Lou is a small-sized woman, now in her late 20s, who lives in a sparsely decorated studio apartment in Topanga Canyon in California. The sparseness of her surroundings is a marked contrast to her beaded work including the beaded headband she wears to hold back her bleached blond hair. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, and during her first year, wandered into a bead store, which changed her life. To her paint was dull compared to the glowing colors of the beads, and she spent two years learning to work with the beads.
In her unique pieces, the focus is away from the detached coolness of minimalism*, and is on dazzling color, detailed minutiae, and real-life circumstances and objects.
Her biggest effort in terms of dimensions was in Los Angeles with Kitchen
, which was 168 square feet, and included beaded spatulas, dishwater, etc. The work prompted criticism from one of her teachers who told her the subject was too mundane. But Lou's motive with this work was to say to women "you washed the dishes for centuries, so now I don't have to do that anymore" (Tynan).
Her biggest effort relative to detail was Back Yard
, with one-million blades of grass. In this work, she regards the lawn as the star of the show and for completion, she had a series of lawn parties, such as quilting bees, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art for people to help her with the beading.
In creating her signature works, Lou is focusing on the complexity of suburban culture and its lack of style--the collective image of home--- and simplistic metaphors about where we live and why we are what we are. Her unique works enact dazzling, hyper-embellished fantasies of domestic bliss, and every surface has a wrap of beads.
Liza Lou received much attention in January, 2001, at the time of the inauguration of George Bush, Jr. when she created his portrait in beads. She exhibited this work as part of a complete roster of beaded presidential portraits at the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC. Titled Star-Spangled Presidents: Portraits by Liza Lou
, the works are more caricature than portraiture and consist of what the artist calls "zillions" of glittering black, white and gold beads features folk-artsy likenesses of all forty-two US Presidents to the present including Grover Cleveland, done twice because his terms were separated by that of Benjamin Harrison. "
Inspired by the official three-quarters portraiture style found on paper money, the gold-framed presidential portraits hang in a narrow gallery behind a velvet rope, creating the impression that the audience is parading past the body of a dignitary lying in state. Hanging from the ceiling is a beaded chandelier. To either side are beaded-candle sconces, while under President Clinton's portrait, which holds the central place of honor, sits a bead-covered side table holding a beaded fruit bowl and a beaded vase of beaded flowers.
Of this exhibit, a reporter for the "Washington Post
" (11/24/2000) wrote: "Lou, whose feminist-inflected work in the past has addressed issues of women's social roles with humor, brings a similar sardonic sensibility to her take on high office. What, after all, is more ludicrous than seeing the nation's alpha male reduced to the appearance of a Brownie craft project? "
Traditional Fine Arts Online
Leah Ollman, "Liza Lou's American Dream", Art in America,
Elisa Turner, "Making Waves, ARTnews
, January, 1999
Compiled by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
* For more
in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary