Liza Lou

Posted: December 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: no blah blah: one artist | Tags: | 1 Comment »

Name : Liza Lou

Occupation : bead the world

Born in 1969, Liza Lou attended the San Francisco Art Institute where she was a painting student. A trip to a local bead store changed her artistic course completely. She began to experiment with beads, sequins and spangles on everyday objects. It was a different way of painting to her. This is the most amazing tone, the most amazing color, the most amazing kind of light that you can work with, says Lou. I thought, how great. Put that in your sculpture. Put that on your canvas.

At the San Francisco Art Institute, her teachers did not approve and most of them thought she was making jewelry. If you’re doing something with beads then you’re a craft person. If you’re making paintings, you’re an artist. […] there were very distinct categories, she recalls.

Liza Lou left the art school at 21 and continued to create beaded objects.


Kitchen, 1991-1994, Courtesy of Deitch Projects, NY

A 168 square feet kitchen (almost 16m2) with every pie, every muffin, every bit of cereal covered with beads. She bought household appliances and put beads directly onto their surfaces. For the cereal boxes and cherry pie, Lou first built the form out of papier-mâché. It took an estimated 30 million beads to complete her work and 5 years of intense work. From the turquoise sink to the cherry pie, Liza Lou beaded every detail by hand. It was completed in 1995 and brought her fame immediately. She was 26 at the time.

Contemporary art world thought her work was pretty subversive. Indeed Kitchen both satirizes and celebrates the notion of woman’s work : I’m referencing women’s experience in the piece, says Lou. The requirement is to have a really fastidious clean house. And, in today’s culture, to be a babe at the end of the day. You have to be cute… The task never ends.

Kitchen (sink detail), 1991-1994, Courtesy of Deitch Projects, NY

For her next project Back Yard (1997), she asked for help. Several hundred volunteers came at the Museum of Art near her home for beading parties. Although it covers 600 square feet (almost 56m2) It took only two years to complete. This work contains 250 000 blades of beaded grass and is made of more than 30 millions glass beads. It features a shiny lawn with a picnic table,  a clothesline and a barbecue grill. Beads were twisted onto wires which were then inserted into a papier-mâché surface. Papier-mâché was a key element in Back Yard in order to make the installation lighter, and easier to strike up and down for travelling. Liza Lou possibly regretted choosing a real kitchen stove for her previous project.

Each piece takes years to complete, and causes her physical agony because the task is incredibly fastidious. Her work doesn’t seem to be a parody, it rather refers to  self-will with the picture of a working ant in mind. Her beads make the surface of objects glitter and shine. Using this method, her fingers touch each and every surface inch.

At the same time, Lou worked on other projects linked with the notion of the American ideal such as a beaded Barbie (the ultimate American female icon) and a set of portraits of all the 42 American Presidents.

John F. Kennedy, American Presidents Series, 1996 to present, Courtesy of Deitch Projects, NY

The following installation also features a presidential desk, a draped American flag, a chandelier and a cigar. It resembles historic black and white photographs : Portrait Gallery (1996) using black, white and grey beads. Each portrait is bordered with a wide band of gold beads, creating the illusion of a gilded frame. It is humorous to see men in beads, Lou says in an interview. Herbert Hoover is not someone you associate with glitter.