Liza Lou at work in her studio.
Liza Lou at work in her studio.
Image: Mick Haggerty

Recognised for her shape-shifting and contemplative work with glass beads, Los Angeles artist Liza Lou’s star rose when her installation Kitchen caught the attention of the world. Having spent five years painstakingly covering every surface of a life-size kitchen with tiny beads, Lou’s art is synonymous with the exploration of gender roles and “women’s work”.

Now back in LA after a decade working in a Durban community, Lou’s latest solo of recent work, including The Clouds, has just opened Lehmann Maupin Gallery’s new Chelsea address in New York and will be showing until October 27.

What have you been up to since your last show in New York? Lots of experimentation, inquiry and change. My last solo in New York - Color Field- was a 1,200 square foot floor sculpture and woven paintings that examined how a labour-intensive process leaves behind evidence of its own making. Since then, I have been exploring my own gesture; I wanted to see if it’s possible to meld my work in community and the work I do in solitude. This has led to commissioning woven sheets, which I then paint on top of.

Liza Lou, Terra | Cloud, 2018. Glass beads, thread, and epoxy resin on stainless steel. 30.5 x 30.5 x 4.75 inches (framed), 77.5 x 77.5 x 12.1 cm.
Liza Lou, Terra | Cloud, 2018. Glass beads, thread, and epoxy resin on stainless steel. 30.5 x 30.5 x 4.75 inches (framed), 77.5 x 77.5 x 12.1 cm.
Image: Joshua White / Lehmann Maupin
Liza Lou Pyroclastic, 2018. Woven glass beads 26 x 29 inches (approximately), 66 x 73.7 cm.
Liza Lou Pyroclastic, 2018. Woven glass beads 26 x 29 inches (approximately), 66 x 73.7 cm.
Image: Joshua White / Lehmann Maupin

What does community mean to you as a female artist? Working with beads is an invitation to work in community — it’s a material that has resonance with women around the world. It is one of the great joys of my life to work in community. Lately, I find I need both community and solitude. My current body of work reflects that balance.

How does your work with beads unpack the role of women in society? Living in South Africa, I saw that beads are a connection to craft, labour, women’s work and the struggle of everyday life. My earlier works utilised beads to comment upon labour or comment upon women’s work. Having lived in South Africa for over 10 years, I have first-hand experience and knowledge of the depth of my chosen material and what it means to women.

Why glass beads? I tripped into a bead store when I was 18 years old. I couldn’t believe the colours, intensity, texture and luminosity. To me, it was the greatest paint store I’d ever seen. Beads are full of limitations and those very limitations inspire me. I’m interested in the way in which beads demand a life shift; their very nature demands patience and focus - and an ungodly amount of time.

How has the move from Durban to Los Angeles affected your work? Coming back to LA after working for years in community was very difficult at first. My drawing practice became central. I started to paint. I scrubbed oils into the crevices of woven beaded cloths, staining the surfaces. I then used a hammer to chisel off areas, smashing and scraping to reveal the skeleton of the thread. The central shift in my work between Durban and LA is that in LA, I am sharing my own gesture in ways that I’ve never done before and this is the result of working alone.

Tell us about your new body of work. This work started with my curiosity of clouds, how they are formed and what makes them unique. I also started looking to painters like Constable and Turner who seemed to share this same curiosity. Durban has amazing cloud formations ... thunderstorms erupt and you think the sky is falling. I started painting the clouds from my window, atop beaded cloths. The juxtaposition between the handmade beaded cloths with an image that is transitory and fleeting seemed like fertile ground for exploration.

LOOK | Images of Liza Lou's work:

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