Artist Liza Lou must have the patience of a saint. For the past 20 years, she has been using tiny glass beads as her primary medium to create huge installations with a kitsch, pop art feel. This began with what is arguably her most well-known work Kitchen (1991-1996), a 168-square-foot, life-sized kitchen sculpture covered entirely with beads – from the oven knobs and window sills right down to the kitchen sink (complete with running tap). Most of the kitchen's contents were handmade from scratch, although some of the objects are real, she tells us, "like the kitchen stove, which I found on the street."
Kitchen took Lou five years to complete – she used tweezers to put each individual bead in place – but it wasn't the laborious process itself that posed the greatest challenge. "[It was] finding the time and money to make the work," she says. "I worked as a waitress and sold prom dresses and then worked in my studio at night." Practical constraints aside, when it came to beadwork Lou was undeterred, getting straight on with her next work Backyard – a complete, bead-covered garden sculpture – as soon as Kitchen was finished, and never looking back.
"Kitchen took Lou five years to complete – she used tweezers to put each individual bead in place"
Lou is an enigmatic character. When asked to talk about her background and inspirations, she simply provides a list of key words – "Jesus, Andy Warhol, shag carpet, suburbs, Minnesota" – which she allows to speak for themselves. "I'm for the physical art experience. More than anything, I hope people will be able to go and see the work in person," she explains. That said, the now South Africa based artist has previously cited traditional African bead craft and its rich heritage as a strong influence and has collaborated with local beadwork artisans in the past.
A testimony to her ongoing fascination with, and mastery of beads, Lou's latest work, Color Field – a floor-bound field of coloured beads in pixelated squares (do we detect a hint of shag carpet?) – is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Here, we present a gallery of Lou's finest beaded pieces.
Color Field is at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego until November 3.
Text by Daisy Woodward