LOS ANGELES — “My neighbors have no idea what I do all day,” says artist Liza Lou, looking out from atop a church tower where she lives and works in a tiny farm town in Ventura County, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Lou, a lithe pixie with large smoky eyes, wouldn’t have it any other way.
The artist, best known for her life-size, beaded installations “Kitchen” and “Back Yard,” uses thousands of glass beads in lieu of paint to color objects from the mundane to the sublime. So far, only a few patrons have had the opportunity to hear the fiercely private 32-year-old speak about her work. But for the curious, her first performance piece, a one-time show at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum tonight, will meld Lou’s art and personal life.
During the piece, her childlike narrative reveals the fervently religious background that helped shape her present work. “It’s definitely a darker version, where in the past all my work has been, on the surface, sunny and colorful,” she says. “I wanted to take it a step further, to open my mouth and tell people where I’m coming from, which is terrifying and exciting.”
Lou, a native New Yorker, began selling her work while still an art student in San Diego, although she left school when a teacher told her that she would have to stop using beads instead of paint. The resulting pieces, like “Kitchen” and “Back Yard,” in which she turned life-size icons of everyday suburbia into sparkling statements about the American Dream, have been shown at New York’s New Museum, the Smithsonian and the Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani in Barcelona.
In June, Lou previewed the performance piece at Les Deux Cafes for an intimate audience of friends including Julia Ormond, Kenny Scharf, art patrons Leonard and Susan Nimoy, Lisa Marie, Roman Alonso of Greybull Press and Jeffrey Deitch. Dressed in a black Balenciaga top, Ann Demeulemeester pants and Capezio boots, she sang, leapt, shouted and whispered her way across a small black platform backed by a blue screen. “I was stunned,” proclaimed the normally reserved Deitch. “I’m fascinated by the way it combines and embodies many of the images, issues and emotions presented in her sculptural work.” A further recombination of Lou’s ideas will go on display at the Deitch Projects gallery in SoHo, when the artist mounts one of her biggest installations to date in mid-October. The New York show will merge aspects of Lou’s performance and sculptural works, including “Trailer,” the 35-foot, 1949 Spartan Mobile Mansion Lou found in the desert and transformed into a film noir crime scene.
But back at her studio, the New York show is still about 20,000 beads away. As Lou rushes to put the final touches on a series of wood grain panels that will make the trip, inevitably a handful of beads slips away, creating a spray of color across the concrete floor.
“Oh well,” she sighs, “at least it’s a glorious mess.”