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In Conversation: Liz Markus

In Conversation: Liz Markus

Exhibition A: Let’s start with your solo exhibition, Forever Changes, at Shrine, which was named an Artforum must-see before it even opened [Editor’s Note: Forever Changes opened on May 5th and is on view through June 17th, 2023). I'm curious about the title of the exhibition, Forever Changes, and what it means in the context of the show.

Liz Markus: Well, the LOYAL show that was in August [2022] featured the hippies and was titled This Might Go On Forever. We liked the idea of This Might Go On Forever because the show was a return to the [hippie] motif — LOYAL has shown the hippies once before [in 2007]. The band Love has an album called Forever Changes and I liked that. This Might Go On Forever, then Forever Changes, because the hippies have developed. It also refers to how there will forever be changes, like the way I cycle through different bodies of work.

XA: You’re known for thematic repetition — hippies are one example of the recurring motifs you explore, and [our new collaboration, Heavy T-Rex] is another. 

LM: That started naturally. I have a lot of little bodies of work in between the big ones that I’ve worked through and haven’t shown. When I came back to the hippies, they were very much informed by the other work I'd been doing. Recently, after spending about three years immersed in hippies, I was inspired to make a T-Rex again. I made that big one [gestures to a large T-Rex painting in the studio] and the T-Rexes started to create sparks in my brain again. I’m going to work on T-Rexes and cars this summer. They’re similar — it’s the pop connection.

It’ll be a relief to get away from [the hippies] for now. They are so beautiful and uplifting but also really heavy. It takes me to a heavy place when I make them. It can get exhausting but I don’t want them to look like it was exhausting. 

XA: I don’t think they do. I mean, they have a charge to them. 

LM: It’s like I'm channeling something, putting myself so much into these, trying to keep that channel open to see what happens. They’re like, you know, aura photographs — do you want to see what my soul looks like? Or do I want to see what my soul looks like? I carry around a certain amount of darkness but contrarily, the paintings radiate joy.

XA: The closer an object is to the light, the longer a shadow it casts. 

LM: That sort of perfectly describes these. 

XA: Similar to how it's usually people with the capacity for great joy who have equal capacity for despair. The full experience! I feel like your T-Rexes really have that element. Comedy, like tragedy, is visceral — it’s ‘heartbreak’ or ‘cracking up’ — it’s an embodied experience. I really like thinking about that sense of embodiment when it comes to the T-Rexes, especially since you’ve spoken about how the image isn’t modeled from a historically factual T-Rex, but a man-made version of a T-Rex. There’s this extravagant costume that needs a human to embody the T-Rex form in order to physically activate it. Like, only with the human body does this extinct creature made from dead material come to life. 

LM: That's going to blow my mind for a while now. It's so interesting to think about. 

XA: These various degrees of embodiment leads back to [Heavy T-Rex], as an actual body, the T-Rex is physically entering three-dimensional space again but in this pristine, unprecedented condition. Have you forayed into sculpture previously?

LM: Only as craft. I was raised doing crafts and still find them a necessary escape.  Especially during the pandemic, I did God's Eyes, paper flowers, a lot of granny squares, needlepoint... There was no craft left untouched. 

XA: We need a show. We need a show of Liz Markus' crafts!

LM: Turning my T-Rex figure into a sculpture feels like a natural extension of the painting. But I love what you're saying, the embodiment. [My T-Rex motif] started out as this actual 3D costume, which is a pop culture symbol I interpreted into the two-dimensional language of painting, and now through the process of creating Heavy T-Rex, [he’s] morphed back into 3D, a transformed version that reflects my hand and interpretation.

XA: While retaining his essence! If you're at all familiar with your work, the T-Rex has this sense of familiarity where you're like, oh, I know this person. He has that resonance, like seeing someone you've known for years but also meeting them for the first time. The cleanliness of it too… Did you ever watch Twin Peaks? You know how in the red room when the Tulpas get sent back, they get sent back in these heavy little seeds, these shiny golden seeds. 

LM: I’ll give it a re-watch. 

XA: I like thinking about [Heavy T-Rex] in that way, as if he’s somehow the original form, like all the energy of the entire body of work is zapped into his polished weight.

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