Pink Maze 2022. Silk, wool, cotton. 8 x 8 in / 20.3 x 20.3 cm

Bad Decoration:

a celebratory testimonial by Liz Collins

Liz Collins

While in college in the late 80s, I was taught that anything that appeared "decorative" was bad. If your work was called decorative in a critique you knew you were in trouble… decorative implied shallow, trite, devoid of meaning or concept, frivolous.

Ironically, I was in a textile program!

Textiles throughout time have been one of the primary areas of material and visual culture that carry decorative elements in repeating patterns. In other words, decoration is often the point.

Humans have been using repeating patterns for centuries to communicate layers of information and identities. Flowers, geometric shapes, leaves, animals, stripes, dots, etc. — everything is fair game for decorative pattern.  Pattern is life, pattern is language, pattern is everywhere.

Dark Eclipse 2019. Flutter, Los Angeles
This was an installation commissioned for a Los Angeles based art project-space. The exhibition was a maze of rooms transformed by artists. I built on the visual and conceptual narrative from Cave of Secrets, an installation I did at the New Museum in 2017 for the Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon show, where the 1981 film Liquid Sky — a new-wave camp film I saw when I was 13 — along with other references from my youth that provided rich source material to make a dark and lush environment.

Elissa Auther, "Miriam Schapiro and the Politics of the Decorative," in With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985, (New York: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in Association with Yale University Press)

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It was not until I learned of Miriam Schapiro's femmage — and her assertion that the decorative is an act of feminist resistance — from art historian and curator Elissa Auther, that I was able to shed those heavy handed ideas from my college days and move into a place of owning and asserting that more is more.

My textile-based works are recognized for their aggressive pattern, vibrant color, and lush materials; and through them I connect the act of exuberant decoration to maximalist and queer resistance.

Cave of Secrets 2017. New Museum, New York, NY 
Installation commissioned for Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon. September 27, 2017-January 21, 2018. Digitally printed carpet, wallpaper, leather, nails, wood, welded steel, rayon jersey, silk chiffon and silk wool gauze with knit-grafted wool, cotton, lurex, rayon yarns, jacquard knit and woven textiles, two-way mirrors, video monitors, videos, fluorescent gels, headphones, speakers, casters, peephole.

Frozen 2019, Silk. Collection of Mint Museum
Frozen is a double sided woven and deconstructed textile piece that I made with a combination of industrial and manual means. The piece references two prior pieces in an ongoing series: Euphoria and Euphoria II, which have a similar look but are lighter in color and are visual manifestations of my experiences with a particular kind of sexual euphoria and ecstasy, and the feelings of lust and desire.  Frozen is Euphoria in a new state: encrusted, more refined, crisp, cold, icy, and even more exquisite — those feelings and experiences suspended and in a deep freeze — a state of desire and sensuality that is vibrant, yet buried in ice, and possibly melting.
Blue Explosion 2018. Assorted yarns, cotton mesh. 21 x 21 in
This is a needlepoint textile piece that is part of a series of stitched works that have stylized images of explosions. In this one, I did deep and improvisational pattern exploration, filling all the zones outside the main shape with combinations of repeating elements in a tight palette of blues and grays. I recall spending almost two weeks in a Dune Shack in Provincetown in July, 2018 working on this piece that had to be finished in early August, in time to be framed for my September show in NYC. It was very hot at that time and the sun was intense, so I would sit out on this small deck under a jerry-rigged shade structure made of old sheets, and stitch for hours while listening to on transistor radio to WOMR, the local public radio station. There was no electricity or running water there. I love making things in rustic environments and in extreme nature.

Surrounding people in a space with layers of pattern, color, and texture, to a dizzying and sometimes overwhelming result, is my way to talk about the experience of being alive and the cacophony of it all.

Creating works that stir up feelings of awe, joy, pleasure, and wonder as a reprieve from the horrors of life is something I care about and try to do.

Studio Layers 2023
Excerpts of some of my most recent woven paintings on a knotted rug. I love playing around with layering my works and making 3D collages with them in space. Seeing several of my patterned works together in mash-ups like this is great. It’s loud and vibrant and like life. I view these works as capable of thriving on their own, yet able to coexist in layers — with the idea that certain cacophonies are electric and exciting and bring our eyes and spirits to somewhere fun and stimulating.
Another studio mash-up from 2023, combining artworks to expand into 3D space featuring these artworks. Left to right:
Multi Mountain (inverted) 2018. Silk, polyester, lurex. 61 x 90 x 3 in
ICE 2023. Woven acrylic textile, rayon yarns, flashe, dye. 78 x 40 in
Push Pull, 2022. Flashe on canvas with rayon yarn. 50 x 24 in
Together 2022. Flashe on canvas with rayon yarns. 50 x 24 in
And on the floor is:
Zagreb Mountain Rug 2022. Silk and wool. 9 x 12 feet
Studio Installation, 2015. Brooklyn
Works on paper
: screenprints, tape and paint collages, paintings

I turned this corner of my studio into a pattern explosion as a test to see how all these individual elements could work together to create a vibrating environment. There was nothing in sight, other than an experiment, to enable my jagged, electric imagery to cover everything. Some of these works have subsequently been used as artwork for rugs and other interior textiles. I always go back to them for more.

I really want to make a space like a nightclub using this kind of motif. It has to be a space where people are wanting to be energized. A place for dancing and music and celebratory fun would be right where I want to see this come to life.
Distancer-Pursuer (detail) 2013, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA. Tape, yarn, tacks, acrylic paint

For this full room installation in a triangle shaped high ceilinged gallery at Occidental College, I made a mountain range with red vinyl tape and yellow paint. I added these jagged sections of pink tape with black chenille yarns wound back and forth around tacks, and stuck in places with double stick tape. That way I could cut some of the black areas open and have them fall and drip down, like stalactites in a cave. To have this space to make this 3D drawing in, and build a really big mountain range was amazing and wild. I had two really hard working assistants, Mozhdeh Matin and Minami Otake, who came with me on the trip from NYC, and built a lot of this piece. We also produced KNITTING NATION Phase 12: H20 while there.
Promised Land 2022. Silk and polyester. 12 x 35 x 12 feet

This one is from the exhibition Liz Collins: Mischief, at Touchstones Rochdale in England. This monumental piece composed of seven long woven panels is my utopian yet fractured vision of the far away glowing, vibrating, electric land where queer people are free to be who we are and free from trouble. The idea of a promised land — a haven, a final home, a place where all our hopes can be realized.

This work gets at an idea that persists in my imagination of using the industrial loom to make modules that together comprise much larger works. I am always dreaming of monumental scale for my textile works — fantasizing about three-story-high works that hang in built spaces, looking at the old book Beyond Craft: the Art of Fabric, that had images of women artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz making massive textile works on scaffolding. I see myself doing that — the big-big works.

Screenshot of my iPhoto roll from April 2023.

The screenshot shows a random assortment of my work from both part and present: details and close up images of textile works, works on paper, needlepoint works, and a repeating studio shot of works together. Sometimes I am struck by these combinations as they appear in my camera roll — how the grid format creates a new pattern from all these patterned works. It looks like a game.

Portrait of the artist surrounded by her work, 2023
Photo by Joe Kramm

> See more of Liz’s work on her website.