Lisa Kokin

Nineteen-sixty an abstract mixed media work created with buttons_ found objects and copper wire by Lisa Kokin at Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley California San Francisco Bay Area - Lisa  Kokin


Mixed media  
76 x 48 in

mixed media, copper wire, buttons

A portrait of the artist as a little girl, standing with her mother. The piece measures 81” x 50”. The year is 1960 in the portrait and the portrait incorporates buttons and beads and all manner of paraphernalia associated with the times. The figures are “almost” lifesize, which is part of their charm. They are just a little foreshortened. The mother is sturdy and towers over her child, who is small and tidily dressed in her white blouse and red jumper with mary jane shoes and white anklets.

One of the remarkable things about the work is its painterly quality. Somehow with wire, buttons, beads and countless other items, Kokin has succeeded in creating extraordinary detail. She has also succeeded in crafting a setting for her characters by using items that trigger memory for those who remember the fifties as it transitioned into the new decade. There is a classic yellow 45 rpm vinyl “golden record” of “Three Little Fishes”. There are metal permanent wave rollers and hardware from garter belts (pantyhose didn’t come on the market until 1959 and took a while to catch on.) Children from the 50’s might recognize the heart-shaped plastic doll stands, wooden bingo markers and a wooden puzzle piece of New York from the puzzle of the United States. The piece is hung by extended wires with buttons that stretch beyond the two figures creating a field of energy around the dynamics of mother and child.

Lisa Kokin: Buttons have made cameo appearances in much of my previous work; never have they been the primary material until this series. My parents were upholsterers and my earliest memories are of playing in their shop with piles of vinyl and foam rubber. I have sewn since I was a child and the stitch plays a major role in my work, so it was natural to join the buttons together to form a reconstructed family portrait.

My work has always had an obsessive quality and this body of work is no exception. Every button is stitched to its neighbor to form a low-tech pixilated composition. Up close each piece is an abstract melange of colors and shapes; the further back one stands the more decipherable the image becomes. This interplay between abstraction and representation intrigues me. It is as though I am painting with buttons, building my palette as I go along, adding and subtracting until the interplay of colors and forms coalesces into a coherent image.