Lisa Kokin creates her art with recycled and reclaimed materials she has found at flea markets, thrift stores, and recycling centers. In the past she has worked with buttons, photographs, and other found objects, but now she works mostly with books, the contents of which she shreds, blends, pulps, glues, and otherwise modifies before presenting them to her viewers in various states of recognition.
Kokin’s deft sewing skills stem from childhood; her parents worked at an upholstery company so her spare time was spent sewing unlikely materials together. Her early work involved stitching together found photographs, often resulting in startlingly surgical creations of children, weddings, and other subjects. She later worked with buttons to compose portraits utilizing the colors and shapes of the material. Kokin then began deconstructing books and using the paper and covers as her medium. She uses a blender that was handed down from her family to shred and pulp the paper so that she can morph it into various shapes, sometimes preserving select words or pieces of text, or creating anagrams from letters of the text.
Kokin’s most recent works are composed of cloth self-help book spines and covers, which she brilliantly cuts up, disguises and weaves with thread into bright, colorful wall installations. Only upon close inspection does the viewer find titles and subtitles derived from someone’s unhappiness with their body image, career, finances, or life in general. The contradiction between the cheery promises of the titles and the books’ current state of dismemberment seems to highlight the futility of the solutions they offer.
Kokin’s work offers themes of political and social subversion and commentary while conveying a remarkable respect and delicate tenderness in her treatment of these cast-off and discarded materials.
Lisa Kokin received her BFA and MFA from the California College of the Arts in Oakland, CA. The recipient of numerous awards and grants, Kokin was most recently given the Purchase Award from the Richmond Civic Center Public Art Interior Acquisitions Project in Richmond, CA. The artist teaches a variety of classes and workshops and volunteers her time as a mentor to other artists. She currently lives and works in El Sobrante, California, outside of San Francisco.
Buttons have made cameo appearances in much of my work over the years, but never were they the primary material until a few years after my father’s death in 2001 when I pulled out my collection and made a small portrait of my dad. This, as in much of my work, was a spontaneous and unpremeditated act, a confluence of material and subject.
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. What began as a memorial to my father soon expanded to the realm of family portraits, past and present, human and canine, and to the broader human community as I completed a three-part commission for a juvenile justice center comprised of button portraits of Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and Fred Korematsu.
Piecework was made in homage to my maternal grandmother who worked in a tie factory in New York as a young immigrant from Romania. Ancestor and Sleep both refer to my father in a more abstract way than the two-dimensional portraits that I made early on in the series. I made Rescue when I adopted my first dog, Chico. Although it’s generally thought that the human rescues the animal, in this case it was a sort of mutual rescue in that I gave Chico his forever home and he rescued me from the loneliness and grief that I felt after the passing of my father. Party Hat Diabolique uses as its source material a photo of my fifth birthday party in which I am looking at the camera with a characteristic melancholy look, wearing a cone-shaped party hat slightly askew. Forget the Story refers to a Buddhist phrase, which warns of the dangers of constructing narratives based on projection and speculation.
The Button ShowJanuary 21st- March 12th, 2016
Curated by Souleo