The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 38: ASSASSINATION: Liz Markus, Artist Represented by ZieherSmith

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Photograph of Liz Markus. Courtesy of Facebook.
Liz Markus: Nancy 5, 2008, acrylic on unprimed canvas, 60 by 48 inches. Courtesy of ZieherSmith.

Chatting with Ms. Liz Markus was quite an upbeat affair and I was gracious to be able to address her wry and ironic paintings that caught my eye last year in an issue of New American Paintings that featured her wistful and messy “hippie” paintings. Looking at them reminded me of a Tom Wolfe essay on the Kool-Aid acid era that probably never was us except through the figment of our own collective imagination. And yet we cannot seem to escape the nostagia for a time frame and national dream of the glorified sixties with thoughts of the Manson killing spree, the Zodiac killer, and the Vietnam war.

And there was that eerie similarity between Martin Luther King‘s speech about having dreams and President Obama‘s speech about uplifted hopes for a forsaken nation. The turmoil of the sixties as compared with the turmoil of a post-9/11 America. Markus attempts to codify this collective unconscious with her controlled, seemingly poured out imagery of the social wildness like a symbolic and figurative redaction of a Rorschach inkblot test with crazy color schemes that reflect our willingness to burst into fiery passions.

If you have any questions about Markus’ artwork, feel free to contact ZieherSmith at or at (212) 229-1088.

Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: As you are a former graduate of the School of Visual Arts and the Tyler School of Art, do you have any memorable experiences with your arts education? Do you have any significant professors or fellow students who influenced your current studio practice and methodologies? In what ways do you think that the art education and programs could be improved?

Liz Markus: I was in school in New York in the late 80’s.  It was a very exciting time for art and we were always encouraged to go see shows and form our own opinions about what we saw.  I also loved the freshman year art survey class.  I was very nerdy about art history and sat in the front row and knew all the answers.

I sublet my art studio from Dona Nelson, an amazing painter who was also a professor of mine at Tyler.  She has continued to be a strong supporter of my work, ever encouraging me to push my painting further. Deeply committed to a painting practice, she’s always taken risks in her work and that is a great inspiration.

I think it’s very important that art education programs stress art and not creating a product that will sell or get you famous and how to make contacts in the art world.  Being an artist and having an art career are two very separate things.

qi peng: How has your cooperation with your gallery ZieherSmith enhanced the direction of your work? Has gallery representation boosted your artistic career and your ability to pursue more ambitious pieces? How do you feel that the contemporary art world differs in Philadelphia, either when you went to school or nowadays, than in New York? Do you have any advice for emerging BFA or MFA students who completed their degree recently and are ready to enter into the gallery system formally?

Liz Markus: I am very lucky to have such a committed gallery. They have given my work a wide audience and are very supportive of the process I go through to create work.  And they are also a great cheerleading team.

I was never a part of the art scene in Philadelphia as I left immediately after graduating so I’m afraid I cannot compare the two.

In terms of advice I would say, always put the work first and the career second.  Pursue your friendships with other artists and visit each other’s studios.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Liz Markus: I can’t say how other artists will respond to the recession but as for me, I will continue to make work and maintain my studio practice because that is what I do.  I suppose every artist will have a different response.  I feel fortunate to already have a few shows scheduled for this coming year including my second solo at ZieherSmith in March. Perhaps because I am relatively new to the market, the interest in my work seems to be growing, as do sales, quite fortunately.

qi peng: What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as the Drawing Center’s Viewing Program in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative? With the rise of online curated galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery, do you think that those type of galleries are a good stepping stone into the larger art network?

Liz Markus: I think one has to be very selective in terms of putting your work out there.  But I think any opportunity to show your work in the proper context can only be good for a young artist’s career.

qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, or other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you would to recommend to us? What things inspired you about them?

Liz Markus: Some of my favorite artists include DeKooning, Van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, Georg Baselitz and Amy Sillman.  Right now I am completely obsessed with 24.  I am renting all of the back episodes.  It’s like crack.  Much to my surprise I’ve become a fan of Rangers hockey. I like artforum for the pictures and The New Yorker for the articles (and cartoons, of course.)

I recently saw the Bonnard show at the met and was blown away by the color.  He found infinite subjects to paint while being for the most part confined to one small house.  I also think the Xylor Jane show at Canada is amazing.  I don’t think anyone has rocked color theory this well since Josef Albers.

qi peng: What are some of your hobbies? How does this relate to your regular studio art habits? Do you find yourself having to enter into the studio out of discipline or inspiration or a mixture of both? What are some of the practical challenges that artists have to face inside or outside their studio time?

Liz Markus: I am making a needlepoint of one of my paintings.  I wanted to carry over my work into a craft medium.  It is a much different experience than painting, and for me, more relaxing. I enter the studio out of discipline, with inspiration being the reward.  The studio is an intense place for me and I need to take respites to balance that intensity.

qi peng: As a painter who also does works on paper, what is your opinion about the “death of painting” criticism that has been floating around during the past few decades as the rise of the new media became a force to be reckoned with? Has any of these new technologies, such as video art or Internet-based work, influenced your style of subject matter within your artwork?

Liz Markus: I don’t worry about the death of painting.  It still seems quite alive and kicking to me. I love computer technology in and of itself but can’t say I feel engaged by new media in art. I am really fascinated by painting and so I tend to focus on that.

qi peng: Your technique has been acclaimed by various critics, notably for the use of acrylic paint on unprimed canvas that differs in subject matter and philosophical basis than that of Morris Louis? Were you inspired by his artworks? What influences did you have looking at art during your childhood while visiting the Albright-Knox Museum? Is your painting “Failed Target” based on the Jasper Johns‘ target series?

Liz Markus: I love Morris Louis but wouldn’t say that he specifically was my inspiration to paint on unprimed canvas.  The Albright-Knox was a huge influence on me, especially their Abstract Expressionist collection. “Failed Target” actually refers to a Kenneth Noland target.  It is my failed attempt to copy one of his paintings.  But I love how it turned out.

I paint on raw canvas because I am interested in the balance between control and letting go and allowing the paint to work.  I can control the flow to a certain extent, but as the paint I use is very fluid, there is also the element of chance as the paint seeps into the fibers of the canvas.

qi peng: Concerning your subject matter, what accounts for your fascination with the era of the sixties? Examples include hippies, target symbols, Noland color field paintings, psychedelic rock and roll posters, domestic symbols of womanhood from that era, and motorcycles/choppers? Do you have nostalgia for that era or do you wish to deconstruct the myths of “the golden era of peace of love?”

Liz Markus: I was interested in the arc of the hippie experience, from idealistic, fun-loving, utopian-minded through the Vietnam war, the Manson murders and the introduction of harder drugs culminating in the burnt out hippie of the 70’s.  During the Bush administration I felt a strong connection with their rebellious nature.

qi peng: What is your opinion about the literary and cultural works from the Beat Generation? Does their work influence the titles of your exhibits which include “Hot Nights at the Regal Beagle” and “The More I Revolt, the More I Make Love?” Are you riffing on advertising slogans from that era? Do you have any favorite songs from that era that you enjoy listening to? Any other sources of inspirations?

Liz Markus: “The More I Revolt, the More I Make Love” was a slogan from 60’s graffiti.   “Hot Nights at the Regal Beagle” is the name of my upcoming show at ZieherSmith and refers to a bar in the 80s tv show, “Three’s Company.” My new work has developed thematically since the last show and the title reflects my interest in that period.

qi peng: What are some of your future plans or exhibitions with ZieherSmith? How do you feel about the closures of the Chelsea galleries such as Roebling Hall and Clementine Gallery during these tough times? Is there a certain sense of hope within the current presidency of Obama? Any overtones with the optimism of the sixties?

Liz Markus: My second solo with ZieherSmith, “Hot Night at the Regal Beagle” opens on March 19th.  I think it’s important to stay positive during this time.  It doesn’t help anyone to bemoan the “sad state of the nation.” The fact that Barack Obama is president gives me tremendous hope and optimism.

qi peng: What trends do you see are forthcoming within the contemporary art world? How would place your paintings and works on paper within the overall context of art history? What is the overall tenor and conceptual drive shown within your artwork?

Liz Markus: It’s hard for me to answer this question as it’s impossible for me to predict what other artists will do.  I don’t think it’s for me to say where I fit within the overall context of art history.  I’ll leave that to the art historians. I don’t want to appear evasive,  but I think something like the overall tenor and drive of my work is something best left to the audience.  I make paintings because I want to express things that cannot be expressed in words.

qi peng: How would define the ‘hipness factor’ within the world of contemporary art? Is it possible to have a ‘good-looking’ work and still have it retain a lot of conceptual depth that provokes the viewer into being able to step out their everyday life and to examine themselves, as Socrates would have suggested? Why do art critics distrust art that ‘looks too good and slick?’

Liz Markus: I guess this is a question about aesthetics.  I think whether work looks “slick” or not has nothing to do with whether or not it is a good piece.  It’s like apples and oranges.  I’ve never noticed critics distrusting work that “looks too good and slick” any more than they distrust work that is red and not green.

qi peng: What has been your experience at art fairs? Do you have any memories of art that you saw there? How do you think that art fairs can help out in the career development of artists who are starting out within this venture?

Liz Markus: It’s great to be able to see so much work at one time, but also overwhelming.  Nevertheless there are always works that stick with you when you leave.  As an artist shown at art fairs, I think it’s been a great way to introduce my work to a broad audience.

qi peng: Is there an underlying narrative structure within your paintings? Who would be the characters within a Liz Markus ‘novel?’ What accounts for the choices of colors that could on a superficial level resemble those of tie-dye T-shirts?

Liz Markus: My work is non-narrative but at times refers to specific people and time periods. I am not concerned with narrative but rather with visual associations.  While the color in my work has always been intuitive, at times it reflects the subject of my paintings, be it psychedelia or Nancy Reagan.

qi peng: Living within the New York area, do you have any favorite restaurant or hang-out spots that you would like to recommend to the people here? What things do you like about the places that you just recommended?

Liz Markus: I love the Bedouin Tent in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Besides having amazing Middle Eastern food, including fresh pita bread, it has a lovely garden in the summer.

qi peng: Would you like to recommend a ten song playlist, from your studio time, for fans of your artwork? I think that it would provide a lovely insight into what your background is like while you are focused on the act of painting.

Liz Markus: While I was working on the hippie series I listened to a lot music from the 60’s and 70’s like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, America, Buffalo Springfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Country Joe & the Fish.  Now I’ve opened it up and listen to a variety of music, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Silverchair and Kings of Leon.  But what I probably listen to most is NPR.

qi peng: Are there any recent exhibitions or new artists that you have seen and were impressed by? What were the elements that got your attention? How did you respond to the works emotionally?

Liz Markus: As I said before I loved the Bonnard show at the met as well as the Xylor Jane show at Canada.  They utilize color in very different ways.  Bonnard’s seems to be about intuition and memory while Jane’s is based on math and systems of color.  I’m not sure what emotion I was having in front of the paintings, perhaps love.

qi peng: Where are some places that you dream about visiting someday? What are the things that you enjoy about these choices that you made here? How does the theme of travel enter within the world of your canvases?

Liz Markus: There are many places I would like to visit.  I’d love to go to Spain to see the Prado, the Grand Canyon to learn about scale and Southeast Asia to have what I believe would be a radically different experience of life from the one I have in New York.  The theme of travel does not figure prominently in my work.

qi peng: Is there anything else that you wish to share with your fans and the readers here before we leave the scene?

Liz Markus: Thank you!

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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