Born in Ventura, California, Lia Cook studied theater at San Francisco State Universtiy before receiving her B.A. and M.A. degrees (1965 and 1973 respectively) at the Universtiy of California, Berkeley. The recipient of five National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships and numerous other awards, since 1975 she has taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.
Cook combines painting and weaving to create unique woven paintings in which textiles are both subject and object. She constructs her sumptuously colored aind intricately patterned wall hangings from flat strips of painted abaca paper and dyed rayon. Since the late 1980s, she has deliberately employed pictorial imagery of draped fabric in her weavings, hoping to redress the current undervaluation of fabric in our culture and, through the sensory suggestion of touch, emphasize its direct connection with human experience.
Kenneth R. Trapp and Howard Risatti Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)
For Lia Cook, cloth is “both mundane and extraordinary.” The recipient of many national and international fellowships and awards, Cook has been creating expressive “woven paintings” for years, but has recently developed themes that comment on icons of art history. Appropriating figures and motifs from the Venetian schools, Old Master paintings and the Bible, Cook puts them in a contemporary context on a computer-aided hand loom. She dyes silk cords, paints linen threads and weaves them together, combining direct hand-processes with computer technology.
Despite the involvement of man-made technology, the figures Cook paints seem to live and breathe from their poses in silk, rayon and abaca (banana plant fiber). In Point of Touch: Bathsheba, hidden hands reach out to touch the woman pressing the sumptuous cloth to her skin. “Those hands woven into the cloth underscore the notion of tactility and the sensuousness of the point of touch,” said Jeremy Adamson, Renwick Gallery curator. “Cook has developed new ways of looking at cloth, and by weaving in feminist messages, she’s created lush textures with multiple levels of meaning.”
Cook, a resident of Berkeley, Calif., designs 3‑D images that demonstrate the variety of differences in our perceptions of fabric. While the painted cloth drapes in Cook’s “Material Pleasures” series look fluid and caressing, the sharpest lines of the images are softened by abstract patterns that embrace the form.
“I create sensual and complex works that focus on the meaning of cloth and what that suggests about being human and vulnerable,” said Cook, who has studied textiles and lectured around the globe. “I’m attracted not only to the physical properties of woven cloth, but the meaning of textiles in a variety of cultures throughout history.”
Lia Cook: Material Allusions exhibition(Washington D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1996)