Artist of the Week

Liza Jo Eilers

October 13, 2022

Liza Jo Eilers (b. 1993 St. Paul, MN) lives and works in Chicago, IL. She uses painting, collage, sculpture and found objects to work through the inevitable double stake of how popular culture represents women, and its tendency to simultaneously resist and reinforce dominant ideals and values. Eilers is obsessed with the Bimbo’s power, which is heavily rooted in the failure of our society to see her hybridity. Because if we take a moment to look beyond her T&A and pretty face, the Bimbo serves as a particularly dangerous member of the resistance because she is already inside the system: a kind of erotic ghost that paradoxically works to undercut patriarchal forces. Eilers often humorously casts this discussion in terms of male dominated hobbies and spaces like sports fishing, hot rods, the man cave and the bar. Eilers graduated with a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020 and a BA in Industrial Design from the University of Notre Dame in 2015. Eilers has an upcoming solo show ‘The Care and Keeping of You’ at SULK in Chicago, IL (October 2022) and recent solo exhibitions include ‘SLUDGE’ at Rainbo Club presented by M. LeBlanc in Chicago, IL (2021) and ‘Good Friday’ (2021) at Bubblez Gallery in Chicago, curated by Lauren Sullivan and Tyson Reeder. Recent group exhibitions of Eilers’ work include ‘So You Thought This Would Be Easy’ (2022) at Weatherproof in collaboration with Kiki and Bouba Gallery in Chicago, IL; ‘Wow, Nice!’ (2022) at Racecar Factory in Indianapolis, IN; ‘NICE WORK’ (2021) curated by Jake Fagundo at SULK in Chicago, IL; ‘Long Hello’ (2020) at Green Gallery in Milwaukee, curated by Carter Foster; and ‘With A Capital P: Selection by Six Painters’ (2019) at the Elmhurst Art Museum, curated by José Lerma.

How did you get started? 

I went to Catholic school my whole life until I attended SAIC for my masters. I was always really into drawing and art class but it always came down to how to make my creative side practical. So I started in architecture in college, did that for two years until I realized I wanted to be in fashion design. Of course,, Notre Dame is way too conservative to have a fashion program, so they let me make up my major under industrial design and take whatever classes I thought were the most applicable and owe my sewing skills to come cute old ladies in South Bend.  I’d love to eventually be an old Strega Nonna who makes pasta for you and teaches you how to sew.  After I graduated, I ended up in luxury fashion consulting in New York for two and a half years and while I was in NYC, I realized that you could be an artist. I was like, “Oh my God, what the fuck? People actually care about art?” So I started painting every weekend and then eventually applied to grad school, got in and it brought me back to Chicago. I’m glad I figured my shit out. Honestly though I would still love to do collaborations in fashion and love to live vicariously through my friends who are still in that world.

“You Just Put Your Lips Together and Blow.” acrylic, rhinestones, and oil stick on canvas, 84 x 48 in, 2021

Can you tell us a bit about your show Sludge at Rainbo? I feel like that was the first time I saw the green airbrushed face attached to Liza .

My repetition of painting portraits of women started with my show at Rainbo, There were two paintings of Elle Woods and Bridget Jones side by side with HEAD HEAD scribbled across their airbrushed faces in oil stick across. By putting “head” on a woman’s head, I found it’s hard to not sexualize her immediately. You find yourself in a dilemma and the meaning of head all the sudden implicates you (the viewer).

My reason for choosing those two initially was because growing up I liked Legally Blonde and Bridget Jones’s Diary. At the time I thought they were so liberating and feminist. For better or worse I’d say my introduction to feminism was through popular culture and not school. I was also fascinated with the two movies because Bridget Jones and Elle Woods both showed up to a party that they thought was a costume party (that ended up not being a costume party at all), dressed as Playboy Bunnies. They were the fool but they figured out how to twist it in their favor. One’s a British production, one’s American and they both came out three months apart in 2001. So it was a weird collision in time. I was interested in what was going on culturally where something like this could happen. I depicted them the moment they notice that the joke’s on them. I realize Bridget Jones Diary doesn’t track as much from a feminist view today but I have to say Legally Blonde low key holds up in a lot of ways.


Elephant In The Room, Airbrush acrylic, Swarovski crystals, pearlescent ink, and colored pencil on canvas, 78 x 72 in, 2021

Can you talk about the way that you’re approaching themes of femininity through the people that you provide?

Yeah! Recently in the past couple years I have been pretty focused on the idea of the Bimbo. She embodies this hyper-femme version of the male gaze unapologetically. I like the push and pull, sometimes I think she is a super genius and sometimes I find myself disappointed because it can all seem very superficial. It definitely gets murky sometimes. I guess making these paintings is my way of working through what it means to be a Bimbo and is she successful in undermining ideas of femininity or not.


There She Goes, acrylic and gouche on canvas, 18×15, 2022

Have you seen any exhibitions recently that stood out to you?

The recent Ellen Birkenblatt show at Corbett V Dempsey. Damn. She is badass. She’s 61, making these huge ass paintings and she’s been very consistent in her content for basically her whole career. I love even after all these years, you can tell she has a lot of fun making them and theres a freedom in that that I find really inspiring. She insists on their existence by the repetition of composition and I love the confidence you feel from them …. they are exactly what they are meant to be. Completely themselves.

Can you talk about your interest in the aesthetics of the “man cave” and the boat motor that you’re building for your upcoming solo show? 

Oh man I love a good man cave, they are so freaky but i can’t help but enjoy them. It’s a space where guys decorate for themselves which I’m fascinated with. I’ve noticed men tend to hang things on the wall that they view as achievements, trophies, accolades and simply what they like. You’ll find a poster of hot girl right next to their taxidermied fish that they caught and conquered.

I guess that’s where the boat motor I have been working on comes in – historically boats are named after women or some sexual pun. You might be familiar with the boat always docked at Navy Pier, called the Anita Dee II. I’m sure you see where I’m going. But instead of having an actual boat in the show I decided I would restore an outboard boat motor myself. I’d never done anything like this before but I thought of it as giving her a little face lift and putting on some makeup. She wasn’t going to be perfect but she was going to feel beautiful and cared for. I wanted this particular motor from 1923 called the Evinrude Elto Ruddertwin Lighttwin. She’s 99 years old. It is one of the first outboard motors of the time. I specifically was looking for this model because she is curiously has a lot of womanly “parts”. It looks so much like an IUD and ovaries it’s uncanny.

PSY WGN, acrylic, Swarovski crystals, colored pencil, and collage on polypropylene paper and Rives BFK paper ,29.5 x 32 in, 2021

I remember you working on it and posting stories looking for recommendations for cleaner for rust and stuff like that. So you went on forums – what was the vibe of those forums that you found? Because I guess in my  knowledge of very niche mechanical things, you have to go to really weird old forums to find the actual info. 

So I actually found this insane great forum on The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America’s website. So I paid 40 dollars for a year membership to get access and the experience was shockingly lucrative. I posted to it looking for my motor’s 99 year old manual. I thought forsure they are gonna respond in like two or three weeks. Literally an hour later, five people had responded. Not only did they source the manual that I needed, they talked me through so many things on how best to restore certain parts, where I could get someone to 3D print a missing part. Even pointed me to this Facebook group called “The world needs more ELTOS!” It’s found it beautiful and surprising how much these old men hobbyist wanted to share and spread information. Especially in contrast to the art world. 

It’s embarrassing to think how much time I have spent cleaning out this damn motor, sanding the aluminum to make it shiny and mirror-like again. I couldn’t have done it without these old men. There was this guy Tubs, he was my ride or die go to. But he said this one thing when I was having trouble getting the aluminum to the shine the way I wanted…. “the only way to illuminate it is to sand past the impurities and the early cast aluminum makes that pointless. Most people don’t feel it’s worth the effort,  and if you find out you feel the same, it just means you’re normal.”  I was like, wow Tub’s getting all philosophical on me. But it’s cute, everyone’s like, “Send pics when you’re done… We want updates!”  It’s been interesting because I’m basically making work about these old men who are helping me, but shockingly they’re really into the work too. So it’s kind of like this duality and contradiction that I’m interested in.

What do you think about airbrush slander?

Hmm I think maybe people hate it since it’s basically intrinsically beautiful immediately when it touches the surface. It’s like a magic wand for acrylic. So that’d be my guess why people like to hate on it so much.

Since I didn’t have a traditional art background, I feel like I don’t carry some of the baggage compared to people who went to art undergrad. I’m pretty open to all mediums. I actually never had an airbrush in grad school, I honestly wish I did though looking back now. It was a commitment though that I needed a little push to pull the trigger.

Rockhead, acrylic, gouache, glitter and football helmet award decals, 15×18 in, 2022

Tell us more about your decision to focus on faces in your paintings

I really wanted it to be about their faces, their brains. This time around they are smaller and more intimate than the original HEAD paintings. I’ve been painting screenshots I took of Jennifer Coolidge from Best In Show and Pamela Anderson from Barb Wire. The reason I’ve really wanted to focus on those two is I think they embody the complex nature of the bimbo and I want to give them the attention and fuss they deserve. I’m also playing with their hair as a frame, framing their face in a literal and formal sense. Occasionally I’ll add adornments. 🙂

You paint really recognizable celebrities. How do you see your work interacting with fan art as a genre, or not interacting with it? 

Um, I’m not opposed to the idea of people viewing it as fan art. But I don’t think I approach it from that perspective. I am not just painting anyone, I’ve chosen two specific people very purposefully because they are recognizable and they represent the duality of a bimbo. Pam and Jennifer are camouflaged in plain sight. They’re part of the resistance of feminism but they’re working from the inside out. Because of this hybridity I feel Bimbos have historically been overlooked and stereotyped as a dumb blonde, and that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Interview Conducted and Edited by Lee Schulder, Sam Dybeck and Milo Christie