Jemima has by now become widely known for her role as “Jessa” on HBO’s series “Girls”, but her intrinsic identity is as the artist in her studio, painting idiosyncratic oil on canvas portraits of friends and family.
She was recently named one of Forbe Magazine’s “30 under 30” for Art and Style, affirming that success in one creative endeavor need not preclude success in another.
The portraits share a particular sensibility with “Girls” in their sympathetic portrayal of young people with pronounced personality, quirks, and weakness as well as fundamental humanity, carefully, even lovingly depicted. A shared thematic perspective runs through Kirke’s portraits. The sitters somehow embody – with their varied, often dour expressions – vulnerability, frustration and suppressed longing thinly disguised beneath cool faux-sophisticated facades. Empathy is the distinguishing feature, one that imbues them with both dignity and life. They exist in depth, not just as marks on the surface. It is impressive to see how effective Kirke has been in creating a unifying mood as she transforms observation and insight into painted image. Part of her method is her attention to physical flaws, imperfections, which she describes as “part of our individuality”. She abandons the traditional goal of rendering the subject “accurately” and aims for “capturing her presence in the room, her expressions, our relationship”. This willingness to reinterpret the idea of “likeness” is an important element of Kirke’s portraiture. Her work is about expressing individual human qualities and relationships. In this she succeeds, bringing along a welcome and refreshing shift of focus in current art trends.
This essay has been adapted from a longer version written by Paul Karlstrom, Former West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
Jemima Kirke: New paintings
Opening reception for the artist
Friday March 21st, 6 to 8pm. RSVP required.
Show is on view until May 10th, 2014