Jemima Kirke is “methodical and serious as a painter, but if Jessa had a show, she might not have shown up,” says Holly Fouladi, the owner of Fouladi Projects in San Francisco, where the British-American “Girls” star will unveil her second solo exhibition of oil portraiture, “Platforms.” Comparisons are easy to make. The 28-year-old shares a number of commonalities with her character Jessa Johansson on the HBO series: a best friend in Lena Dunham (or Hannah Horvath); the flung-on, bohemian insouciance; that penchant for an American Spirit after dinner.
The Rhode Island School of Design alumna, who calls herself an artist first, actress second, is cautiously aware of the “specialness” of her situation, but reasons, “if someone was willing to show my work now, I don’t really care why. I’m honored to have the platform.” For the past few years, when Kirke hasn’t been shooting, she’s been painting in the basement-cum-studio of her Carroll Gardens brownstone, which she shares with husband Michael Mosberg and their two toddlers, Memphis Jack and Rafaella. She moves quickly, in real-time, and describes the process as ultimately finding some other perspective than what she sees in front of her. “It’s like a crapshoot,” she says.
While Kirke credits Edouard Manet and Lucian Freud as major influences, it was her “typical, Jewish sort” of mother (Lorraine Kirke, the owner of the West Village vintage boutique Geminola) who nurtured young Jemima’s artistic spark at a young age. “The moment she saw that I was able to render flowers, or colored in well, she wanted that for me,” she recalls, describing how Lorraine turned the wine cellar of their home in England into a white-walled art studio for her 8-year-old daughter to use.
“Platforms” will feature seven canvasses of all-female subjects, a common theme with the 30-odd pieces the artist has already sold in her career. (Kirke chalks up her gender preference to an intimacy thing: “I’m going to be more inclined to tell a woman, ‘Would you mind taking your clothes off?’ I’m pretty standard that way.”) Not surprisingly, there’s a focus on nubility and girls of a certain age: past sitters have included friends like Dunham, Liv Tyler and Annabelle Dexter-Jones. For this catalogue, she’s showing nudes of her actress sister Lola Kirke and her Pilates and fitness trainer, Cadence Dubus, but also more innocent clothed portraits of little girls, like her 3-year-old daughter. Here, she offers an exclusive peek at some of her works that will be on view.
“This is the first painting I’ve ever done of my daughter. Ever since I’ve had children, I’ve become a bit of an existentialist. As soon as she came out of me, I thought, ‘What have I done?’ She’s so exposed and vulnerable. I can’t protect her from her journey. I can’t control it. I don’t want to. So, what I tried to bring out in this painting is that lonesomeness that begins as soon as we are born. There is a distance in her eyes and expression because she is so mysterious to me. I’m still getting to know her. It’s very physically dark, this piece, and darker than the rest. This isn’t a painting about Rafa; rather, it’s a painting about being a parent.” “Rafa,” 2013.
“Lena is a spiritual healer and medium. We’ve worked together in the past, and she reads my energy from time to time. Here, I wanted to see what it would be like to turn the tables and to read her. What came out is that powerful and disconcerting gaze of hers. I find that most people who look at that one find her eyes rather alarming — almost intrusive.” “Lena F.,” 2013.
“I’ve painted Lola many times. But, this one actually started out as a portrait of a different girl, in the exact same pose. I didn’t continue with her as the model because scheduling didn’t work out, so I decided to put Lola in her place. It was a very curious process; filling in the blanks of the painting with a totally different model. It’s pretty eerie, and there is something alien about it — the composite of two people.” “Lola,” 2012.
“Cadence is the only woman I let train me, because she actually has the figure I want. I’m in awe of her body, so I was desperate to get her naked and paint her. She has the classic figure for a nude painting: strong and full with soft curves. Her skin is so pale. She looks like a Victorian fairy painting, but it was her confidence and her sexuality that came out of this portrait. Her willingness to sit in a less than flattering position and still remain powerful and super feminine. She is my Olympia!” “Cadence,” 2013.
“This is the daughter of a friend of mine. She is 6 years old and was not in the least bit uncomfortable with me painting her. Most kids aren’t, and naturally, they are actually quite bored by the process. But, what was interesting about Sasha is that she actually seemed to understand why I was painting her. She showed up in a beautiful white dress that she picked out herself, and had a lot of say in how she posed for the painting. She even helped me decide which size canvas. We really worked together on this one and took each other seriously. I was interested in her maturity and her poise.” “Sasha,” 2013.
“I particularly like this one. It’s short and sweet; a one-hitter. I can’t say how much it resembles the sitter, but I wanted it be somewhat sexy and at the same time, very unappealing. I think that part happens in the eyes; they are quite dead here.” “Sarabeth,” 2013.
“This is my friend Elaine, sitting on my bed. I like that she is naked with her glasses on. And, I find it interesting that even though she’s nude, there’s something very asexual about her. This painting was a bit of an experiment with color and space; I actually paid more attention to the room around her than the figure itself.” “Elaine on Bed,” 2013.