Jemima Kirke: An Artist First, Actress Second

Feature Image

British-American star Jemima Kirke, known for her role as Jessa on the fascinating HBO series Girls, is also an incredibly talented painter.

Jemima has never really seen herself as an actress. She sort of fell into it when her very close friend Lena Dunham – the writer of Girls – asked her to join the show back in 2012. Not only did she give an extremely good performance in Girls as Jessa, but she also has a gift for representing women through her fascinating oil paintings and watercolours.




She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and has been living and painting in New York since. Strongly influenced by painters Edouard Manet and Lucian Freud, her style is impulsive and raw. She tends to work quickly, without preliminary work, in order let her vision yield the painting in real time.


Unlike Lucian Freud, she mainly paints portraits of women, herself, and her children. Her subject matters tend to embody a certain distance and vulnerability. Her portraits are never meant to be flattering, but rather to unveil her subjects’ true selves and personalities. We are not supposed to stare at a beautiful face but at a beautifully complicated and intricate soul.




The figure says it all. These faces become blurry, and yet familiar. Distorted, and yet beautiful. Both unsettling and satisfying. She manages to capture women in all their complexities.

“Portraiture keeps me humble. It’s simple and straightforward. There is nothing more interesting I can make up than the figure sitting right in front of me.”

– Jemima Kirke –



Jemima is a dedicated wife and mother, but on top of that, she’s also a women’s rights activist. In fact, she’s taken on female underrepresentation head-on in an original series entitled Where are the women? In collaboration with the Tate Modern in London, she tells us about the challenging role of female artists over the years, often ignored and disregarded, in a male dominated art world:

Jemima likes to open up about the difficulties of being a woman and has tackled subjects such as abortion, motherhood and marriage. In this optic, she took part in the What’s Underneath project run by mother-daughter team, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum. The aim of this project is to enable women to talk about self-acceptance while undressing themselves. It is about stripping physically and emotionally in front of the camera.

“One of the reasons I was hired for ‘Girls’ was because of a persona that I have, and some sort of brightness they wanted in the show. It wasn’t an ability I had. That made me both feel shitty about myself, and gave me a big ego.”

Jemima Kirke

So much of Jemima’s work is focused on the tyranny of appearances; people always wrongfully assume she is as carefree and detached as the character she portrays on Girls. Though therapeutic and enlightening, her artistic vision and view on freedom cannot make everyone overcome their own obstacles. She does recognise this, and has a powerful message to the self-doubters:


“You’re so much cooler than the person you’re trying so hard to be.

– Jemima Kirke –


Check out Jemima’s website for more material.



Words: Pauline Schnoebelen


Hashtags: #jemimakirke #painting #women #art #womeninart #feminism #girls  #portraits

Image sources

Feature Image

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Image 6

Image 7



No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All rights reserved 2017