Known for her roles in iconic films such as Kill Bill and Charlie's Angels, Lucy Liu is also a contemporary artist with an established practice. Her paintings, sculptures, stitched canvases, and collages have been shown internationally.Read More
Born in New York, Liu began experimenting with photography and collage when she was 15. Upon completing a B.A. in Asian Language and Culture at the University of Michigan, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Appearing in several Hollywood films from the late 1990s, Lucy Liu's movies and TV shows have since earned her multiple accolades as actress and director.
Liu's first solo exhibition, the largely photo-based Unraveling (1993), at SoHo's Cast Iron Gallery led to her receiving a grant to study at Beijing Normal University. There she deepened her engagement with her Chinese heritage and symbolism in art, before returning to Los Angeles. Returning to New York, in 2004 Liu took up painting classes at New York Studio School—the same year she became a UNICEF ambassador.
Liu's multimedia practice incorporates found objects and materials, as well as craft techniques such as sewing and wrapping with string. Through various artistic formats, she explores themes of security, redemption, tradition, and relationships.
Comprising a series of hand-stitched linen canvases, Lucy Liu's 'Totem' series (2008) explores human fragility and resilience through the form of the human spine. This visual motif is created with delicate stitches and string drawn across the canvas. It resonates with the spine's physical resilience and its ability to accumulate emotional experiences though the lasting effects personal experiences have on the body.
String is a recurring material and motif throughout Liu's practice. Inspired by the string-wrapped Congolese fetishes Liu had seen on a 2007 trip to Africa as a UNICEF ambassador, as well as the votive offerings traditionally tied to Japanese Wish Trees, string takes on a symbolic connotation of protection in her art.
Alongside her collaged constructions, the artist paints oversized erotic works on canvas inspired by traditional Japanese Shunga paintings. Colourfully painted with thick, sweeping brushstrokes, Lucy Liu's nude figures engage in sexual behavior both lesbian and heterosexual. Lucy Liu's 'Protection' series (2007–2009) encased these Shunga paintings in wooden frames made secure by a network of taut string.
In Liu's cultural upbringing, topics of the body and sexuality were taboo among her family. Liu's young self is often analysed through the lens of her paintings. Other later, less erotic, paintings such as Family Portrait (2016) are reflective of her upbringing as a first generation Chinese-American.
Lucy' Liu's 2020 virtual exhibition One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others at Napa Valley Museum, Yountville, featured her paintings in the context of her wider practice.
Lucy Liu's sculptures in wood, resin, and bronze comprise of vertically stacked forms evocative of totems and idols she saw on her 2007 African trip.
Her wooden sculptures incorporate mismatched wood offcuts sourced from a workshop in L.A. Sanded down and framed by other pieces, they are mounted on metal poles that hold together the works' vertical compositions. Their shape and texture are carried through in her later bronze works. Liu's untitled resin works (2009–2010) present birds stacked on top of one another, rising up like spinal columns in their original unpainted bone colour.
In 2013, Liu produced a series of collage books called 'Lost and Found' that incorporate a variety of found objects hidden in alcoves created within the pages. Flicking through them, the viewer comes across flattened bottle tops, discarded scrap metal fragments, feathers, plastic fish, and electrical cables, among other items.
Her found-object works were the subject of Liu's first museum show, Unhomed Belongings (2019), at the National Museum of Singapore. Her work was exhibited in dialogue with Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao, whose work also utilises found objects to dissect cultures and identities.
The artist has participated in the following select solo exhibitions: One of These Things Is Not Like the Others, Napa Valley Museum Yountville, California (2020); Totem, The Popular Institute, Manchester (2013); and Seventy Two, Salon Vert, London (2011).
Liu also participated in the following select group exhibitions: Union, Objective, Chambers Fine Art, Shanghai (2021); Unhomed Belongings, National Museum of Singapore (2019); Needlepoint, Chambers Fine Art, New York (2019); X Marks the Spot: Women of the New York Studio School, New York Studio School Gallery (2018); and The Last Brucennial, 837 Washington Street, New York (2014).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021