Lena Dunham’s Hobby Is Painting Portraits of Kate Moss and Other Inspiring Women. Now She’s Showing Them for the First Time
The works will be on sale next month and proceeds will go to charity.
As the daughter of contemporary artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons, Lena Dunham has fine art running through her veins. But until now, the producer, director, actress, and writer has focused her energies on film, television, and the written word. That changes next month when Dunham debuts a new body of watercolors in a group exhibition, “Xplodir,” at New Orleans’s Red Truck Gallery, a folk art-influenced outfit that focuses on emerging and mid-career artists.
“I’m expecting people to be total dicks about this,” Gabriel Shaffer, Red Truck’s gallery director and curator, told artnet News. “I’m also expecting people to really excited.” He describes Dunham’s paintings as “folk art/art brut-inspired portraits, with the most amazing titles ever.” Although “her work is literally in its infancy,” Shaffer added, “as far as I can tell, Lena Dunham has been an artist her entire life.”
The show came about organically, after Dunham purchased works from the gallery by Penelope Gazin and Kristen Reichert. “Lena originally approached us as a collector,” said Shaffer. Like Dunham, he’s the child of an artist, folk artist Cher Shaffer. “That’s how our friendship bonded.”
Dunham first shared photographs of her new artwork on Instagram in February, writing: “I’m coming out of the closet as a passionate watercolor hobbyist, one whose favorite subjects are complicated women,” listing as examples Kay Kasparhauser, Mia Farrow, Mariah Carey, and Kate Moss. She also named “New York school painters like Grace Hargtigan [sic], Helen Frankenthakrr [sic] and the like. And who can blame me? To behold and translate them is healing.”
The 32-year-old made headlines last year when she underwent an elective hysterectomy, and some months later, an additional procedure to remove her left ovary. During her ten-year battle with chronic pelvic pain—which saw her undergo 12 surgeries in total—Dunham was diagnosed with both endometriosis and fibromyalgia.
“She has been using painting as a means of recovery and coping with pain from health related issues,” Shaffer explained. The exhibition of Dunham’s work is a chance to “open up a larger conversation about art as therapy, for women who use the creative process as a means of survival, recovery, healing, and growth. This is important to me as a curator to find platforms for shows that actually serve a greater purpose beyond vanity and commodity.”
To that end, all proceeds from the sales of Dunham’s work will go toward Friendly House LA, a rehab center for women in Los Angeles. “We will be entertaining serious inquires only,” Shaffer said. “I’m not at liberty to discuss the prices.”
The gallery is located in the heart of the French Quarter, and Shaffer expects at least a thousand visitors to stop by for the opening, during New Orlean’s Jazzfest weekend.
In the exhibition, Dunham’s portraits, including one of Chelsea Handler that she gave to the comedian as a gift, will be joined by miniature “dieoramas” of murder scenes by Abigail Goldman and collages by Moon Patrol, Seth Clark, and Jay Riggio, among works by other artists. Dunham and Shaffer also plan to team up and curate a larger exhibition later in the year, said the gallerist: “We’re thinking about it as an all-women, kind of crazy salon show.”
Dunham’s work with the gallery represents a definite shift in direction for the author, who in 2016 said that “I will leave artmaking to the rest of the family,” insisting that “I don’t think anyone would want to come to my gallery show.”
Shaffer disagrees. “Lena has the ability to have a really powerful voice and draw attention to the issues of endometriosis and fibromyalgia,” he said. “I’m very interested to see how she interacts with the medium as her skills grow stronger and she develops her voice. It’s really exciting to watch this unfold.”
See more images of Dunham’s work from Instagram, and from the exhibition, below.
“Xplodir” is on view at Red Truck Gallery, 940 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, May 3–10, 2019. The opening reception is May 3, 7 p.m.–10 p.m.
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