Jackie Liu’s celebrity portraits reflect the ups and downs of 2020
A teenager is taking the world of celebrity portraits by storm. Jackie Liu is a self-taught, 17-year-old artist who’s become known on Instagram for her paintings of big names, from the late rapper Mac Miller to pop music star Billie Eilish.
Recently, Jackie’s work has reflected the trials of 2020. In an homage to health care workers on the front lines of COVID-19, she created a painting of two gloved hands stretching toward each other, similar to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. She calls the work Six Feet.
Other works that capture the unfortunate milestones of this year include a portrait of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were both killed by police officers, and actor Chadwick Boseman, who died in August of colon cancer.
Like many, Jackie said she was shocked to hear of the Black Panther star’s passing. She looked to art, as she always does, as an outlet to express how she was feeling.
“It’s always jarring to realize that celebrities – larger-than-life figures whom we often elevate to the status of deities – are human, too,” she said. “The work he did as an actor was incredibly important, bringing life to his roles as Black heroes. He was a hero himself. Painting him felt like a fitting way to honor him.”
When we sat down (virtually) with Jackie last week, we asked her a few other questions about what inspires her and what keeps her creating. Check out what she said below.
Artistic Fuel: What inspires your artwork, from your abstract work to celebrity portraits?
I think often of my insignificance. I am but a mere speck in the space-time continuum, microscopic and transient. The grand machinations of the universe don’t care about me. To me, the act of creation thus serves as an extension of my ephemerality, a physical documentation of self. Evidence that I was here.
On a smaller scale, creating art feels like an act of rebellion against our fast-paced, consumption-crazed society, a radical declaration of individuality. We are bombarded with information, products, services at a tempo so suffocating we often forget to breathe. But painting forces me to do just that: breathe. The placement of each stroke requires pause and introspection. Painting allows me to resist being swept up the current, to instead forge my own oasis of tranquility. Thus is the ethos that guides me: creation over consumption.
On a personal level, painting perpetually challenges me and beckons growth – it often seems like a partnership, both chronicling and catalyzing my personal development. Visual expression is a language entirely of its own; such conceptualization forces me to seek nuance and multidimensionality both within and without. Through my art, I try to distill meaning from the chaos of life, to pose, understand, and perhaps answer questions – ranging from the personal to the metaphysical, microscopic to the macroscopic, fleeting to the enduring – to help me determine my place in the world.
A|F: Tell us about your artistic style?
I often use unconventional, saturated colors and gold leaf to elevate the quotidian and to infuse elements of escapism. My strokes are both loose and controlled, mirroring the simultaneous adventure and caution I employ in the exploration of life. Almost all the art I make is ultimately self-reflection – a personal rendition of personal worldview. However, by leaving sufficient room for interpretation, I often try to generalize my pieces to the collective human experience.
A|F: What’s keeping you motivated in 2020:
Creation keeps me sane. I’ve found myself with unprecedented time on my hands, so art was the first thing I jumped to after neglecting it for so long. It’s given me direction and purpose during these crazy times.
Keep up with Jackie’s work
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.