A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, the married Brooklynite has tried many artistic media, but is currently focused on oil on canvas portraits, and has now detoured into playing free-spirited Jessa on HBO’s much buzzed-about drama Girls. Directed by her friend and high school classmate Lena Dunham, Kirke wowed audiences with a surprise wedding on the first season’s finale, and is now causing speculation about how her second pregnancy will be written into the show. At first, acting proved to be a dilemma for Kirke. “I hated it,” she admits. “I hadn’t established myself as a painter, not just in the outside world, but inside. Here I am doing something that’s bigger than anything I’ve ever done as an artist, and that could sabotage things for me.” With shooting for the second season underway, Kirke has become more comfortable with the role of actor. “I don’t think that I’m the best or great in any way, but I know how to do this character. I have confidence with this girl.”
But it’s painting portraits that still commands her attention. “When someone comes in and they sit down with you, you get your first impression, but if you’re really paying attention all these other traits start to come out. It’s like an X-ray, but not as black and white. It’s a kind of magic.”
Another role Kirke has embraced is motherhood. Of being a mom to one-year-old daughter Rafaella, she says, “When you’re not the only person you have to think about, you suddenly grow 10 years—in a good way. I do feel sometimes that there’s this freedom I don’t have that [my castmates] have and they can’t really understand what it’s like until they’re a mother, too. Sometimes I miss it, but not enough to want to be back there.” Although the grand success of Girls has launched Kirke and her castmates into the national spotlight ever since the show’s inaugural episode this past April, Kirke doesn’t seem fazed. She smiles graciously when a woman seated near us at a Brooklyn café gushes that she and her fiancé are huge fans.
For her burgeoning studio artist practice, Kirke is moving studios soon and has plans for another gallery show. Though she describes herself as “way more neurotic” than Jessa, Kirke exhibits a carefree nature mixed with a sense of responsibility—to herself, her art, and her family. She takes her artwork seriously, but has a low-key, take-life-as-it-comes charm when speaking about herself. There’s a slightly mischievous quality to her laugh, especially when she refers to giving tattoos, as she’s done to over 50 friends, as “like doing someone’s nails.” When she’s not shooting, Kirke keeps a strict 10 to 4 schedule in her studio, to keep her grounded. “A lot of times artists fall into this way of seeing themselves as something special when this is your job, your trade—this is what you’re giving back. You’re not special. If I didn’t see it as just a job and it was just something I did when I was passionate about it, I would never paint.”
As for what the future holds, Kirke doesn’t have a plan, though she muses that she might want to live somewhere more rural than the Big Apple someday. “The best part about being young and having a family is experimenting and shifting together. If we want to pick up and go to, I don’t know, Virginia, we can.”
Photography: Eric Ray Davidson for ArtMixPhotography.com
Photography Assistants: Scott Simpson and James Stone
Styling: Erin Walsh at ErinWalsh.com
Styling Assistant: Jennifer Michalski
Hair: Lisa-Raquel for SeeManagement.com
Makeup: Munemi Imai for TheMagnetAgency.com
Manicure: Fleury Rose for ArtistsbyTimothyPriano.com
Location: ACME Studio at AcmeBrooklyn.com.