#VOZWOMAN | Jaime Lee Kirchner
VOZWoman is proud to feature the debut of Jaime Lee Kirchner’s paintings. Kirchner is an actor who is best known for her roles on television—The Mob Doctor, Just Legal, Mercy, Rescue Me, CSI, and Bull—but this bright star is also an accomplished dancer, singer, and painter. In this exclusive photoshoot with VOZ, she opens up and shares her visual art with the world for the first time.
Kirchner was born in Germany, grew up in Tennessee, and was trained as an actor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. In our interview we asked about her views on beauty and style, but what we gained was a glimpse into the magic and mysticism that undergird her creative work.
You are known as an actor, but you are also a dancer, singer, and painter. Tell us about your creative background. How has creativity shaped your life?
I had a rough childhood and in hindsight acting, singing, dancing and acting were master class outlets for my emotional development. Creating visual art was always something I did solely for my own peace of mind. I kept it for myself.
I discovered the musical Rent when I was fifteen. That show would be a guiding force in my creative life for over ten years. I was obsessed with playing the character Mimi Marquez brilliantly originated by Daphne Rubin-Vega. She was a rockstar badass with this child-like vulnerability. I had never really seen an actress in a lead role in a musical who I kind of looked like. I was twenty-five when I realized my dream of playing Mimi, both in the national tour and on Broadway. Rent was a deeply cathartic and healing show, as the score and the staging demanded I radiate every ounce of my emotional energy.
However, once I had fulfilled that dream, I found myself at the end of a chapter. I wasn’t finding anything inspiring on that deep level and I hadn’t dreamed of wanting anything beyond Rent, so I was forced to start looking deeper. I spent a lot of time doing commercials and music videos and TV shows, but I always dropped into something more abstruse and pure in myself whenever I took the time and space to paint.
In this photo shoot with VOZ you are sharing your paintings for the first time. Tell us about what inspired you to share your paintings now. Tell us a little bit about how you discovered VOZ and how you came to become a part of our story.
After I booked the role of ex-FBI investigator Danny James on the CBS show BULL, all of my art went into storage. My art sat in storage for about two years until the auspicious day I found myself drawn to the VOZ website in a pop-up ad on Facebook. I fell in love with everything, the clothes, the vibe, the essence of the women wearing the clothes. There was one particular section featuring this stunning older woman with a shock of white hair posing like a boss in these sculptural VOZ pieces. She was the definition of New York City cool. I wanted to exude that kind of freedom and authenticity like that woman in that photoshoot.
I called VOZ hoping to get help with an order and as fate would have it the voice on the phone said, “I’m Jasmine, the designer.” I was so excited! When does the designer of anything ever pick up the phone?! I went on to share that I was an artist and that I had a few garments that I had hand-sewn and dyed, and how inspired I was by her clothing line and the woman featured with the white hair. Jasmine was so warm and equally curious about me. She happened to be in town for the next few days and suggested we do a photoshoot collaboration with some of my art and clothing designs. I felt the universe had just given me the reason to finally open those boxes and get my art out of storage! It was finally time to be Jaime Kirchner, artist.
You were born in Nuremberg, Germany, but grew up in Tennessee. Do you have specific cultural affiliations? How do they manifest in your work?
My father is white (German) and my mother is black. I have always felt a connection to Germany. The Black Forest area especially, the fairytale lore, the beautiful countryside. My German grandmother, Grandma Wandy, was an artist. She was so kind and magical and she always had a flare and sparkle to her work. She’d do whimsical, silly things like crochet entire outfits for the plastic honey bear jars she would save.
As a little girl, I would visit her in Missouri and we would go on long walks and talk spiritual things. She would pick these white wild flowers and we would put them in food coloring and water and watch the white petals absorb all the colors. Grandma Wandy was a great supporter of my belief in “the unseen forces of light,” in the magic of nature, and in taking myself seriously as an artist. She helped cultivate my confidence and told me that it was okay to be “weird.’’
I have only recently started to explore my black side, although I do find myself being drawn to this curious black woman spirit who seems to be a runaway slave that pops into a lot of my work. She wears a white Victorian dress and is usually faceless. I have always had an affinity with the Victorian era. There is a photo I found recently of me in my baptism dress that is alarmingly similar to the one this phantom spirit wears. Maybe it’s a past life I’m channeling. She continues to visit me in my work, so we’ll have to see if she reveals more of herself.
Are there any specific themes that resonate throughout your work, both as an actor and as a painter?
The mystical, the ephemeral, the unseen forces of light and dark, the spirit world, the dream-like, frustration, being trapped, seeking, exposing the truth, beauty, and child abuse.
Films like The Matrix, Amelie, Fur, The Shape of Water, and the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale have such realized and rich visual aesthetics. I would love to experience what it would be like to act in such visually specific and creative worlds.
There was a time when I was always in a hospital, either playing a nurse or a doctor on TV or in real life, taking care of my mother. I did a photoshoot during that time the magazine gave me the tagline of“the healer.” That felt like a wink from the universe, because I’m very drawn to the healing arts.
I don’t look for anything to paint specifically but sometimes images come to mind when I’m journaling or trying articulate a feeling. When words fail in translating a feeling, I usually sketch it out. Sometimes it’s something literal like a quick sketch capturing a sweet moment of my sleeping cat curled up on the bed and sometimes it’s a flash of something strange like a golden monkey sitting on the shoulder of a black woman with buzzed hair. That’s an actual painting of mine. It sounds bizarre in words but once I allow myself to paint it out it totally made sense.
My medium is usually determined by what best expresses the message. Sometimes it’s an acrylic painting or a hand-sewn dress with fabric that I’ve dyed to look like the texture of rose petals. Sometimes it’s wood glue and tracing paper that I use to create a delicate paper-mache-like material that replicates the folds of sculpted marble. The best feeling is when the urge to create an image is so strong and so demanding, that wild horses couldn’t keep you from it. There’s no force. It just happens.
What are the main sources of inspiration that you draw from, and how do you tie them all together?
I am attracted to that which draws back the curtain and exposes something as it really is. That can be art or an argument that triggers uncomfortable emotions, a scene in a movie where they actually show something sexual or gruesome or private that’s usually only suggested and left to the viewer’s imagination.
I am inspired by the divine spark that guides you to create something that didn’t exist before. The divine flash of excitement that snakes up your soul, into your brain, out your eyes and into your hands, and lets you believe you can actually bring the ephemeral into form.
A little touch of dark humor goes a long way to ignite the creative spark. I always wished I was a little more wily like Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He really got the tone of that right.
Anthony Kiedis and the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought me back to life after a long period of painter’s block. Anthony, the epic poet rockstar, exuded this massive irreverent life force and sexual energy. He was unabashedly himself, dangerously free. It chokes me up thinking about it, because I so longed to feel free like that. His spirit and the band’s music really touched me and helped light up my heart.
How would you describe the type of work you do?
I am a soul essence visual artist, a term coined by my spiritual guide, Astrid Moore. At my best, I seek to create artwork through which the viewer can gain deeper insight into themselves that may prove helpful or illuminating in some way.
Sometimes I see a photograph of someone and feel this need to paint it simply as it is. Then I’ll find out later that the person in the photo recently died. Tuning into the portrait I get subtle messages and sometimes insight into why I was called to bring out that person’s essence. Sometimes I can share the message with someone I paint and it’s a healing for them or sometimes the messages are solely for me and my own growth.
When I allow myself to tune in, paintings emerge that don’t make sense at first but slowly start to tell a story and show me where to take them, if I listen. A lot of times I’ll over-paint something, because my little brain doesn’t understand what’s trying to reveal itself. But If I’m really listening, the painting tells me where to go
How would you describe your personal style? What are your favorite pieces?
I am a Leo and Leos have trunks! I have an eclectic variety of clothing, from a see-through beaded dress to fancy gowns, from Bergdorf Goodman to an army camouflage jacket from Marshalls that I covered with patches. I’m a little bit 90s grunge, meets tomboy, meets romantic vintage, turn of the century, Free People fairy clothes.
My look, my hair, changes every day based on how I feel. I have some one-of a-kind handmade jewelry from a woodland fairy of a woman named Irina and her shop Irinasburg here in NYC. Her work is like something out of a mermaid’s treasure chest! My friend Bell convinced me to buy a Rachel Comey tiger striped jacket that goes just goes with everything. I’m really a mix of commercial stores, thrift stores, vintage stores and fancy stores. There’s even a little latex and some crotchless fishnets in there.
Is there an object you always have in your house or studio?
I keep a Santa figurine out all year. I have Christmas lights in my bathroom, in my apartment, and all over my dressing room. The right lighting is important to me. I burn palo santo wood. My favorite scent is amber nobile by the French company, Mad Et Len, but you can’t get it anymore.
I have a lot of postcards and greeting cards that I’ve collected over the years. One of my favorites says, “If you were waiting for a sign... this is it.” I tend to create a space and leave it for a while, then on a whim I’ll take everything off the walls and put it all in a box and change it up completely. It’s important to shake up the energy in your space.
What is the most difficult part of your work?
As a painter, the hardest part is dealing with my own self-doubt as well as the awful and pointless trap of comparing myself or my work to everyone else’s. I paint in my little one bedroom apartment and I find I mute my flow and contain my energy to keep my space tidy when really I long for a studio space to get wild in. There’s definitely paint on everything and coffee cups share space with the paintbrushes.
The most difficult part of being an actor on TV has been working in environments with close-minded and uncreative people. Not everyone wants to play and explore and use their imagination. It’s hard for me to be in a box of any kind. It’s a challenge to give myself permission be nebulous and take whatever time it takes for something to click.
What do you dream about?
I dream about what it would be like to meet more like-minded people and what it would look like to fully and completely be myself in a creative environment. I dream about what it would be like to really relax. I dream about why God brings certain people together and whether one day I’ll get to play Mrs. Lovett in a production of Sweeney Todd.
What brings you the most joy?
Time alone with a well-stocked refrigerator and new episodes of my favorite TV shows. A long hot shower. A well made cup of coffee. Walking through an art supply store or a fabric store. A conversation with someone who's in a good mood. My cat. Finding a gift for someone that they will totally love. The freedom to do what I want with my day and those moments where I really trust myself.
How would you define beauty?
I mean there’s superficial beauty. That tends to be conditional. Beauty has a ring to it. Like salt in a dish. You know it when you taste it and everyone’s pallet is different. As I get older I’m less interested in beauty and more interested in how something makes me feel. There are some really shitty and boring beautiful people in the world and some really unnecessary beautiful objects. But if I had to simply define beauty I would say beauty is something that for a split second holds you totally captive and gives you a rush of lust. Even if it’s just a really well-made sandwich. Beauty makes you feel desire. >
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ll be 42! I hope I’m a better painter. I hope I am in love. I hope I am doing creative work I really want to do. I hope I have a lifestyle that lets me have a large dog or two!
What advice do you have for young women artists?
’Stick your tongue out and growl at those who try to tame you with guilt, shame and fear.” — Alana Fairchild
Styled by Jose Miguel Dao