Liu has actually been making art since she was a teenager. Unknown to many of her fans, the 50-year-old superstar maintains a studio practice alongside her work in Hollywood.
Liu’s first works of art were photographs and collages, which she started producing in the 1980s while growing up in Queens where she would often roam the New York City streets with a camera. One of her earliest photo series captured a pro-choice march in Washington, D.C.
After studying art at the New York Studio School, she turned to painting and has been showing her work since the mid-1990s, reports The Hollywood Reporter. At the time, she signed her work using her Chinese name, Yu Ling.
“I felt like I wasn’t able to express fully what I wanted with the photographs,” Liu was quoted as saying about her transition from cameras to paintbrushes.
According to Liu, painting allows her to do more as her work didn’t have to meet certain expectations.
“Everyone has a different format for how they want to reveal what they are thinking, or what they are seeing, to the audience,” she explained. “I just had to let go of the audience and just started thinking about what I wanted to see.”
Liu has also experimented with other media, occasionally dabbling into sculpture, silkscreen and textiles. Among her favorite artists includes Willem de Kooning, Agnes Martin and Robert Frank.
Despite her lack of a traditional art school background early on, she noted that this helped her to naturally evolve and experiment as an artist.
“Because we were an immigrant family and I am first-generation, I always had this imbalance of belonging,” she tells Artsy in an interview. “I think at first it was the language barrier, not speaking English, but then it started becoming about how I look.”
“I think that art helps evaluate some of the psychology of yourself as a child, and to illuminate some things you may never have understood.”
In 2006, Liu started exhibiting her work with one-off gallery shows in both New York and LA, as well as Miami and the U.K., Germany, Finland and Canada. Only in 2011 did she start exhibiting her work under the name Lucy Liu.
Earlier this year, Liu presented her work in a museum exhibition for the first time via “Unhomed Belongings,” a two-person show at the National Museum of Singapore which also featured Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao. She described the exhibit as the most significant moment as an artist that she has ever had.
Liu’s art dealer, Daniel Chen, says her pieces usually fetch between $10,000 and $50,000.
“Yes, people will have preconceived notions,” Chen noted referring to Liu’s fame outside the world of fine arts. “But once they see the physical art in front of them, they’re going to have a reaction separate from that. The work is strong enough to stand on its own.”
Liu, who currently creates her art pieces in a studio at the sprawling art facility Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ, lives in Manhattan with her 3-year-old son, Rockwell.