As an actress, Lucy Liu is accustomed to baring her soul before millions every week – but the Elementary star has been moonlighting on a passion project that even she considers incredibly “intimate,” and she’s also finally ready to reveal what’s been going on behind the scenes for the last few years.
On Wednesday, Liu unveils decades of her art – which she has been curating for more than two years – on lucyliu.net. The collection has inspirations as wide-ranging as 9/11 and modern-day slang, and Liu tells PEOPLE, “Ultimately I think it is about sharing – it’s about being in an experience.”
Despite her very public career, Liu admits she hesitated to expose herself in such a way with this exhibition. She ultimately decided that “it’s important to let go of that [discomfort]” and is now exclusively sharing the stories behind a few of her pieces – not to mention a little Elementary scoop – with PEOPLE.
As a native New Yorker, Liu finds personal significance in the events of Sept. 11, 2001, but she also recognizes the universality of that day. She spent “a very long time” on Velocity because “I just felt like it was important for me to basically understand what happened from all perspectives and why people did what they did.”
She says, “That’s why I ended up stitching it because it takes a great deal of time to sew – on canvas no less. I created a cityscape that was somewhat generic in order to say that this was possible anywhere and that this is a universal piece – it’s not just New York-based.”
Beyond the stitching, the mixed-media piece is scrawled with words depicting narratives Liu, 46, imagined from that morning and its aftermath. It is a 360-degree work meant to be viewed front and back. For Liu, the piece evolved her own understanding of the reality that “everybody has a certain belief, and it’s not something they can change, and that’s what that piece is about. There are a lot of memorials in the back, as well. It’s about forgiveness.”
Liu created Flag after attending a 1992 Pro Choice march in Washington, D.C. “For me, as a witness being there [this piece] is a memory,” she says. When a friend suggested she exhibit her art, including Flag, Liu’s first instinct was to think, “Oh, that’s such an uncomfortable thought to take something that’s so intimate and put it out there.”
Ultimately, Liu says, “I’m glad I did because it’s important to share your work. You can’t just hold it for yourself.”
Sorry, Not Sorry
Liu says her silkscreen works “are very relationship-oriented, not just love relationships all of it, so there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek in terms of the titling. It’s very simple: You’re sorry, but you’re not sorry because it happened, and something else came of it. One thing happens, and it opens the door to another thing.”
The thread continues in another piece called Slam the Door, drawn from the spontaneous interactions she’s seen on the streets of New York: “You see things sort of unraveling,” she says, “and it’s kind of unbelievable to see these things unfold right in front of your eyes.”
While Liu’s own door is opening as an artist, the life of her character Joan Watson is currently unraveling. Still reeling from the death of her boyfriend Andrew (Homeland‘s Raza Jaffrey), Watson will encounter family drama on Thursday’s episode of the CBS procedural.
Having moved back into the brownstone with her partner in crimesolving Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), Watson is about to embark on an “unhealthy” stretch: “What makes Joan special is that she’s not Sherlock. That she starts to become more and more like him is not going to be a good balance for both of them.”
Liu says, “Watson finding her balance again is going to be a journey for her until the finale – and probably in the next season, too.”
That said, even though Liu admits her character “has to pull herself together a little bit … the not pulling herself together is going to be interesting, too.”
Elementary airs Thursdays (10 p.m. ET) on CBS, and Liu’s work is available to view on lucyliu.net.