Hung Liu

1948Changchun, China | 2021Oakland, United States
Hung Liu — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Hung Liu, © DR

Chinese-American painter.

Hung Liu is an accomplished painter and installation artist who began her first formal art training at the age of 24 during the tumultuous Maoist regime. Upon graduating from the Beijing Teachers’ College in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in art, she continued her art training at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, receiving a master’s degree in 1981. Emigrating to the United States in 1984, H. Liu studied at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), earning another master’s degree in 1986. The two years at UCSD were transformative: she was able to explore creative freedom for the first time as her previous art training was rooted in Socialist Realism under the scrutiny of the government. H. Liu became a Professor of Art at Mills College in Oakland, California, in 1990 and retired from teaching in 2014.

Not only has H. Liu received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting twice, but in 2009 she was also named one of UCSD’s 100 Influential Alumni. In conjunction with Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, a major retrospective of her work in 2013, the Californian city of Berkeley declared 19 December 2017 to be “Hung Liu Day”. Her works are collected by both private and public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Much of H. Liu’s art begins with late 19th to mid-20th century photographs, often those capturing the history of modern Chinese women or marginalized groups. The artist uses images from the photographs, layering paint and mixed media onto the canvas and distorting elements of the image. Because of her experiences, H. Liu identifies with her subjects and challenges static narratives of history and the perceived documentary authority of photography which has enveloped the medium since its invention. She began with different Chinese subjects, often ones taken by foreign photographers. Her 1997 painting Mu Nu (Mother and Daughter) depicts the pair with barefoot and hunched over in a body of water. While not visible, the boat they are pulling upstream by ropes tied around their waists represents manual labour.

The fluidity of the paint and her loose, layered brushstrokes embodies the improvisation she learned from Allan Kaprow (1927-2006), who started the Happenings movement in 1959, while elements like her signature circle alludes to her study of Chinese calligraphy. H. Liu captured images of Chinese immigrants, like Polly Bemis (2004), which portrays Polly, who lived in Idaho, as a mythic figure surrounded by traditional Chinese motifs. In 2013, inspired by the photography of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), whom she has always admired, H. Liu began responding to images of the American Dust Bowl, a bleak ecological disaster that coincided with the Great Depression in the 1930s. These paintings use a newer technique in which she maps the photograph with coloured topographic lines, creating a rich environment for the subjects who were destitute.

Kathryn Bornhoft

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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