Artists are living historians. From current events like the Occupy Wall Street protests to Native American cave paintings, artists record history through a visual vocabulary. Artist Hung Liu is a perfect example and a living storyteller. The amazing Liu grew up under the Chinese control of Mao Zedong and endured the Cultural Revolution. A time from 1966 to 1976 where artists, teachers, and innovators where banned from any type of creativity. Mao wanted to rid China of any traditional, capitalist, and cultural elements.
Hung Liu was born in 1948 in Changchun, China. Part of the Cultural Revolution, Liu was sent to a labor camp for “reeducation” as a young woman. In 1975, she attended Teachers College and was a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. She was trained to become a Socialist Realist muralist. Liu grew consistently angry by the propaganda art that surrounded her. As a young student, she would sneak out at night from school to do landscapes and hide the paintings under her bed fearing severe punishment.
Liu’s work practice includes richly colored oil paintings and installations. In 1988, she created the painting titled Resident Alien and in 1994 created a 200,000 piece fortune cookie installation titled Gold Mountain. Liu also created a mural titled Going Away, Coming Home that greets and blesses travelers on their journeys at the Oakland International Airport.
Her paintings over the years have included prostitutes, war refugees, eunuchs, cranes, flowers, and images of people left behind by the brutal decisions made by the Chinese government.
On November 19th, the Berkeley Art Center featured Hung Liu in an artist talk. A rare event and treat into understanding Liu’s artistic practice. It was a unique opportunity and the large audience in attendance appeared very grateful.
Liu is an interesting character in the most positive way. She has a rare combination of being an artist able to communicate verbally and visually through art. I consistently stress to my students that artists must assume responsibility for their art and that includes communicating about it. Hung Liu delivers masterfully. Donning a pair of silver safety pin earrings, a colorful scarf, a black flower ring, and a pink Guerrilla Girls T-shirt, Liu stoically delivered a lively talk.
At the end of the discussion, Liu was asked about the drips and circle elements in her paintings. She appeared not surprised by the two frequently asked questions. In reference to the drips Liu replied, “…gives a hint, to focus on the real thing…” and the circle patterns represent “…no beginning and no end.”
Today Liu is a professor at Mills College in Oakland, CA. At the talk, she announced that she’ll be having a retrospective at the Oakland Art Museum in 2013. It’ll be a once in a lifetime chance to see all her works in one spot. According to Liu: “Getting older, closer to the other end, more to come…the end.”