Painter Hung Liu feels she \"has lived many lives, some of them my own.\" Liu came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution; instead of college, she headed off for \"re-education\"--hard labor in the fields of China\'s rural areas. Her later study of painting in Beijing consisted of pure Socialist Realism. Drawn to the United States, she managed, after a long struggle, to obtain permission to attend graduate school in fine art at UC San Diego. The artist eventually settled in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Liu\'s expansive studio is located in a mixed use/light industrial section of East Oakland, fairly near Mills College, where she has been a faculty member since 1990. At the time of my visit, Liu had just returned from Washington University in St. Louis, where she had received the prestigious SGC International 2011 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Printmaking; other recent recipients of the award include Chuck Close, William Wiley and Judy Pfaff. We discussed printmaking, and her ongoing journey as an artist. Liu stated, \"It\'s all about the layers. It\'s almost like archeology, archeologists are always trying to unearth all the layers to make discoveries... maybe a reverse analogy of archeology--because artists build layers up.\"
Work had just shipped for a show in Dallas at the Turner Carroll Gallery space in Hotel ZaZa, which will include a selection of her recent works incorporating digital printing, painting and layers of resin which she calls, with a bit of ironic intent, the \"Za Zhong\" series--\"bastard\" series: \"belonging to both printmaking and painting but maybe neither...\" Liu has quite a history with Texas--not only did she obtain her first teaching job there, but The Dallas Museum was, in fact, the first in the country to acquire one of her works for its permanent collection.
We strolled through Liu\'s studio, where she was finishing several massive canvases for upcoming shows at Alexander Ochs Galleries in Beijing and Elisabeth De Brabant Art Center in Shanghai. These recent works use Liu\'s familiar subject matter of anonymous people... ones whose lives she might well have lived. First Spring Thunder portrays a group of girls with their hands clasped over their ears. They react to the sound of nearby explosions, becoming inured to the harshness of war. Another work, Twelve Hairpins, offers a disturbing scene of twelve people wearing gas masks. Liu noted: \"You first see the masks and you cannot tell... but then you see all the skirts and realize they\'re schoolgirls.\" The enigmatic young girls walk in two lines in front of a thickly brushed sky of peach. Across the bottom of the canvas are two oversized, ornate hair ornaments. Liu titled the painting Twelve Hairpins, alluding to the classic novel \"Twelve Beauties of Jinling.\" \"But the irony is with the masks they all look like little monsters, little aliens.\"
Gravity is a well-known \"collaborator\" in Liu\'s oil paintings, which are riddled with drips and streaks. \"I use historical photographs--they\'re already grainy and really blurry--so it\'s like memory, like our sense of perception, out of focus over time... I\'ve created this visual veil to interrupt whatever I do. I created the image but in some cases it\'s also destroyed. Eroded.\"
Along with preparing for her numerous shows, Liu is collecting personal and historical photographs and doing research for a new series, focusing on weddings. This exhaustive research is always an important component of Liu\'s work, and to some extent an end in itself: \"Something to be simmered for a long time,\" she says. \"It may take years for it to be ready.\"
\"Hung Liu: Selected Works\" will be on view at the Turner Carroll Gallery at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas, TX, from April 6 - May 31, 2011.
\"Hung Liu: New Work,\" will be on view at the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, from August 1 - September 4, 2011.