Walter Maciel Gallery: Hung Liu in Two Solo Shows
Through October 27th
By Genie Davis
Large scale portraits and diminutive landscapes by artist Hung Liu comprise a stunning exhibition, Cross Roads,and at Walter Maciel Gallery through October 27th.
According to Liu, her portrait work is based on the photographic images of Dorothea Lange. “Her photos were taken during the Depression,” she related at the show’s opening in early September. “I thought it would be interesting to create these in today’s environment.”
Working with photographs as inspiration is nothing new for Liu, who is perhaps best known for her paintings based on Chinese historical photographs. These works share an emotional connection with Unthinkable Tenderness, in the depiction of social struggle, a need for home and family, a battle against forced displacement and loss. These are common threads in both bodies of work.
In her new work, she pulls images of migrant children and adults from wider Lange photographs, reshaping them as intimate close-ups writ large. As they fill her canvasses, there is a sense of her subjects having a foot in two worlds, in the innocence of the past and the experience of a suddenly changed environment. The children she depicts are poised between the innocence of childhood and the terrifying necessity for adulthood in a now uprooted life.
As both a reflection of Lange’s work and as her own, highly individual portraiture, Liu succeeds in creating paintings that are poignant and moving. Some subjects look haunted, others cling to hope in the form of a puppy or a kitten.
Each individual that she depicts is enlarged, filling her canvas; the original black and white photographs themselves are transformed into bright colors filled with lines and textures. Wavering drips of paint, and patterns that remind the viewer of a topographic map adds additional visual depth; her images are suffused with color and layering that seems to free them from their confines. The color also welcomes the viewer, dares the viewer to step into these individuals’ lives, see what they see, see them, see their stories. In “Migrant Child: Dogs,” a boy with two puppies stands out against a bright pink background, his face seemingly marbled with colors and lines; the anguished face of “Baby” glows with that child’s golden hair. The “Cotton Hoer” is poised against a dark orange background, as what look like the outlines of golden water droplets map her face. Other works, such as the depiction of a young girl with dark hair and a white dress in “Angel Wing,” are more subdued in color, and feature less of the seemingly marbleized swirling colored lines and shapes.
Above all, the now Oakland-based artist has created rewardingly rich work that is moving, poignant, bold, and redemptive – large both in scale and in scope; elevating her subjects to the heights and depths their lives deserve.
Liu’s other work at Walter Maciel, My Secret Freedom, represents an earlier body of work from the 1970’s, created while she attended the Beijing Teacher’s College in China. During that time, she’d slip from campus to walk through the countryside and paint on small canvasses. The result of these secret sojourns, which were a quiet protest against the communist regime and its propensity for self-gratifying art, were lush sketches in oil on paper. These diminutive works are large in a way that belies their size, encapsulating and revealing images such as an empty boat or hanging laundry into a poetic, universally recognizable scene. Liu painted one work a day for two years, hiding her work. Only 36 survived; images that are serene in composition, but which hide in plain sight the artist’s rebellion against officially dictated topics and propaganda. Her freedom in creating these works is now visibly manifest. But Liu’s fierce resolve in creating them reveals the nature of freedom itself, and how important it is to view, remember, and admire the power of art in maintaining that freedom.
Walter Maciel Gallery
2642 s. la cienega blvd.
los angeles, ca 90034