Hung Liu Studio












(early)Fall 2014
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter

Retirement from Mills College, "Say My Name,"
Exhibitions, Press, Publications



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Welcome to the long overdue Hung Liu Studio Newsletter, Spring-Summer-(early)Fall, 2014. 


In August of 1990 a very large moving van towing a 1975 Chevy Nova pulled into an empty parking lot at Mills College. It was 2am. Following closely was a Chrysler mini-van. Jeff Kelley had driven the truck from Texas, and Hung Liu the mini-van. Their son, Ling Chen, and Hung's mother, Zong Guang Liu, were also tired travelers. Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait and a student revolution earlier that spring had successfully kept Mills College a women's institution on the undergraduate level. Several months prior, Professor Moira Roth, Trefethen Professor of Art History at Mills College, had called the Arlington, Texas, phone of Jeff & Hung and asked Jeff, who happened to pick up the phone, if he thought Hung "would be interested" in applying for a tenure-track job as a painting teacher at Mills. Jeff said he was very sure she would be interested. In short order, Hung applied for the job and was offered a position as assistant professor. In time, she became the painting department. The rest is history.


Now, twenty-four years later, Hung has retired from Mills. She is now Professor Emerita of Art. It is hard to overstate the affection her students have offered her over the years. It is equally hard to overstate her commitment to teaching at Mills. Prolific in her studio practice, Hung has also been a generous mentor for many, many young artists. She has shared with them a steady gaze born of navigating tempestuous social and political waters in China. They have shared with her everything they hoped and believed art could be. Hung's students knew that she was not simply successful in art-world terms, but that her art was a testament to a dramatic and meaningful life. In fact, during the Cultural Revolution her paintings were life, where the end of everything was in sight. A good professor conveys life through experience, not just art through the methods and business of art. She extended compassion with one hand and expectation with the other. A good professor is fully extended. Clearly, the people Hung met and befriended at Mills have added to her life and her career. It is not hyperbole to say that while she is widely admired by Mills people, Hung is also loved. 


During a month-long summer road trip (Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, and a sliver of Nebraska), Hung attended the opening of her exhibition at the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum, Idaho. In September she traveled to Kansas City, where she worked with Toma and Eileen Cohen to exhibit a small historical survey of paintings at the Sherry Leedy Gallery in memory of her ever-enthusiastic Kansas City dealer, the late Byron Cohen. A big success, the show set the stage for Hung's return to KC in early November for the opening of "Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu," now in its second traveling venue at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. In the meantime she also lectured and exhibited both at La Salle University and Monrovia College in Philadelphia and Bethlehem, respectively. 


Soon, Hung will return to Kansas City for the opening at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art of "Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu," her retrospective exhibition organized last year by the Oakland Museum of California. That will be the subject of the next Hung Liu Studio newsletter ...



In the meantime, enjoy this one!



Hung Liu
Gail Severn Gallery
Ketchum, Idaho
August 1 - 27, 2014


Often lauded as the most famous Chinese artist in America and known for paintings drawn from Chinese historical photography, Hung Liu's works focus on what she calls the "mythic poses" that underlie the photographic surfaces of history. Representing such elemental human activities as laboring, eating, journeying, leaping, fighting, dreaming, and carrying one's burden, these "mythic poses" come from particular historical circumstances, but seem epic, trans-historical, and are allegorical in her paintings. With an overlay of traditional Chinese birds, flowers, insects, dragons, and - most recently - stylized human figures, Liu offers her subjects artistic evidence of their own rich heritage - as if to remind or comfort them. With this summer exhibition at the Gail Severn Gallery, the artist offers new works created at Trillium Graphics in which layers of photo-based and traditional Chinese imagery are overlaid and hand painted to dazzling effect. 


Tilling the Soil

Byron Cohen / Sherry Leedy Galleries

Kansas City, Missouri

September 5 - October 25, 2014


"Tilling the Soil," a selection of paintings from Hung Liu's personal collection, dating from 1993 to the present, is intended both as a parallel exhibition to "Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu" at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and - very importantly - as an homage to the late Byron Cohen, whose enthusiasm for Liu's work over the years has done much to establish her reputation in Kansas City. The fact that the Kemper holds the largest collection of Liu's dramatic and historic art is due in large part to Byron's upbeat faith in her work.

Showing at the Sherry Leedy Gallery, the paintings in "Tilling the Soil" depict subjects that have spanned Liu's career, including young Chinese prostitutes from the early 20
th century, modern young women from the 1920s, peasants working in the countryside, prisoners, adults longing for the past and day-dreaming children. Together, these paintings - along with new mixed-media works from Trillium Graphics - capture the courageous, historical, and often melancholic gaze toward the homeland that characterizes Liu's sensibility as an artist.  

Born in 1948 and sent to the countryside for four years during the Cultural Revolution, Liu, who emigrated to the United States in 1984, came of age in China before there was a Chinese avant-garde. Older than all but a few of the first generation of contemporary artists there, she represents a perspective based in personal and family experience that takes in the whole of post-revolutionary Chinese history (that is, since the invention of photography).

Mostly known for paintings based on historical photographs of nineteenth-century and pre-revolutionary China, including images of prostitutes, refugees, street performers, soldiers, and so forth, Liu also washes (and sometimes washes away) her subjects with veils of linseed oil that, as she once remarked, "both preserve and destroy the image." Preferring to work from black-and-white photographs that are grainy and difficult to see, Liu liberates her subjects from the gray tones of the past by bringing them vividly to life as painted images. In the process of turning old photographs into new paintings, she often inserts traditional motifs from Chinese "bird and flower" painting, Buddhist iconography, or calligraphy, as if to comfort the cataclysms of 20
th century China with the wisdom of its own ancient past. 


Tilling the Soil, oil on canvas, 1997


Sherry Leedy Gallery, Kansas City




At dinner after opening at Sherry Leedy Gallery, Kansas City




Great Leap

Thirty years ago on October 26, Hung Liu flew from China to America to attend graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, arriving with three suitcases and $20. It was her first flight. She waited four years before the Chinese government issued her a passport - UCSD held a place for her the whole time. There she met Allan Kaprow, Moira Roth, and others, including your humble newsletter editor. It was a courageous and heroic leap.


On the tarmac in Shanghai before flying to San Francisco, October 26, 1984


Say My Name
Tamarind Institute

If you were fans of Breaking Bad, the award winning television series about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin, you will know the meaning of this lithograph, produced by the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque. Although it is not an image of Walter White's actual hat, it is an image of the same kind of hat purchased by the artist at "Larry's Hats," which is also where the hat Bryan Cranston wore was purchased. According to Larry, Hung's was just like it ...

Also, a new spin-off series called Better Call Saul has secured the rights to display some of Hung's works in the show, so stay tuned ...

Hung Liu, Say My Name, lithograph, 2014, Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Retirement Party
Maryellen Herringer's Home
Oakland, California
July 15, 2014

Hung was given a retirement gift - a portrait of her dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, taken in 1991 by Michael Jiang - during a wonderful, warm, and moving evening at the Home of Maryellen and Frank Herringer. Friends from over the decades shared their time and well wishes. Now, the studio awaits ...


With Toma Wolf, of Bryon Cohen Gallery, Kansas City

With Gail Severn in Ketchum, Idaho

With Marsha Williams

With Jay Sarno, Jr

With Ron Nagle, in memory of Maryln Mary

With Chris Brown

With art historian Peter Selz

With Deborah Butterfield

With Congressman John Lewis of Georgia

With author Yiyun Li

With Yulia Pinkusevich, new professor of painting at Mills College

With Inky (the cat)




Recent Press for Hung Liu



KQED Radio

Confined in China, Ai Weiwei Directs Alcatraz Exhibit from Afar (Hung Liu interviewed), Mina Kim, September 27, 2014 


"Celebrated Oakland painter Hung Liu is close friends with Ai. Liu grew up during China's Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung, and like Ai, China's politics and culture infuse her work. She is wary of political art becoming too didactic. 'When you have a strong political agenda, a strong message, you have to be careful if you want to use art form,' the painter says. Liu says she plans to take a serious look at Ai's Alcatraz work, and hopes others will get past his superstar status and do the same. 'Ai Weiwei's super-famous. Some people call him God Ai - Ai shen,' Liu says. 'I think it's little too far.' It's important for people to continue to think critically about Ai's work, Liu says - after all, people tried to make Mao a god, too." - Mina Kim


SF Chronicle

Many contemporary painters struggle to get history into their work without looking pretentious or ideologically motivated. But big events of the late 20th century weighed so heavily on the life of Oakland painter Hung Liu that she might have found it difficult to keep history out of her work. - Kenneth Baker


Square Cylinder


It's easy to marvel at how Liu's mix of abstraction and realism draw us into the past.  Yet virtuosity alone doesn't explain the emotional pull of her painting.  So I'll venture a theory: Since Liu works from photos, her painting process is analogous to the photochemical act of "fixing" an image in the darkroom from which pictures seemingly emerge out of nowhere. Liu performs a kind of psychic translation of that act, supplementing it with lived experience and an extraordinary level of empathy.  Result: she can paint from photos and literally "summon ghosts." - David Roth


KQED Radio

Hung Liu is good at summoning ghosts -- from memory and history. She's an Oakland artist born in China, and "Summoning Ghosts" is the title of a new retrospective of her work at the Oakland Museum of California. - Cy Musiker




Hung Liu is widely considered one of the most important Chinese artists working in America today. - Interview by Rachelle Reichert


Art Practical


The spare aesthetic of the exhibition currently on view at the Mills College Art Museum belies the fullness of the Bay Area artist and educator Hung Liu's major concern: history. - Ellen Tani


Art Practical

In February 1948, the artist Hung Liu was born in Changchun, in the far north of China. Only months later, the city was the site of a major siege by the People's Liberation Army. - Matthew Harrison Tedford


Contra Costa Times


She's internationally known for her dramatic paintings, which often layer historical images with scenes from her own life or those of everyday people who didn't make it into the history books. - Angela Hill


San Francisco Chronicle/SFgate


In the early 1970s, Hung Liu, who was being trained in the strict Social Realist style required of Chinese artists at the time, surreptitiously made small landscape paintings that contained no images of Chairman Mao, heroic soldiers or happy peasants. She hid them under her bed to dry. - Jesse Hamlin





Warm off the Press

Qianshan: Grandfather's Mountain

Interview by Rachelle Reichert

Nancy Hoffman Gallery, 2013

Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu


Essays by Wu Hung, Yiyun Li, Rene De Guzman, Karen Smith, Stephanie Hanor, Bill Berkson
216 pages


Oakland Museum of California & The University of California Press  





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