Summer 2017
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter

Promised Land, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, We Who Work: Prints and Tapestries, American Exodus,  Friends, Press, & Publications

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Welcome to the Hung Liu Studio newsletter for the Summer of 2017. Please enjoy the words and pictures!
Promised Land
Rena Bransten Gallery @ Dogpatch
San Francisco, CA
May 6th - June 24, 2017

Rena Bransten Gallery is pleased to present Hung Liu: Promised Land, an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper based on photographs by American photographer Dorothea Lange. Hung Liu is known for her use of Chinese historical photographs, and Promised Land continues this exploration of history, now focused on America's Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. While Dorothea Lange's photographs have become almost synonymous with this era (with iconic images like Migrant Mother, 1936 and White Angel Breadline, 1933) Hung Liu's paintings, taken in conversation with the rest of her oeuvre, ask the viewer to consider these events in the larger sweep of the human condition. Liu reminds us that forced migration, economic devastation, poverty and hunger are not unique to country, race or culture, and her works at once acknowledge these tragedies, while celebrating the resilience of the human spirit.

-Rena Bransten Gallery 

H ung Liu is primarily known as a painter of Chinese subjects, typically from the 19th and 20th centuries,  whose paintings are based on historical Chinese photographs. Given the historical, often tragic subject matter she represents, her style, with its washes and drips of linseed oil, is a kind of weeping realism.  Liu's newest paintings, however, are based upon the Dustbowl and Depression era photographs of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, whom Liu has long admired. 
 White Angel Bread Line, oil on canvas, 80 x 80, 2016  

 Fetching Water & Fetching Water II , oil on canvas, 80 x 80, 2016

Fetching Water III, oil on canvas, 80 x 96, 2016

Shifting focus from Chinese to American subjects may seem a surprise to Liu's audience, at first. But by training her attention on the displaced individuals and wandering families of the American Dustbowl, Liu finds a landscape of overarching struggle and underlying humanity that for her is familiar terrain, having been raised in China during an era (Mao's) of epic revolution, tumult, and displacement. The 1930s Oakies and Bindlestiff's wandering like ghosts through Liu's new paintings are American peasants on their way to California, the promised land.
Laborer: Farm Hand, oil on canvas, 36 x 36, 2017 

In her paintings for the Rena Bransten Gallery, Liu - who is known for a fluid style in which drips and washes of linseed oil dissolve the photo-based images the way time erodes memory - seems to have developed a kind of topographic realism in which the paint congeals around a webbing of colored lines, together enmeshed in a rich surface that belies the poverty of her subjects. In this, the new paintings are more factually woven to Lange's photographs while also releasing the energy of color like a radiant of hope from beneath the grey-tones of history.
This approach first emerged from an accident in which Liu, who was sketching figures from an image projected on a blank canvas, ran out of charcoal and, to finish the drawing, resorted to colored chalk. Reminded of her Chinese academic training in which orange lines are often used beneath neo-classical and realist propaganda painting, she began experimenting with colored lines, soon in oil paint.  The paradoxical result has been a softening of the ground and a hardening - a kind of mapping - of the figures, whose edges and outlines and details are sharpened by the colorful lines and squiggles that both stiffen and liberate them. 

Dream Catcher, oil on canvas, 70 x 80, 2017

Liu's primary metaphors have shifted too. In the past, her technique of washing the canvas with linseed oil, thus eroding the painted images, suggested the dissolution of history and the blurring of memory. It suggested the past, which weighs heavily on China. Now, by mapping the image surface with a web of painted, colorful lines, and by painting largely within those lines, Liu is congealing the paint in a way that holds the image topographically in place. Though the people she paints are from Lange's era, they are immigrants to the future of America, just as Liu was in 1984, when she arrived in California, proclaiming "5,000 year old culture on my back, post-modern society in my face - My resident alien number is A28333359."

Thus, looking hard at Lange's photographs has changed Liu's painting, allowing her empathic sense of touch, and her deeply intuitive knowledge of color as a liberating force, to make contact with the stories underlying their surfaces - stories which, whether Chinese or American, continue emerging like hope for all who still seek a place in history.

August, oil on canvas, 60 x 48, 2017

Dinner at Rena's 
May 5, 2017

Era Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions 

With Elizabeth Partridge, author and goddaughter of Dorothea Lange

With Lori Fogarty, Director, Oakland Museum of California

With Jenny Baie, Gallery Director 

Nick Stone, writer and catalog editor, and Michael Wild, cook

Opening at Rena's
May 6, 2017

With Lava Thomas
With Enrique Chagoya and Kara Maria

With Moira Roth

With Pop Zhao

The art historians: Moira Roth and Whitney Chadwick

With Ying Zi, Daniel Hoh, & Zou Xueling

Three generations of Hung's M ills College Family 

With Bob Bechtle
With Sue Yung Li and Stella Zhang

With Wanxin Zhang 
Freddy Chandra, Wanxin Zhang, and Jeff Kelley
Dianne Ding
With  Dianne Andrews Hall and Enrique Chagoya  

With Terese Taylor and Laura Sydell
A fine evening ... 

Hung Liu: American Exodus
University of Wyoming Art MuseumLaramie, Wyoming
April 1 - August 12, 2017


Hung Liu: American Exodus presents new work by Hung Liu (Chinese, b. 1948) that are inspired by the Dust Bowl era photographs of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965). Liu is well-known for her use of historic photographic collections of various Chinese subjects, ranging from prostitutes to old family pictures, as source material. In  American Exodus , Liu draws her attention to Lange's Great Depression images made under the Farm Security Administration and archived at the Oakland Museum of California, where Liu lives. Lange's intimate and compassionate depiction of Americans in distress in the Great Plains during the 1930s and 1940s resonated with Liu. In her earlier work, Liu explored the struggles of the people in her own country of China who were displaced by political or natural forces. It is here that Liu's work with Lange's photographs converge in an exploration of the universality of human dignity and strength.
As a student in China, Liu was trained as a Social Realist painter. It was not until she immigrated to the US in 1984 that she was introduced to the idea that the role of the artist is to experiment and innovate. Her painterly style has developed as a method of challenging the documentary nature of photography. For her the process of painting is expressed through washes of color on raw cotton duck canvas and drips of paint that dissolve the image while simultaneously preserving it. The image as a historic record erodes into memory - personal, cultural, societal, universal.
Liu's selection of Lange's images to work from range from the iconic  Migrant Mother - the image that has come to represent the Great Depression - Bindlestiffs (migrant single men), women and children in camps, and an Oklahoma family on the road all of which take on the breadth of dire experience and the depth of despair.
Hung Liu has an extensive international exhibition history and is represented in major museum collections nationwide. The UW Art Museum presented her work in  Hung Liu and Rene Yung: The Vanishing, Re-presenting the Chinese in the American West (2006) for which Liu used photographic references of the Chinese in Wyoming from the American Heritage Center. She was born in Changhun, China and lived through war and famine of the Maoist era before immigrating to the US. She is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York City.

With museum director Susan Moldenhaur

With students

With Timothy Egan, author of "The Worst Hard Time" and editorial writer for the New York Times

Signed to Hung & Jeff

We Who Work: Prints and Tapestries by Hung Liu
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, CA
March 3 - June 25, 2017

"At the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History explore tapestries and mixed media prints by artist  Hung Liu- one of the most renowned Chinese artists living in United States today. Raised in China during the Cultural Revolution, Hung Liu creates vibrant portraits that honor workers- shoemakers, soldiers, farmers and more. Based off historical Chinese photographs, Liu's prints and tapestries (many never seen before) not only celebrate workers (particularly women) but also expand the idea of what it means to "work." Alongside Liu's work will be tools from Community members and photos of local day workers from Working for Dignity artists Edward Ramirez and Leo Alas.

We Who Work presents a collection of prints, tapestries, and cast resin paintings Hung Liu created in collaboration with master printers at Paulson Fontaine Press, Magnolia Editions, and Trillium Graphics." 

Meeting with Museum docents

With Nora Grant and David Salgado

With John Weber, Director, Institute of Arts & Sciences, UCSC

Speaking to a public audience at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, March 2, 2017

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing
Oakland Museum of California
May 13 - August 13, 2017

Hung with her painting,  Bindlestiff, 80 x 120, oil on canvas (diptych), 2016, collection Oakland Museum of California

With Lori Fogarty and curator Drew Johnson


Upcoming ...

American Dream
Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe
Opening reception July 7, 2017

American Dream, oil on canvas (diptych), 72 x 60, 2017



Lunch with Carrie Mae Weems and Lava Thomas
The Vulcan Cafe, Oakland
May 24, 2017


It Turns Out ...

Without knowing it, Hung painted a portrait of this child (below) from a Dorothea Lange photograph, and found out over lunch that he was the uncle of Carrie Mae Weems! His name is Clarence Weems, and the photo is from 1937. Hung, Carrie Mae, and Lava were stunned to discover this serendipitous connection. 

Recent Press for Hung Liu

Square Cylinder 

" Had Liu stuck to her early training in Socialist Realist and not gotten an American education that permitted and encouraged free expression, the paintings we see here would not, stylistically speaking, have been possible. That the best of them significantly departs from their sources lends double meaning to the titled Promised Land, alluding to both the better life sought by the migrants Lange pictured, and to the stories career Liu achieved after arriving on these shores in 1984 with $20 and a suitcase" - David Roth

San Francisco Chronicle

"The Lange photographs have become so well-known that the people in Liu's paintings seem like old friends, their familiar features recaptured in  new portraits and images. It's as though the photographer and her work have been reborn. The Oakland Museum has the Lange archives, and Liu has spent much time there immersed in that work, 'and I talk with her all the time'." - Leah Garchik

San Francisco Chronicle

"It's an artistic risk to take a famous Dorothea Lange picture from the Great Depression and turn it into an oil on canvas. But in the translation, Jung Liu is able to bring unique empathy to Lange's Dust Bowl images, having spent four years working the fields during the Cultural Revolution in People's Republic of China" - Sam Whiting

Huffington Post

"Although some may interpret this work's focus on the American Dust Bowl migration a departure from previous work because the subjects are not Chinese, Liu insists that this new work is not a pivot, but a natural extension of her previous work."

Fresno Bee

"One of the great things about her new Fresno exhibition is the way you can flit back and forth between her earlier days as a student - absorbing the furtive freshness and raw vitality of a rural Beijing - with some of her much more politically pointed works.  One of the biggest and most impressive, titled "Modern Time," is based on a banal photograph of a woman daydreaming in a conference room. On the wall behind her are four photographs that used to be found on the walls of schools and public buildings across China: the "four white guys" who helped birth the communist ideology. But Liu offers a subversive twist. She depicts Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in the style of Van Gogh, giving a post-Impressionist hint of snark to the scene."

Read more here:

Read more here:

Huffington Post

"A recent visit to the Palm Springs Museum affirms for me that all artists are immigrants. If not in a literal sense then in a figurative sense, they are strangers to the society surrounding them. In the desert resort city, populated by celebrities in steel houses, the local museum is exceptional. At the moment, it has exhibits by both Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident renowned the world over, as well as Hung Liu, a professor of painting from China who has become a citizen of America."


Washington Post

"The centerpiece of that show, Hung Liu's "Daughter of China, Resident Alien," is a pile of some 200,000 fortune  cookies atop tracks that evoke the role of Chinese labor in building American railways. In a large painting based on the artist's green card, she takes the name "Cookie, Fortune." Many of Liu's paintings are derived from photos or propaganda-film stills and dissolve realism into abstraction to represent the evaporation of Marxist-Leninist China and her memories of it."

UCSD Visual Arts Department link:

Los Angeles Times 
"Her new paintings are portraits of the most humble of flowers - dandelions - and they are spectacular."
Kansas City Star
In "Summoning Ghosts" at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Chinese-born artist Hung Liu quite literally "summons ghosts,"  bringing  the dead and willfully forgotten into our view through large paintings based on 19th and 20th century photographs taken in China.
KQED Radio
Confined in China, Ai Weiwei Directs Alcatraz Exhibit from Afar (Hung Liu interviewed), Mina Kim, September 27, 2014.  "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



Publications (Hot off the Press)

Hung Liu: Promised Land
Essay by Maria Porges
Rena Bransten Gallery/Hung Liu Studio, 2017
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: American Exodus
Introduction by Lori Fogarty
Essays by John Yau & Drew Johnson
Interview by Rachelle Reichert
Nancy Hoffman Gallery/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: Scales of History
Essay by Jeff Kelley
Fresno Art Museum/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

Hung Liu: Daughter of China, Resident Alien
Essay by David Pagel; Conversation between Peter Selz & Jeff Kelley
American University Museum, Katzen Center, Washington DC/Hung Liu Studio, 2016
Catalogues available

(Warm off the Press)

Hung Liu: Questions from the Sky
Ed Hardy, Susan Krane
Hahrdymarks Press, 2015 

Chinese Contemporary Art
Wu Hung
Thames & Hudson

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   

Hung Liu: Great Granary
Essay & Interview by Wu Hung
Xin Beijing Art Gallery / Timezone 8 Press
Available through Hung Liu Studio


Thank You!
Hung Liu Studio