Summer 2018
Hung Liu Studio Newsletter
Exhibitions, Road Trips, Honors, Friends, Wine & Art, Press

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Welcome to the Summer edition of the Hung Liu Studio Newsletter (#20). Please enjoy looking through it! Also, check out Hung's website.


Unthinkable Tenderness
New Paintings by Hung Liu
Walter Maciel Gallery
Los Angeles, CA
September 5 - October 27, 2018

Galleries 2, 3 & 4:

Toe-head, 2018, 72 x 72, oil on canvas

Primarily known for paintings based on historical Chinese photographs, Hung Liu's newest paintings are based upon the Dustbowl and Depression era photographs of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, whom Liu has long admired. 

From Granville County , 2017, 48 x 48, oil on canvas
In her show for the Walter Maciel Gallery, Liu focuses primarily on migrant children posing for Lange's camera, often large closeups, and sometimes holding puppies or kittens, cradling something more vulnerable than themselves. They pose at a crossroads where childhood ends too early and adult responsibilities begins too soon. Remarkably, these are unsentimental portraits in which the frank photo-journalism of the image - as captured by Lange in the 1930s - is reinvented by the artist's hand as an "unthinkable tenderness." 

The common connection between her Chinese and American subjects is their commonness; anonymous individuals and families, they are caught in the epic currents of historical and environmental change, whether famine, drought, or the hot political winds of their times. In this sense, Liu's paintings from Lange's photographs - roughly 80 years ago - are strikingly relevant for Americans today.

Valentines Day, 2018, 80 x 80, oil on canvas
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 human stories underlying their surfaces - stories which, whether Chinese or American, continue emerging like hope for all who still seek a place in history.

Cotton Carrier, 2018, 60 x 60, oil on canvas

Gallery 1: 

In 1972, while attending Beijing Teacher's College, Hung Liu would slip away from the campus almost daily and - hiding a small paint box and brushes beneath her coat - walk throughout the local countryside seeking picture-perfect moments of daily Chinese life to paint on tiny canvases. While it was the Chinese Communist Party's policy that artists should document (that is, idealize) the lives of farmers, soldiers, and workers, Liu carried with her a different intent on her off-campus sojourns. And that intent was radical in China at the time (and dangerous) - to paint not in the service of state ideology or party dicta, but simply to paint. While she painted one each day for over two years, hiding them under her bed, most were lost or destroyed. Only thirty-six exist today. Liu refers to them as her "Secret Freedom Paintings."  

There is expressed in these landscapes a desire to get closer to the everyday character of China while getting away from the revolutionary fervor of its people. While they may seem bucolic, serene, even lighthearted to us today, the artist was plucking these paintings, like stubborn little flowers, from a toxic ground. When you understand these little paintings in the context of utopian correctness, you can see how much bigger than themselves they actually are. Like the times in which they were painted, Liu's Secret Freedom paintings were epic - not because of everything they allowed in, but because of everything they kept out: melodrama, hero worship, clichés, proper technique, official subjects, the party line, patriotism ... propaganda. 
In Maoist China, the revolution had highjacked art. With a quiet determination to paint for the sake of painting, Hung Liu took it back and brought it here. Her freedom is no longer secret.

Walter Maciel @ work

Fetching Water
Gail Severn Gallery
Ketchum, ID
July 27 - August 25, 2018

Fetching Water I, 2016, 80 x 80, oil on canvas

Migrant Child: Kitty, 2017, 48 x 48, oil on canvas
Hung Liu's paintings and mixed media works at the Gail Severn Gallery are based upon the Dustbowl and Depression era photographs of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, whom she has long admired.
At first, the shift from Chinese to American subjects may surprise Liu's audience. Having grown up in revolutionary China, however, she is familiar with landscapes of social struggle and displaced humanity.
In these paintings, Liu focuses on individual portraits of children, their parents, and family groups. Suggesting the vast scale of their migration, Liu has also painstakingly painted an expansive scene of an Idaho landscape marked by burned tree stumps and abandoned mail boxes, as if bearing witness to the devastation of the 1930s in the American west.

The show looked great in Gail Severn's gorgeous gallery space. Thanks Gail!

Boundary County , Idaho, 2018, 80 x 96, oil on canvas

Howard Family,  2018, 66 x 66, oil on canvas

Behind the Ears, 2016, 80 x 80, oil on canvas

With Gail Severn, a wonderful gallerist 




SFO-JFK, June 1

With Nancy Hoffman, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, NYC

Poems for hire on The Highline - writing one for Hung (below)

Washinton DC

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC

With a group from the Katzen Museum, American University, discussing her exhibition "Hung Liu in Print" at NMWA

With Rick Cleaver, Helen Frederick, and George Ciscel 

The National Portrait Gallery

A presentation to staff members at the NPG 

With NPG Curators Dorothy Moss and Brandon Fortune

Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama (2018), National Portrait Gallery 

Amy Sherald, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (2018), National Portrait Gallery

Gettysburg / Greensburg

With Eileen & Tony Pereira (Jeff's Aunt and Uncle), and cousin Lori Pereira McCloy, at an old-style Italian restaurant in the hills near Greensburg, PA (where Jeff is mostly from)

Visiting Grandma & Grandpap's grave, as well as Rosemary Riley Kelley, Jeff's mom, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania


With legendary Reno artist Walter McNamara

With artist Lynda Yuroff (Walter's partner forever)

In Walter's studio

With poet & writer (& director of the Art + Environment program at the Nevada Museum of Art) Bill Fox in Virginia City, Nevada

Near Piper's Opera House, Virginia City, where the young Mark Twain wrote theater reviews

Ketchum & Beyond

Enjoying the view

I n the Sawtooth Range

At the Sun Valley Writer's Conference (insert: Tom Friedman presenting)

With Kathleen Brown @ the writer's conference

The Big Wood River, near Ketchum, Idaho

With her painting "Dirge" at the Ketchum home of Jeri Waxenberg

With Gail after Hung's opening

With Cindy and Dave Thomas at after-opening dinner

With party-girls Susan, Cissie, and Carol Swig at Henry's Fork Lodge, near Yellowstone

Henry's Fork

Old Faithful

With Kristen Poole, forever friend and Director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts

With Senator Tim Kaine, who spoke of Hung's Dust Bowl paintings as the "visual equivalents of the songs by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger," and other, played some of their songs on his harmonica, and gave Hung a signed baseball

At Hemingway's grave, Ketchum, Idaho, 2018 & 1985


The Wonder Ball
A gala in honor of benefactors Toby and Barry Fernald, and artist Hung Liu

San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose, CA
September 22nd, 2018

Hung was the first-ever artist to be honored by the San Jose Museum of Art during it's annual fundraising gala. The SJMA was among the first bay area museums to collect her work, beginning with a painting donated by Rena Bransten in 1991. Since then the museum has gathered one of the largest collections of her works in the nation. Go SJMA!

A moving acceptance speech

A "jocular" introduction by the infamous San Jose barrister James McManis

Receiving the award from San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo

With awardees Barry and Toby Fernald, and mayor Liccardo

Dorothy Moss, Tonya Turner, Jim McMannis, Sara Wigh

The (mostly) Chinese crew, Daxue, Diane Ding, Tonya Turner, Xiaoze Xie, Wanxin Zhang

Hey ...

With Lava Thomas

With Maja Thomas

With "adopted" son Freddy Chandra

Trish and Rena Bransten

Jenny Baie (Rena Bransten Gallery) and Walter Maciel (Walter Maciel Gallery, LA)

With Marv Tseu and Catherine Clark

The "Asians"

With Peter Lipman and Mildred Howard

Mrs. & Mr. Liu 

Women in the Arts Award Luncheon
Honoring Mildred Howard, Hung Liu, Judy Dater
Awards Created by Lava Thomas

Berkeley Art Center
Berkeley, CA
July 1st, 2018

Thanks Dennis Markham!

Donum Estate, Wine & Art

Richard Hudson's stainless steel "Heart"


Zhang Wang's stainless steel artificial rock

Ai Weiwei's "Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads"

Yue Minjun with his crop guards

A gorgeous day in the Carneros region of the wine country!

With Beijing artist Yue Minjun

Lunch tent


Yu Hong, from Beijing, a great painter

A wine break

Liu Xiaodong with his painting of boys in a boat ...

... with cranes

Lots of (very good) Pinot...



At "Wolf" with National Portrait Gallery curator Dorothy Moss

With Lin Wei at the Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, on "Frida" day

With Childhood friend Bing Chen

With Italian artist Daniele Puppi and Monica Lundy

With art historian Anne Edwards

With Lori Fogarty, director of the Oakland Museum of California

With Squeak Carnwaith, Carrie Lederer, Steven Pon, and Era Farnsworth

With Michelle and Jack Greenstein (UCSD art history professor)

With environmental sound artist Hugh Livingston

At the Vulcan Cafe with Ken and Barb Covert, from Louisiana

With Don and Era Farnsworth, and up-and-coming fashion designer David Wild 

At Break-the-Fast, with Debrah Rappaport, Cissy Swig, and Leah Garchik

With Liu Xiaodong and his portrait of a somewhat younger Jeff

With legendary artist John Mason 

With Elaine and Dave Kim and children

With Josh Roth, who we took to China in 1993 at age 15

With Julia Goodman and Michael Hall

With David Salgado at Trillium Graphics




Los Angeles Times

"In her new work, from 2015 to the present, (Hung) Liu draws upon the photographs of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). This marks a significant change of subject matter and sourcing for Liu, since Lange is American. It also fundamentally alters the nature of the work." - Leah Ollman

San Francisco Chronicle
"Hung Liu, who's had shows all over the country and spoke at the Minnesota Street Project on Saturday, about 'Women Who Transformed Art in the West,' had been the center of attention the night before at the opening of 'All Over the Map,' a show at the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica. In these works, curated by Phil Linhares and created with David Salgado at Trillium Press, the artist combines fragments of paintings with photos and historical materials, and embeds them in layers of translucent material, on top of which she paints. It's a complex art form, the results seeming old and new at once." - Leah Garchik
Square Cylinder 
"As the public reckons with the necessity of supporting and defending women against male aggression, there is a dizzying prescience in these emotionally gripping images of armed women pushed to the very limits of their endurance." - Nick Stone

"It would be hard to imagine an art exhibition more relevant to current events, or one more visually and emotionally stirring, than Daughters of China, the stunning show of monumental oil paintings by East Bay-based artist Hung Liu." -Marcia Tanner

"Liu chose the cookies to represent the gold that drew the immigrants to the West Coast. 'That is also a metaphor of coming to America to seek your fortune, but there is a twist and it's important to know. The twist is the Chinese did not invent fortune cookies,' Kelley said." - Michelle Vendegna
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." - Amy Pleasant
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." - Donald Munroe

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." - Frank H. Wu

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." - Mark Jenkins

UCSD Visual Arts Department link:
Los Angeles Times 
"Her new paintings are portraits of the most humble of flowers - dandelions - and they are spectacular." - Sharon Mizota
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. - Neil Thrun
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)

Zoetrope: All Story
Frances Ford Coppola's Literary Magazine
Winter 17/18, Volume 21


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

(Warm off the Press)

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

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