The Art of Hung Liu

A Better Worlds In Birth, by Hung Liu, 2007

I recently encountered the work of the Chinese-American artist, Hung Liu, who lives in Oakland but has been exhibited and featured internationally.

She is known for paintings drawn from Chinese historical photography, and for focusing on what she calls the “mythic poses” underlaying the photographic surfaces of history. She often paints mundane activities, such as women working at a loom, or someone crossing a river, but gives her scenes a powerful, poetic force, suggesting that there is more going on in ordinary life than we could ever imagine.

Perusing her website, I fell in love with “A Better Worlds In Birth,” from 2007, a painting which shows the bloody, bubbling stew of nature compressed between two bands of gray. The gray seems to have the appearance of clay, the material from which one could make some exquisite object or, in the case of the Biblical story, man himself, derived from the red earth.

The painting is an image of creation, or as the title suggests, the next creation. But it’s also an image that explores the tense interplay between life and death. Are the drippings of red which run down the bottom the spilled blood of the dead, or the new roots of the living?

In evoking these questions, and more, Hung Liu has, in my view, created a painting which speaks honestly to the anxieties of our age. She gives us something primal, powerful and dangerous, but ultimately, she gives us an image of hope, with the promise that our new world will be a better world.

Hung Liu, visiting Ching in 2008