Hung Liu Opening at Byron C. Cohen Gallery September 3

The Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art is pleased to announce the opening of Hung Liu : New Works on First Friday, September 3 from 7-9 pm. The Artist, who will be visiting from San Francisco, is set to unveil a new series created from the aftermath of the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008. Additionally, new work from her Za Zhong, or Bastard Painting, series will also be on display.

Please see the explanation of both series outlined below by Xiao Yi:

On the morning of July 27 1976, while on a trip to northern China to paint landscapes, Hung Liu was jolted awake in a dormitory in the industrial city of Tangshan by one of the largest earthquakes to hit the modern world. Within fifteen seconds, the 7.8 magnitude quake had killed 242,000 people. Earlier that year, Zhou Enlai had died of cancer, and later that year Mao Zedong would die as well. The ramifications of the Tangshan quake effectively ended the Cultural Revolution. The Gang of Four would soon be put on trial. In China, natural disasters are seen as harbingers of profound changes in the cosmic (and thus political) order.

On May 12 2008, as Liu arrived in Beijing for two solo exhibitions of her work, the 8.0 Sichuan Earthquake hit the mountainous regions of southern China, killing approximately 90,000 people, including thousands of school children whose shoddily constructed class rooms collapsed. In the years since, Liu has devoted herself to a series of paintings depicting people in the aftermath of the Sichuan quake. The subject of these paintings is less the disaster itself than the expressions of mythic emotion embodied in the poses of the dead and the survivors: the contortions of grief, shock, confusion, stunned silence, courage, and mourning. One sees in these painterly quick-takes of these earthquake victims postures of grief that echo down from the history of art the beholding and cradling of the dead that recalls the Pieta, the pleading of the living but soon-to-be-dead that recalls Goya.

As an artist, Liu has always been interested in mythic poses in which the human figure expresses the epic themes and historical forces that rumble through our lives sometimes ending them, or leaving us bereft. The body tells its stories, and Lius career as a painter has pivoted, ironically, on the photographic depictions of the narratives bound up or expressed in the poses of ordinary Chinese people caught up in extraordinary historical circumstances.

There is a tenderness in Lius rendering of these scenes of human suffering that belies its seeming quickness. Nothing rendered well is ever merely quick. If an artist has enough experience painting the real lives of images in this world, then empathy must be second nature. The Chinese folk toys and images Liu juxtaposes with many of her displaced country-fellows represents an attempt to offer them solace and comfort.

Though the subject matter in these paintings is tragic, its depictions, deft and unflinching, are oddly uplifting, perhaps because people are often shown coming to each others aid but also, perhaps, because in painting them, the artist confers upon their media-derived images the healing grace of oil paint and the touch of a hand that has been there before. This is the steady hand of her earthquake sketchbook.

Liu’s resin and mixed media pieces, called Za Zhong (or Bastard Paintings, produced by Master Printer David Salgado of Trillium Graphics), make the process that is layered into the surface of oil painting transparently visible. Beginning with a digital image of an existing painting, Liu paints into and on as many as eight additional layers of resin, each poured on top of an earlier layer. Given the resins transparency, you can look, as it were, back into the time of the painting, seeing the layers that compose it. The artists painting hand, as it skates across these surfaces, leaves brushstrokes that resemble a kind of jazz improvisation. And yet, this transparency offers a visual field that is literally deep one can look back into the painting, to its first layers, to its beginning.

KC Studio

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