Dustbowl Portrait IX
Dimensions: 13 x 13″
Media: oil on canvas
Hung Liu’s “Dustbowl Portrait IV” depicts a figure atop a bight, monochromatic background. Liu embraces the brushy, gestural marks created by her paint brush, incorporating thick swaths of paint to emphasize the dimensionality of the figure. Not to mention, the use of high contrast lights and darks further highlights the texture of the work and suggests that the figure is outside in the bright sun of the Southern Plains of the United States. Despite the thickness of the brushstrokes, the piece also illustrates close attention to detail, capturing an authentic rendering of the figure in action. Part of her unique series of small oil paintings, Liu’s “Dustbowl Portraits,” are honest, intimate portrayals of individuals persevering under the challenging conditions of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression eras.
Hung Liu first discovered the Dorothea Lange photographic archive in 2015. She immediately became fascinated by the struggles of the migrants in Lange’s Dust Bowl Era photographs. Liu is empathetic because like them, Hung Liu herself was forced to leave her home during the Cultural Revolution of her childhood in China. And ironically, like Dorothea Lange, Hung Liu used a camera (in Liu’s case a smuggled one) to document the struggles of the people she encountered during that time. This painting shows Liu’s fascination with the way we care for one another, even when we can barely care for ourselves. Liu explores the sensitivity of children in her current body of work titled “Catcher in the Rays.” Inspired by “Catcher in the Rye,” in which Catcher is the child who tries desperately to keep civilization from falling into an abyss, Liu paints children as resilient guides to show humanity a positive way forward.
By Sally Sasz, Morehead-Cain Scholar, Art History/English student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill