Review: Hung Liu’s spectacular take on a humble flower


Currently enjoying a retrospective at the Palm Springs Museum of Art, Bay Area painter Hung Liu debuts a refreshing new body of work at Walter Maciel.

Liu, who has been making dramatic paintings of turn-of-the-century Chinese prostitutes, laborers and soldiers since the 1980s, has sometimes seemed stuck within a limited vocabulary of photographic realism and extravagantly dripping paint. Her new paintings are portraits of the most humble of flowers—the dandelion—and they are spectacular.

Based on photographs taken during a road trip, the paintings are large, square, full-frontal views of the white, starry blooms. Thick brushstrokes radiate energetically from the center, suggesting a dazzling explosion.


Other works capture the flowers as they are stripped of their seeds, leaving desiccated stalks. In their simplicity, the paintings subtly convey themes Liu has been interested in all along: the passing of time, the impermanence and fragility of life.

The exhibition also includes more familiar portraits of prostitutes and laborers, but also a selection of works based on drawings from Liu’s early years in Cultural Revolution-era China.

Reproductions of her intimate, pencil portraits, they are coated in resin and painted over in daubs and washes of color. The resin creates a slight distancing effect, poignantly standing in for the time that has passed between then and now.

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 839-1840, through April 11. Closed Sunday and Monday.