Museum Report

“Shui-Water” is a painting by the American (born Chinese) Hung Liu, captured in the year 2012. It is a color aquatint, soft ground etching, dry point, scrapping and spite-bite with gold leaf on paper. It is painted on a Somerset white paper. The size of the image is 36 inches by 26 inches while the paper size is 47 inches by 36 inches; this is a rectangular painting with a portrait orientation. It is a painting of a lady sitting on the ground, a site looking like an edge of a steep cliff. She is exposed from the hips upwards, her legs and feet are obscured from view. Generally, she is seated facing to the left of the painting, although her face is turned forward towards the viewer. The right thigh is out of view, with part of the left thigh exposed at the center part of the lower edge of the painting. She is dressed like in the winter period, with scarf on her head and most of the neck is covered. The scarf on her head is black with a pattern that starts at the front and widens as it disappears to the back of her head. On the center of her chest is a flower, with a white part to the right of the painting and a yellow part to its left. The flower appears to stem from a green stalk that is attached to the region where the labels of her dress meet and hang upside down. The dress itself is white with long sleeves and a thick collar that has a black strip on it. Her hands are clasped in front of her, resting on her laps as she sits straight. From the left side of her dress, near the elbows, the dress has a brownish piece with dark spots on it. On the left side of her face, in the temple region, a yellow body (probably a flower) pops just above the head scarf. The ground on which she is sitting looks dark and water soaked given the reflections from its surface. She has gold and greenish bands on her wrists, which appear to be part of the dress she is wearing. In the top left corner of the painting, a range of hills are visible which become numerous as one moves the eyes along the top part of the painting from left to right. In the background there is a water body, with a sinking boat. To her left, in the flank region, one can notice a butterfly shaped figure (presumable a butterfly that landed on her cloth and rested vertically in reference to her posture). Generally, she appears relaxed and one can assume from the gaze that she is looking directly at the observer. The subject of this painting is a turn-of-the-twentieth-century picture of a prostitute whose services were advertised on a mail order catalogue. However, most of this imagery was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; which means that this painting represents a lost or hidden aspect of the Chinese history. Although the woman has a peony flower which is a sign of good luck, a sinking boat in the background signifies a society that is currently in a crisis.

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This painting is a typical example of the artist’s work because in almost all her other paintings she endeavors to present the world through imagery. Since she is of Chinese origin and migrated to the United States at an early age, she has a recollection of the Chinese culture and attempts to merge it with the American culture in which she is now living. This representation is an attempt at revealing her Chinese culture which has been submerged after the Cultural Revolution and has now been replaced by other new cultures. The picture of the prostitute may be a representation of her experiences in China in her early childhood before she migrated to the United States, and also represents an attempt at exposing the world’s evils through art.

In terms of style, the painting is in the expressionist category. This is because the painter, Hung Liu, has chosen to evoke the feelings of a society in crisis by presenting an image of a prostitute, beautifully dressed but with a sinking boat in her background meaning that she lives in society facing a crisis; a typical expressionist painting (Shamir, Macura, Eckley, & Goldberg, 2010). Given that it was captured in the year 2012, it fits in this category because the style evolved in the early 19th century and has had many artists in its favor. The fact that she chose to use a very common character in the present society, a prostitute, farther cements her objective of eliciting emotions in her audience and bringing to their attention the crisis facing the society. In terms of its meaning, it is fairly clear that the artist presents the rot in society and the danger posed by it; unless action is taken soon. The society is symbolized by the sinking boat in the background, foretelling the impeding collapse of society; morally and otherwise. Away from the expressionist intentions of the artist, the painting depicts the beauty of the place and the people in that place. The range of mountains in the background, the serene waters behind her, and the beautiful cloths she is wearing added to her relaxed and quite posture sum up the society in reference as an enviable place.

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