Born the year before the founding of the People's Republic of China, Hung Liu (1948-2021) experienced the Cultural Revolution first hand. Initially trained in the Socialist Realist style, she studied mural painting as a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing before immigrating to the U.S. in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego, where she studied with Allan Kaprow.
As a painter, Liu challenged the documentary authority of historical Chinese photographs by subjecting them to the more reflective process of painting. Much of the meaning of Liu's painting comes from the way the washes and drips dissolve the documentary images, suggesting the passage of memory into history while working to uncover the cultural and personal narratives fixed — but often concealed — in the photographic instant. She wrote: "I want to both preserve and destroy the image."
A two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting, Liu also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Printmaking from the Southern Graphics Council International in 2011. A career retrospective of Liu's work, Summoning Ghost: The Art and Life of Hung Liu, was organized by the Oakland Museum of California and is scheduled to travel to other museum venues into 2015. In a review of the retrospective, the Wall Street Journal's David Littlejohn called Liu "the greatest Chinese painter in the U.S." Liu's works have been exhibited extensively and collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; and the Los Angeles County Museum, among other institutions. Liu lived in Oakland and was a professor of art at Mills College from 1990–2014, when she retired.