Tina Chen's Formal Art Critique
Hung Liu, The Maiden (2001). Lithography, color, with Collage (77 x 77 cm)
The Maiden is a square-shaped color lithography with collage, by Hung Liu who is a Chinese-American artist, and is now displayed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. It is one of Liu’s three-part series of works using anonymous historical photographs as the basis for imagined stories of women, and the other two include The Bride and The Martyr.
This lithography depicts a side-face image of a Chinese girl in a traditional Chinese girl hairstyle. The girl has straight black hair, which is tied by a red rope at her back, and parallel bangs hanging above her eyebrows. Although she is facing the right side of the piece, her right eye seems looking straight to the viewers. Her mouth leaves slightly open at a natural state. Regarding a small portion of her clothes, it seems like she dresses in a dark red traditional Chinese button-down outwear for adolescents back in the 60s, with a white shirt inside. The background color her face is pinkish and incarnadine, suggesting at she is at an early age. According to the customs during that period of China, the entire outlook of the girl indicates that she is from a lower socioeconomic class or that she works as a servant for a richer family.
The background of this lithography is filled with a low key and low intensity yellow color. On top of this, there are a certain amount large black stains on the right side of the piece as well as some low opacity black colors drilling down at the top and on the left. In consistency, in the center of the piece there are several light blue and red drilling marks going down the girl’s face. Likewise, right in front of her nose there are a couple of light blue marks drilling from her bangs to her mouth. It seems to me that these marks are randomly positioned as if there were accidentally spilled over the piece. Also, these random marks with various transparencies suggest a passage of time because, with them present, the piece looks as if it were washed by rain or stained by ink a long time ago. This message goes along with the original source, a historical photograph, from which this lithography is created. Referring to the shape and the composition, Liu puts a black and a red organic circle on each side of the piece and complements the vertical and geometric lines. Besides, there is also some watercolor-like white, red and blue hiding in the girl’s hair, on her face and in the background, softening the rigid black colors. In general, there are a lot of wild and rough strokes and unrefined shapes.
The most fascinating part of this art work is that the artist integrates symbolized animal images and colored flowers into the portrait of the girl, and thus they become part of the depiction of this girl. In her hair, there is a red and a blue big detailed dragonfly, one on top of her head and the other at the back and below the red dragonfly there is a small light purple butterfly resting on a red peony. When looking close enough, I can see very fine lines drawn on the wings of both dragonflies, and the patterns on their bodies as well as their heads and antennae are also vividly depicted in details. In contrast to the low key yellow, black and red colors in most parts of the piece, the dragonflies, the butterfly and the peony add more high key colors to the surface and make this piece more interesting to appreciate. Moreover, the presence of these insects adds a sense of movement to the piece and complements the still and non-active depiction of the girl. It seems like the two dragonflies are approaching the peony and the butterfly is sniffing the flower. As far as the symbolism of these insects and the flower, in China, dragonflies and butterflies represent women and feminine characteristics, especially women at an early age, and also they express vulnerability as well as frangibility because these insects are easily killed and short-lived. Therefore, this expression is consistent with the image of this early-age Chinese girl. Oppositely, the peony flower is a symbol of nobility and high social status, so the depiction of these insects around the flower suggests that the low class is pursuing for the rich and is inferior in the sense that they are surrounding the high class. This indicates what was happening in Chine during Chairman Mao times because the whole China was having a strong belief in Communism and was worshipping Chairman Mao as an authority of power. Below her ear, there is also a butterfly with transparent green wings and purple body flying over pink flowers. In addition, there are three dragons in the piece, one is in the red circle on the left, one is at the bottom left, and the other is at the bottom right. There are all drawn in details and are colorful, but the way in which Liu depicts them is not the same as what had been done for Chinese emperors in ancient times; those dragons are similar to what is drawn on the traditional new year decoration pictures, which households would put up for good luck and future. I think that this indicates that Chinese people are not only blindly worshipping the authority, but also are controlled by it.
Liu uses animals and flowers as symbols and well integrates them into his piece as a method of expressing certain level of sarcasm towards people’s political attitudes. Also, this method shows a connection between the human and the animal and highlights the importance of animals in our lives.