Hung Liu
The Lifter, 2012
woodcut with acrylic
23.25 x 34.75 in.
edition of 25

Magnolia recently published several editions of woodcut prints with acrylic by Hung Liu which may initially surprise Liu enthusiasts with their unusual line quality and pictorial simplicity, but which deserve a closer look: there is more going on than first meets the eye. Liu based these innovative works on imagery from illustrated patriotic stories in the xiaorenshu, or Chinese picture books, that she read as a child and which she likens to the Dick and Jane primers supplied to American children in the 1950s.

Exhibited as part of Liu’s “Happy and Gay” show at Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, the imagery in these prints is “at once charming and eerie,” says the exhibition’s press release: “Seen from an historical perspective, the propaganda angle strongly supplants the fable or entertainment factor.” Incorporating her extraordinary sense of color and signature brushwork via layers of printed acrylic, Liu adds a dimension of historical inquiry and bittersweet, even ironic reflection to the crisp woodcut lines and straightforward, storybook imagery of the xiaorenshu: these works “can be understood, in part, as homage to all the artists who lost their art to propaganda during China’s revolutionary epoch.”