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The painting by Fred H. C. Liang that hangs next to my desk. Its surface, almost impossible to capture in a photograph, pulls me into its labyrinth of layers every time.


Closer view

Boston-based Fred H. C. Liang is one of my favorite artists and also a finalist for the ICA’s Audrey Foster prize. He blends an ongoing homage to his Chinese heritage with a visually rich and complex approach to painting, printmaking, sculpture, installations. Congrats to you Fred.

From Sebastian Smee’s response to the Foster Prize finalists in the Boston Globe:

Fred H. C. Liang…left China when he was 12 and came to the United States via Canada. Liang combines Eastern and Western idioms to eye-catching effect. His work here includes a decorative, free-form version of traditional Chinese paper cutouts that combine elaborately detailed drawing with screen printing. Resembling a rococo or Song Dynasty interpretation of a world map, the thing sprawls across two walls and onto the floor, where the patterns, which include the glimpsed forms of Chinese zodiac animals, are imposed on a reflective surface.

Titled “Dream of a Thousand Springs,’’ it’s seductive without quite transcending its own prettiness. Better is Liang’s “Untitled (Nushu),’’ a paper accordion book on a plywood plinth that stretches up 10 feet toward the ceiling. Cut into each page are Chinese symbols based on “nu shu,’’ a recently rediscovered secret language invented and used by women in southern China. The form of the piece is deeply satisfying, and the sense of buried secrets rising and expanding into open air charmingly poetic.

A video of the installation is available with Smee’s article if you are unable to see the ICA show in person.

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Deep, Bog, Night, by Fred H. C. Liang

I bought this painting by Fred Liang last year after my mother died. It was part of a gorgeous show of Liang’s work at Bernie Toale’s gallery in the South End of Boston. From the minute I saw it, I felt as though I had found the perfect repository for my newly acquired funereal sensibilities.

The image here is painfully inadequate; Liang is known primarily as a printmaker, so his layering of the paint is actually more reminiscent of a wood engraving, with elegaic lines reflecting the cross grain of wood and the surgical exactness that can be etched into that hard surface. There is an underpainting of reticulated white lines that is also hard to see in this image, as if the nappy velvet of the dominant black forms is still jockeying for dominance. Perhaps the white substrate is in fact another way to see death (a concept in several Asian traditions) and the black is more representational of what we know as the terrestrially material. And a small patch of mint green in the lower right quadrant (which is not delectable at all in this reproduction), subtly threads itself between the black and the white, offering another anchor of a completely different order.

To be truthful, assignation of significance for any of these forms doesn’t really matter to me. This painting, hanging close at hand and in my sights every day, is an ongoing source of mystery and awe. And every time I look into it I feel I am giving death a pass, offering it some familiarity in a life that, until recently, had little congress with its irrevocability.

My friend Bonnie’s service yesterday was just what she had outlined for herself over a year ago. She asked 4 of her friends, myself included, to speak on her behalf. Her husband Gerald also took a moment at the end to offer up his final adieu to his wife of nearly 50 years. As seems to be my experience with these memorials in the past, a few hours spent in communal remembrance of someone you love brings its own sense of completion. I came back home exhausted, but I did feel as if some arcs in me had completed their designated paths. Bonnie’s arc, one that spanned so many years of my life, has another home now.

A note for my readers who knew Bonnie, some of whom were not able to attend the service: Anyone who would like a copy of my tribute to her, please email me.