“It was my mission to paint this,” Chin-Chun Liu said, speaking of her large oil painting garnished with a silver medal achu
t the 5th New Tang Dynasty International Figure Painting Competition. The award ceremony and exhibition opening were held Thanksgiving weekend at the Solomon Salmagundi Art Club in New York City. Of the 400 paintings, submissions from 46 countries, 104 were selected for the exhibition.
The painting depicts a beautiful young woman standing barefoot and shackled in a dim cell, wearing a modest pale coral/titian colored dress, with one hand clenched in seeming self-determination. Surrounding her are taunting and harassing figures in the shadows, each representing, according to the artist Chin-Chun Liu, some form of intense external negative force. Yet the woman seems to glow from within, as she gazes upward, with a resolute and radiant countenance.
The painting is based on the real story of Zhang Yije, who was imprisoned in a Beijing labor camp. Liu first learned about Yije from a radio show and was deeply stirred by her story. While Liu was initially worried, both that she would not be able to do the story justice, and because this was the first time working on such a large canvas (82 1/2 x 67 in), Liu acknowledged that the process ended up going smoothly.
The practice, Falun Dafa, was introduced to the public in 1992 and consists of meditative exercises and the principles
Liu recalls that Yijie, like many others, was not allowed to sleep and was mentally tortured by reading her notes from her family members blaming her for the situation, all the while being forced to do grueling work in the labor camps.
“It’s a bit of a breakthrough, artistically,” Liu said. The work took half a year to complete, with another one to two months to conceive of the design. “The surrounding is very chaotic,” Liu explains. “The shades are bright and dark, contrasting
“Without a strong will, there is no way to survive such suffering and torture—I was very touched. I wanted to paint her story.”
The themes of the painting, though very specific to this large-scale crime against humanity, is nonetheless universal and applies to all our lives. In a world that is constantly vying for our attention, consumerism, family and financial pressures, it can be a difficult test to hold on and stay true to our core values and beliefs.
So what happens when darkness has robbed you of all your sight? This is when we summon, muster, and connect to, the strength within us, like Liu’s portrayal of Yijie.
“What is to give light must endure burning,” says Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who developed a form of psychotherapy after surviving Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s, based on the theory that it is through a search for meaning and purpose in life that individuals can endure hardship and suffering. Frankl observed that those prisoners who survived, who found a way to endure, always had a greater purpose that carried them onward through difficult conditions.
“Classical painting,” as Liu explains, “is not just about the surface techniques; in other words, it’s not enough that the subjects depicted look real. Those are merely the most basic standards for a work of art.”
“Classical art has more connotative requirements like balance,
rhythm, and composition,” Liu said. “It is firmly an act of creation and one that demands a long process of training in the style, on top of artistic vision. Classical beauty is to be more refined to express divinity.”
“Art comes from life, but should, in a way, be above life.”
Liu started learning painting from an early age, though at the time it was just doodling and graffiti. From high school onward, she pursued a classical art education, studying under the award-winning artist Li Yuan in Taiwan for 10 years. Liu attributes her artistic breakthroughs to her spiritual growth. “They are inseparable,” she said. “There must be improvement spiritually, for there to also be such a feeling in the painting.”
“I hope that if someone sees the picture, they can be touched, moved, and feel something meaningful,” Liu said.
The painting, both masterfully done and full of symbolic and social meaning, left the critics and viewers moved and inspired. With this powerful work of art, Chin-Chun Liu raised awareness of an ongoing perception and a crime against humanity.