Hung Liu – Onion Field
Dimensions: 80 x 80″
Medium: oil on canvas
Hung Liu’s Onion Field is perhaps her masterpiece of her Dorothea Lange-inspired body of work. For Liu, the onions are bitter fruit, the product of labor. On the ground, in bags, the onions are going somewhere to have another life. The people who picked, peeled, and bagged the onions might be absent from the painting, but the residual product of their work is here for all to see. This painting is the memorial of her time working in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution in China. There, she toiled to produce food for the Chinese common people at the insistence of the Communist government, while she herself didn’t have enough to eat. She felt connection to Dorothea Lange’s imagery of the fruits of American labor, for the first time creating a personal, intimate memorial of an experience she shared with people she never knew, on the opposite side of the world.
Liu spent two years completing the painting, which she started in 2017 and worked on for two hours almost every day for two years. The painting became like a meditation for her, a study in patience and perseverance as she meticulously painted every blade of grass; every rounded shape of the onions both in the field and inside the bags that held them. It is almost as if Liu learned to share Lange’s gaze inside her subjects as she so thoughtfully pondered every single aspect of the composition.
ONION FARM, 1939. Onions in sacks and on the ground during harvest in Malheur County, Oregon. Photograph by Dorothea Lange, October 1939.