Ten Days Conversation with Hu Ming
The image looks a bit weird, fish are poured from sky; frog kind of animals running between the legs of people; goat with red boots; icy stairs; cat is frozen into square; and giant dragon, opens its huge mouth.
Ling: Hu Ming, I'm not smart enough, I cannot get the meaning of your paintings.
Hu: Most of these are my wild imaginations. Some of these are from my childhood dreams, just like the one with a little girl and dragon. The dragon woke me up from dreams, it stucks at the tree trunk, and I can still clearly remember the noise that it made.
Few dreams from my kindergarten are still fresh as yesterday. Imagine, in a dark corridor, half a face with staring eyes appeared from a half length glass door, and that's me. The corridor was full of foxes, standing there, queueing up and laughing, they were doing gymnastics. And a big fish pond, fish were overflowing everywhere as water. But there's no water at all.
Hu: I had another dream also from my early childhood memories. My family lived in the compound of the Army Ground Forces Hospital Headquarter. I loved to go into the teaching buildings in the nursing school with my friends, we jumped in from the window of the building that we called "cross building", to see the "giant" - an educational model. The "giant" is about 4 or 5 meters tall, imported and true to life. The skin is soft, the blood vessel is distinct. The eyes are clear blue and transparent with long and curling eye lashes. Both the eye lids and lips can be opened up, with teeth and tongue inside the mouth, even the tonsil can be clearly seen in the throat. Every important part has foreign annotations. The "giant" is female, laying on a platform, sometime naked, some time covered with white sheet, and sometime with patient cloth on. I never got bored looking at her.
Later on, the "giant" had appeared in my dreams numerously, always intertwined with dreams after I became a soldier. During the night emergency gathering, she was there when I suddenly looked up. All the foreign annotations were clear enough, sometime she carried a red plastic bag with Mao's Little Red Book in there.
Ling: Sounds like sleeping is the warm bed for your creation, why don't you sleep through the whole day instead.
Hu: I do like sleeping. It seems like I spend most of my life sleeping. When "everyday reading" time came when I served in the army, I untied the discipline button and curled up into the cloth, started sleeping while holding the book and drooled. The director said I wasn't "reading everyday", but "sleeping everyday". Thus, I got a nick name of "muddle" (Hu is the family name of the artist, in Chinese it has the same pronunciation with muddle). Sometime, when people from the clinical unit came to hand the broadcast draft, they even call me "little muddle".
I was the broadcaster, responsible for wake up call, eat call and lights out call. It was miserable, I couldn't get up in the morning. I relied on alarm clock, the one with chicken pecking decorations. But there still happened a major accident. One night the emergent call went off around three ofclock, and the song <The East is Red> followed up. All the medical staff of the hospital woke up and trooped up in the field, including the sick and wounded. When the vice-president came to ask me about the incident, I was asleep with the alarm clock. In the end, I wrote a self-criticism for this.
I was stunned for a little while.
Ling: Hu Ming, these ladies are really hardy. Look at them, bronze colored skin and full of muscles. This is your standard of beauty, isn't it?
Hu: Yes. I'm sick of pitiful kind of women, it's annoying. Thirty years ago Michelangelo influenced my whole life. It's probably since I discovered his paintings, I stepped on a totally different path.
I joined the army when I was 15, worked as the broadcaster, movie showing worker and also librarian.
I joined the army when I was 15, worked as the broadcaster, movie showing worker and also librarian.
254 Hospital used to be the old house of the warlord Cao Kun. The library is located on the second floor of this independent French House, and the stairway is the turning circled wooden stairs. The library was closed during the Cultural Revolution. One day I unlocked a historical lock, I was shock looking into the room: there were books everywhere, about a meter high. It was said that theses were all the gpoison grass" that off the shelf. I went through them, they were all excellent books! I stole two of them and brought back to the dormitory. One was Hugofs <The Year of 93>, and another was Balzacfs <Old Goriot>. It was brilliant, my tears wet the pillow case after reading <Old Goriot>. Since then, I started stealing book everyday. Because I was by myself in the broadcasting studio and no one cared. I usually brought two steamed buns on Sunday and sit in the library for a whole day.
One day I found Michelangelo's life drawing among a stack of books. Published in Japanese and already turned yellow. I was strike when I opened the book up-I don't even know that human anatomy can be draw so magnificent!
I secretly took this book back and hide it under my quilt. I'm afraid of looking at it in day time. Only until the lights out at night, I started copying it inside out.
One night, when I lift up the quilt, the catalogue book disappeared, also a pair of shorts. So I bet he or she must had done this purposely for the shorts. This kind of things happened all the time, and I dare not to make it a huge scene, thus, keep it to myself.
On the second day, the commander of political department called me in the office. On the desk it's that troublesome book.
The commander asked: "Where did you get this?"
"From the library."
"It supposed to be sealed up, it's part of the feudalism, capitalism and revisionism!"
I was afraid to say a thing.
The director started talking in a sincere manner: gHu Ming, the organization has always been cultivating you. But now we are so disappointed on you. Why did you paint naked people! It's not only the representation of capitalist consciousness, but it also indicates your mind is very complicated."
At that time, "capitalist consciousness" and "complicated mind" we're two different terms. The former is about political standpoint, and the latter is lifestyle problem, which is even more despised. I was frightened and cried, I thought I was addicted. But it's really funny that the person who reported this didn't mention his or her behavior of stealing.
Ling: I would like to ask a rather personal question, I have to admit, when I first saw masters' drawing of human bodies at the year of 14 or 15, I had sex fantasy. Did Michelangelo's body drawings give you the same feeling, which also became one of the elements in your paintings?
Hu: No. I started reading the medical books at early age, there's book called <Dermatology Clinic>, it's full of real human photos, which is revolting. In the meanwhile, I have seen so many dead bodies at the hospital. I really had enough of looking at naked bodies, most of them were extremely ugly. But Michelangelo's are different, they are breathtakingly beautiful and perfect. Also, all the male "important parts" in this book have been covered by cloth, and in this way, they didn't create any sex fantasy.
Ling: What happened after Michelangelo had been confiscated?
Hu: Michelangelo had already changed me. Later on I found a good place, the bath house. The bath house in our hospital opened twice a week. It was fully packed with 3 or 4 people under each shower nozzle, and there were shaking people waited around. They were all young female soldiers, nurses, doctors. How vigorous the naked scene was after they were undressed!
I brought the painting kit to the bathhouse, spread the drawing paper in the steam. Some of the female soldiers screamed: gHu Ming, you are so indecent, do not draw me!" Some others said: " go ahead, but I'm warning you, no faces are allowed!". The drawing paper got wet by the steam very soon. And I enjoyed my drawing while catching those moving bodies.
Ling: That is to say, in your paintings, no matter the countryside women or the female soldiers, their beautiful bodies were from the old time impressions.
Hu: Maybe, but only sketches were not enough. My major in nursing provided me advantages.
I was promoted in 1973 because one of the Chinese paintings I painted won the Excellence Prize in the group exhibition of the military region. It was titled <Trial Lecture> - a female soldier preaching <Communist Party Manifesto>. The so called "promotion" was me becoming a nurse, which was the lowest rank among the 23 ranks of National Administration.
The resource of dead bodies for anatomia education was very limit. Some of them were kept from the Anti-Japanese War period, which turned into the color of beef jerky. The muscle looked like stripped monk's ragged robe covered on the skeleton, underneath was the bicipital macule of the arms, and another layer was the triceps muscle. The nervus was spread out like broken electric wires. Students were scared of going there because it was said that room was haunted. You can hear the footsteps of people running at night, and girls were always gathered together. I'm not scared, I wanted to go over at night on my own to practice, so I could concentrate and lift the skin to draw the muscle and bones. The smell of formalin made my eyes watery. The power was cut off sometime, so I had to use torch. Imagine, a dark room full of dead bodies with faint beam, and I was wearing a big mask bent over the corpses, looking.
Ling: Did you hear the ghosts running?
Hu: Really did not.
Ling: Your countryside women were busty and well developed, did you used this kind of presentation to illustrate the abundant fertility of female? Or phallism?
Hu: It can be understood like this. To me, its Michelangelofs strong influence, Ifm deeply in love with the vitalized muscle that he painted. No matter men or women, not sure since when female were depicted without muscle.
Ling: There is one thing I donft understand, from your experiences, you have come into contact with so many deaths: the dissection of the hospital, the deaths of the sick and wounded, stripping the skin of dead baby, to excise the organs from people sentenced from death penalty, be presented at the scene of clearing victims from the Tangshan Earthquake. Fresh or dried corpse, soaked or living organ. Some people will become depressed or even nervous breakdown, or at least leaving a grey memory. However, in your paintings, itfs hardly to see that kind of dark decadence, but a completely opposite way to manifest live, healthy body, ruddy face, big smile, and the similar prosperous atmosphere from the Chinese New Year picture.
Hu: The characters in my paintings are not real, but the ideal characters that Ifm pursing. I do like it. As long as I think itfs needed, I will totally add strong stimulation in my paintings, just for the excellent visual effect. The real world is way too ugly. I would like to lead people into the greal" world that I have created.
Ling: There is another thing, your paintings are far removed from the academic skills that I know. Simply a subversion.
Hu: Right, many of my painting techniques are the taboo in academic oil skills. I understand that some people who study oil paintings dismiss my style of painting. I have never formally studied oil paintings, or even drawings. I donft follow any rules or standards. I have to do it my way, even if there is nowhere to go, I have to continue it.
Ling: So how did you get the idea of this style/form?
Hu: Itfs really simple, maximize my favorable strength and minimize the unfavorable weakness. You know, my profession is the meticulous personage in Chinese painting. I have good basic skills. I was doing Chinese painting when I first arrived in New Zealand, but I could not find any authentic rice paper after I used up mine, that is why I started oil paintings. As a result, the meticulous paintings skills were naturally brought into my oil painting creation. And I found out the effect was so very special.
In 2003, Hu Ming had her first Australian solo exhibition at Soho gallery, <Sexy China>. Australiafs famous Chinese artist Shen Jiawei gave Hu Ming an address book that he accumulated for so many years. Hu Ming sent her invitations according to that book. According to the gallery, they had never seen these many people during an opening ceremony. The influential Australian translator Mable Lee gave an opening speech. Soho is a small gallery, but Hu Mingfs exhibition shocked all the guests. A bunch of Chinese countryside women were vibrantly stood in front with bright and vivid color, which broke the established visual formula that the audiences had already had. People enjoyed calling this series gBig Girl Series". There were also several paintings of female soldiers in the exhibition, which developed into a larger series later.
Hu Ming originally had an extremely feminine name, in 1957 when the idea of gspeak out freely, air ones view fully" was prevalent in the air, her mother changed her name to Hu Ming. The name change was appropriate, it means to amaze the world with a single brilliant feat.
In one painting, a woman is extracting liquid from a gigantic red chili pepper, and another one is bottling in a distance, to get ready to transport to the market. It was titled <Line Production>. In another painting, a woman is half turning into the color of the capsicum that shefs sitting on, called <Gradual Change>.The most scary one is the one in completion in a large scale of 2 meters, a group of women swimming in a huge half watermelon with several frogs. They did not realize that they had become the monster of half human, half frog and half watermelon. The red woman-like fingernail is growing from the flipper of the gigantic frog. This painting was called <Transmutation>.
Hu: This series is about genetically modified food.
Ling: Exciting. Compare to your previous works, these paintings contain a sense of absurdity, especially the last one, itfs scary.
Hu: It is absurd, isnft it? This world is as absurd as this. Human being is currently facing the survival crisis, the advanced technology that they produced plus the ubiquitous business scam, the world is out of control. The so called genetically modified food that is produced through bio-science is contrary to the law of biological autologous.
Ling: In my point of view, it is a sudden change from the gBig Girl Series" to genetically modified food. The genetically modified food series can be seen as the continuation of Michelangelofs transgene. It is no long about praising, but expressing the concern of human survival. This is a serious topic.
Hu: I have been living abroad for more than ten years now. It is difficult to see direct elements from Western society from my paintings, but they do really exist and have impact on me. The biggest impact is respect for life, no matter the human beings, the animals or the nature, everything that has life. To cherish the living environment of human beings is one of the most important aspects of respecting life.
These paintings were shown in Melbourne, which caused great attention in Australian art world.