YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Nine-Year Prison Stay Colors Chinese Painter's Work in a Positive Way


Imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese painter Liu Xun found that nine years of hard work with no creative outlet sharpened his sense of color and beauty.

"My painting was totally different" after being in prison, Liu said. "Before I just painted what I saw . . . now I use color and mental images to show the beauty of nature and society."

Now 71 years old, Liu has become one of the best-known painters in China. His impressionistic works combine elements of traditional Chinese painting and Western art.

From Monday to Wednesday, 36 of his paintings will hang in the Carson Community Center as part of the celebration of the facility's 10th anniversary. It is the first time his works have been displayed in the United States.

Carson Mayor Michael I. Mitoma and Los Angeles businessman Gene Kim met Liu in China. Mitoma brought the artist's work to the attention of Carson's Fine Arts Commission. Mitoma and the Koreatown Assn. of Los Angeles, which Kim heads, arranged Liu's trip after the Fine Arts Commission chose him for the anniversary event.

Mitoma invited Liu to visit because contemporary Chinese art doesn't get much publicity.

"The emphasis in China is not on art now, it's on economic growth," Mitoma said. But through Liu, Mitoma said, he learned about the community of artists in China.

Liu is deputy director of the Beijing Academy of Painting, chairman of the Beijing Assn. of Artists and vice chairman of the Literature and Art Union.

Besides his artistic interests, Liu also runs a major hotel in Beijing. He allows the artistic community to gather in the hotel and lets poor artists display their work in the hotel's gallery.

Liu taught himself to paint at 17, after he was assigned to an acting group during a stint in the Chinese Army. Being around artistic people encouraged him to try other art forms, he said, speaking through an interpreter.

He does landscapes because places he has visited stick in his mind, he said. After contemplating the scene--often for a very long time--he paints from memory. Once inspired, he works without eating or sleeping until finished.

Most artists start their painting career too young to be good painters, Liu said. His own work has been profoundly affected by his experiences.

Liu's father, a munitions factory worker, died before he was born, and his mother, an illiterate laborer, struggled to support the family. One of the works Liu brought for the Carson exhibit is a portrait of his mother, whose struggle to survive inspired him.

Liu, who rarely sells his work, gives most of them to friends. He has promised to give one to Carson in appreciation for the city's interest in his art.

The Carson exhibit focuses mainly on his recent works. Liu says the vibrant colors in his landscapes reflect a joy that contrasts with the dreariness of prison and the other hardships in his life.

Even the act of completing a painting brings an emotional response.

"I feel both happiness and disappointment together," he said.


Harbor City resident Dottie Kryzanoski has been chosen to participate in the National Institute for Leadership Development, a national leadership training program for female college administrators and faculty. Kryzanoski is director of Los Angeles Harbor College's Institutional Advancement.

Items for this column may be sent to People Column, South Bay Edition, Los Angeles Times, 23133 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, CA 90505.

Los Angeles Times Articles