Interview with Huihan Liu, Juror of 24th National OPA Exhibition

Huihan Liu head photoBorn in Guangzhou, China in 1952, Huihan Liu has become a master signature member of both the Oil Painters of America, and the American Impressionist Society and an artist signature member of California art Club. Huihan Liu was trained in the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art in China in 1972 and has a MFA from the Academy of Art College of San Francisco in 1989. With more than twenty years in his professional career as an illustrator, teacher, and painter, he won Best of Show Award in the Oil Painters of American Regional Exhibition in 1996. Huihan Liu’s artwork has been featured in major artist publications over the years. He is the juror of the 24th National Juried Exhibition.

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“Song of Spirit” by Huihan Liu OPAM Received Second Place in OPA’s 2014 Masters Only Show.

What do you believe the relationship is between ‘talent’ and becoming an artist?

I believe that artistic “talent” is the passion you have about something you love to do, no matter how frustrating it is. As children, we have a natural ability to draw before we can read. Interest is a driver of motivation, and with motivation, you will discover and use your “talent”. Otherwise, if you have “talent”, but if you have no motivation to develop that interest, then talent is meaningless. I never thought that I was talented, but I loved to draw and found it was fun as a child. When I was in high school in the late 60’s, I painted many propaganda paintings.

Was it difficult for you to pursue an art education in China?

It was very difficult because we had to go through a ‘family political background check’ during “Culture Revolution”, which was a time of social and political chaos in China. My father was a teacher and he had Christianity in his background. Both of these issues caused me trouble when I applied to art school. Luckily, I was accepted after a long and difficult process.

How did you get to study at the Academy of Art in San Fransisco and how did this lead to further opportunities?

In 1987, I was studying for my graduate degree at my art school Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art in China. To further my graduate studies, I applied to the Academy of Art University, moved to San Francisco and graduated in 1989 with a MFA. During the one year of the practical training program, I worked as a story board artist in an advertising agency in San Francisco. I had to move back to China after the one year training program according to the student visa. However, the agency wanted me to stay because their client liked my portfolio style for the storyboard presentation. It was very complicated to get a green card to stay permanently. The agency had to advertise my job in the newspaper for several days so that any US citizen could apply. More than sixty people were interviewed, but the company still chose me because they were sure that I would make a contribution to the company and country.

What were the challenges of moving to the United States to study art?

I was separated my family, my wife and son who remained in China more than a year while I studied in the US. I didn’t have any friends or family members in the US. My English was very limited. I was lucky that my wife and my son had applied for US visas and could come to stay with me during my second year of study. However, I had no problem when I finally went back to visit China was 1995.

How did you start to earn money with your art?

In China, before I left, I was not represented by art galleries. I was teaching art at the Academy which was a comfortable life. In the U.S., I began selling my paintings in 1994 through galleries and was teaching.

How should one develop their learning if they can’t do an MFA or an Atelier program?

It would be best to have an individual intensive study directly with a mentor who will work with the student in a specially designed program. Another option is taking workshops. It is best to take a workshop with the same teacher two times a year or once a year for about four years where the workshop is limited 10-15 students. This method is the best way for both the mentor and student to maintain a commitment and consistency in working together. If the student is always shopping around for a different workshop every year, it would be difficult to see progress.

Should artists try a wide arrange of artistic style (realism/impressionism) and different mediums to develop their style/likes/dislikes?

Yes. I did this as well throughout my career.

Regarding judging OPA’s 24th National Juried Exhibition, what is your procedure for judging the hundreds of paintings?

To be a judge for the awards is a challenge and difficult, like judging a sport. While there may be technical factors to evaluate, the final decision often comes down to a matter of personal opinion and taste.

To me, excellent artwork should catch my eye and make me say, “Wow!” at first glance from a distance, without hesitation or thought. If a work stops me in my tracks, I will gradually take the chance to study the painting more carefully. Generally, the extraordinary representational painting should be well-engaged, with a unique idea paired with excellent craftsmanship. It should also possess strong fundamental elements such as overall composition and color pallet, and also draw from, but not be limited by, an original interpretation by the artist.

What is your advice to those that have submitted paintings for exhibitions and haven’t been accepted?

It is normal to have paintings that haven’t been accepted and it happens to me. My advice is to re-evaluate the painting if it needs be improved. If not, go on the next one, don’t be discouraged.

What a typical day/week looks like in your artist life?

I am a scheduled person. I mark everything on a calendar. On average, I paint around 35 hours per week. I paint 6-8 hours a day, four days a week at home. On a major project, I will work longer. Generally, I will paint for several hours then I need to take a break. I really like to go for a walk or exercise when I take breaks. Sometimes I will stop on a painting, and chose to paint something different like a still-life. I love to paint “Plein Air”. When I return to the studio I will have a fresh eye for my work.

It is important to me to stay well balanced. Exercise is like meditation, and it is really healthy. Painting is like meditation, however, only until the point when you lose judgement because you have been working too long at one time. This gets frustrating and then you know you need to take a break, and go painting outdoors! Most importantly, hard work doesn’t equal good work. There is a right time and the right moment. Balance is everything.

Teaching is a very important part of my life and I take it very seriously. In my workshops, in addition to explaining and demonstrating the fundamentals of how I approach my painting technique, I really feel it is important that I teach students how to evaluate and judge their own paintings. You as an artist need to know how to view your paintings and see what is right and what is a problem when a teacher is not around to help. In addition, I have changed my workshop to include composition. I ask the students to bring three photo references for their future paintings ideas, and then we walk through them, learning what works and what would make the best composition. With this in hand, my students are one step closer to creating great paintings.

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