Four seasons of a Hong Kong artist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 10:13pm

Patches of vivid blue sky can be seen amid the branches and vibrant blooms of the persimmon tree. The red, yellow, orange and white colours represent the tree during the four seasons, and they remind artist Liu Tung-mui of outings in the countryside surrounding Beijing.

"I always asked my parents to take me out and in the countryside there were lots of these trees, so throughout the seasons my parents took me to see them," says Liu, as we chat with her father in their Wan Chai flat. Her mother died some years ago. "I like to be outside and derive inspiration from my surroundings."

She laughs, recalling how she loved to watch the snow fall in a Beijing winter, and would persuade her parents to take her out. While they froze, she stored images in her head of birds clustered in the trees - "I saw the family together" - and the flakes of falling snow. These became a series of paintings that she shows on a table in the living room.

Liu was starved of oxygen when she was born in the capital in 1974 and she suffered cerebral palsy. Her father Liu Pok-hing, a video cameraman, was based there.

Liu sits in a wheelchair and the muscular degeneration caused by the palsy makes her speech difficult and her head movement at times difficult to control. Her father translates for her. (Janet Tam, executive director of the Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong, translated this interview.)

Liu's love of art began at an early age observing her sister, now an art teacher. "When I was younger, my father … would prepare paper and paints. Because I couldn't control my muscles very well, he created a structure made of wood" to help contain the paint, she says.

"My left arm is much more developed, as it's the one I use for painting, so I have far better control over it. But it's a lot of muscle control and exertion. When I finish painting for the day, I'm covered in sweat."

Liu's strong brush strokes and shading create movement in her paintings: her horses, for example, are graceful, with long necks; one of them is displayed in the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Another, Dancing for Inclusion, has a hint of Pablo Picasso about it. Simple but elegant, thick, black strokes create moving, wavy limbed dancers, both male and female. Then there is one that looks more circular: the dancer in a wheelchair. One of Liu's other passions is dancing, which is offered by the disabled association.

Her father interjects to tell how sometimes she enjoys just seeing where the brush will take her and the painting develops organically.

"I love Picasso and [Joan] Miro," says Liu. "Miro is very imaginative and uses such beautiful colours. Last year, we went to Spain and I spent a lot of time at the museums for Picasso and Miro."

Among honours given to Liu over the years are the Most Successful Women Award 2007, and more recently a Medal of Honour. Six years ago, she was a torch-bearer in Beijing for the 2008 Paralympics.

She painted her first Persimmon in 1996. In 2002 the MTR Corporation asked her to recreate it to their size stipulations so that they could convert it into a vibrant mural, which can be viewed at Jordan MTR station. That 2002 painting will come under the hammer on September 3 for the SCMP Charity Art Auction.

"What I love most is when I work with primary school students teaching them about painting. There's such a pleasure to work with them. I want to encourage them by telling them people like me who have many obstacles to overcome can still create beautiful paintings."