- Ann Barrott Wicks
Chinese painter, writer, and woodcut artist of the Tujia national minority. Huang learned about woodcuts in school in Fujian Province in 1937–1939 but, as a result of his expulsion for fighting, he was primarily self-taught. His parents were artists, and in 1946 he married Zhang Meixi (b 1928), also an artist. In Shanghai in 1947 he joined Lu Xun’s anti-Guomindang (KMT) movement as a woodcut artist. In 1948 he painted and made woodcuts in Taiwan, then moved to Hong Kong, where he worked as art editor for the Da gong bao, a leftist newspaper. In 1953, optimistic about the new Communist government, he returned to China to teach woodcut-printing at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He moved back to Hong Kong in 1988, but retained his position as Professor at the Academy.
During the 1950s and 1960s Huang was well known for his woodblock portraits and his illustrations to his own witty poetry. He suffered all the humiliations of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976): beatings, incarcerations, wearing a dunce cap and placard, the destruction of his works and other personal property, and more than three years of hard labor in the countryside in 1970–1973. When he returned to Beijing in 1973 he was commissioned by Zhou Enlai’s faction of the government to plan the decoration of the Beijing Hotel. The following year, however, Jiang Qing denounced him as a “black painter,” and he was subjected to several more years of harsh treatment. The painting by Huang that she objected to, Winking Owl (Laing 1988, pl. 14), became a symbol of the ludicrous nature of the indictment of China’s artists and intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Jiang Qing interpreted its humorous, winking eye as an indication of Huang’s opposition to the regime.
Huang recovered from the constraints of the Cultural Revolution with energy, good humor, and a prolific outpouring of paintings, working in a variety of media but with traditional Chinese techniques as his foundation. He fulfilled a number of public commissions, including the design for the monumental landscape tapestry behind the seated statue of Mao in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square. His preferred subjects were traditional: birds and flowers (especially the lotus flower) and landscapes. However, his use of strong colors and vivid tonal and textural contrasts was innovative. In Lotus crisp, brightly colored petals executed in gongbi (“detailed strokes”) stand out starkly against soft, black pomo (“broken ink”) leaves. The combination of two opposing brush styles of Chinese painting, one precisely detailed and the other loose and impressionistic, is typical of Huang’s unconventional references to the past. He drew inspiration from a variety of time-honored techniques, but always presented a fresh perspective.
After the Cultural Revolution, Huang experimented with the Song-period (960–1279) technique of applying heavy color (zhongcai) to gaoli paper, to achieve a more brilliant effect. This modern application of the zhongcai technique inspired a number of artists, including Ting Shao Kuang (b 1939) and Zhou Ling (b 1941). Huang’s style was rooted in his Chinese past, but his dynamic use of colors and bold contrasts conveyed an energy previously unseen in Chinese flower paintings and landscapes. Living in voluntary exile in Hong Kong in 1989–1990, Huang used his vibrant flowers to protest against the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989.
In 1991 Huang moved to Italy, establishing a second home in Florence. He traveled widely in Italy and France, painting the scenery he observed. Published in Beijing in 2006, the book he wrote chronicling his experiences in Europe, Yan zhe Saina He dao Felengcui (“From the Seine to Firenze”), became a best-seller in China and was translated into Italian.
In 2013 the National Museum of China in Beijing held a retrospective of his art, showing more than 300 works made between 1949 and 2013. In his 90s, with his reputation as an artist firmly established, Huang Yongyu gave more time to his literary work.
- Huang Miaozi. “A Painter of Delightful Dreams.” Chinese Literature 8 (1979): 71–77.
- Wilson, P. "An Artist of the People: Huang Yongyu.", Chinese Literature 8 (1979): 59–70.
- Cohen, J.. “Huang Yongyu: Dragonflies, Frogs, and the Beatles.” ARTnews, 79, no. 6 (1980): 69–70.
- Huang Yongyu huajia [The painter Huang Yongyu]. Hong Kong, 1980.
- Cohen, J. The New Chinese Painting, 1949–1986. New York, 1987.
- Huang Yongyu. Hunan, 1987.
- Laing, E. J. The Winking Owl: Art in the People’s Republic of China. Berkeley, 1988.
- Zheng Xiaojuan and others, eds. Huang Yongyu and His Paintings, trans. Yang Xianyi. Beijing, 1988.
- Huang Yongyu huaji [Album of paintings by Huang Yongyu]. Harbin, 1998.
- Huang Yongyu banhua xuan [Selected woodblock prints by Huang Yongyu]. Harbin, 1999.
- Wang, E. Y. “The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description.” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (Spring 2000): 435–473.
- Huang, Y. Yan zhe Saina He dao Felengcui (“From the Seine to Firenze”). Beijing, 2014.
- Hawks, S. D. Painting by Candlelight. Seattle, 2016.