She has a unique style as she has chose women in the military as the subject for many of her works. Her women are sexy, but yet very powerful at the same time. She had spent time in the military during the Cultural Revolution, which would explain her preoccupation with the subject.
Hu Ming’s parents were doctors and served in the army. So they hope Hu Ming also can be a doctor. However Hu Ming took no interest in it, she only wanted to paint.
During the Cultural Revolution in China, Hu Ming spent her school days either drawing Chairman Mao’s portrait or memorizing his red book, nothing else was allowed and Hu Ming found it very boring, so she begged her parents to let her enter the army, she was only 15 years old. So in 1970 she became a soldier.
While Hu Ming was serving in the army hospital, she had numerous positions. Starting as the hospital broadcaster, a librarian, and a lone projectionist; travelling with a truck and moving around several different locations.
Her time as a Librarian changed her most profoundly. During the Cultural Revolution, people were only to read Chairman Mao’s red book, or his poetry, or some history that was of the “right” way while every other book were all banned during Mao’s reign in communist China.
For some reason of the three truck loads of books that arrived at the hospital, they decided not to burn the last load, and it was Ming’s task to categorize three rooms of books piled a meter high on the floors. She was not allowed to read the books of course, but when she found amongst the mounds of books, classics from Tolstoy to the story of Oliver, she read everything she could get her hands on! She also found records of classical music. The library became a wondrous place for her.
She would awaken whilst within its walls and fall asleep once she returned to the outside world of the Cultural Revolution.
However it was one day in that library that she found a book that would change her life forever. It was a life drawing book by Michelangelo, a book of human anatomy. The figures were of men, and it was the first time for the then 16-year- old to see the nude.
She was in a mental turmoil as she was both absolutely fascinated, yet petrified. Despite the danger, she took the book back to her room to study and copy the drawings, so that she might be able to draw the human body well.
The Cultural Revolution required men and women to be homogeneous, women were not to display their femininity or to wear face cream that contained any perfume, hence in her art she emphasised on the womanliness of the army girls in her painting.
In 1976 her commander sent her to train as a nurse for three months. After the training was completed she was sent to a “real hospital” to administer needles to the soldiers. She was placed in the male section where men lined up to receive their medication.
Ming continued this job for a year then she changed positions to work with the burn victims, which was not a popular job with the other nurses. During this time as a nurse Ming witnessed daily the dead and withered bodies of illness. She came to hate the view of an ill body and developed a passion in painting healthy voluptuous bodies.
In 1979 Ming went to University and sat for the entrance exams and passed with flying colours. Her university life was very rigorous; she would study till midnight then up at 5:30 to exercise and consequently won a scholarship and for 3 years.
In 1982 she bought her first camera. And instead of travelling home in her holidays as did the other students, she would travel alone to the mountains in the North to visit the local villages and consequently hitching around the country. During this year, her whole class was assigned to copy the famous cave paintings of the Buddhists grotto temple of 5000 years old. It took 6 months and 6 artists to copy these famous and important paintings onto rice paper, working with only a simple battery torch to see inside the caves. This time in the caves was extremely important to Ming’s training as it was the traditional line style of drawing.
At this time Ming kept 3 wishes that she wanted to materialize in her life:
- To continue to study art.
- To travel to different countries.
- To be wealthy enough to start an Art university.
Till this day there are 23 of Ming’s art works in her university’s gallery.
In 1983 for her final work for graduation, she painted a 2-metre square painting entitled “Mountain Kin and River” for graduation. Then she returned to the army hospital 254 and went back to the political office, She remained in the army for another year then chose to work for the army film factory, which specialized in propaganda war films, typically about the red armies victories over the Japanese imperialists during the World War II when the Japanese invasion and occupation.
The films typically featured the killing of Japanese soldiers with bombs/ fire/ etc. She was the creative director working with props and special effects. After that, she tried her hand at writing and directing films. She worked with the army films for 5 years, and was on her way to be a director and was given the rank of Major. But her heart was not in it any longer, she took the opportunity to study English in New Zealand. And so her life in the Chinese red army which she spent all her youth in,came to an end after 20 years. That was how her paintings’ influences came about.
While studying in New Zealand, she would draw faces at the markets in Auckland to earn a living. Then a man from Warner Bros saw her and asked if she would like to work for him, which she did for a year till an opportunity came to paint full-time in her own studio and so she started her own gallery and studio – Anzac Parade in Auckland in 1993. This was her first time to use oil’s and canvas; previously she had only used Chinese brush on rice paper and water colour. She fell in love with the oil paint immediately and has never returned to the water colour.
Later on in life, she was drawn to Australia. So in 1999 she went to Australia and found work with the Chinese post editorial board for a year, but has since met a partner who was able to give her the time to once again paint full time.
Hu Ming is a pioneer in her field being diverse in combining both modern and classical styles. There is a blend of exotic, strange, humorous and above all mysterious in her art. She merges a conscious sense of post modernism and element of sub-culturalism.
The females depicted by Hu Ming are all sturdy and beautiful Chinese women. What she wants to bring out are the new generation of Chinese women who are brave, sexy and being on par with men like Super Women.
The people in the old communist propaganda posters such as labourers carrying weapons or holding flags with happy smiles is not enough and aren’t attractive enough. Hence, Hu Ming has included some mild sexuality in her painting which are possible from western influence.
Her paintings express dearly her worship of the female form depicting both physical strength and feminine beauty. Her works are not of a planned process born of her dreams but represents an accumulation of her diverse experiences.
There is a book named Hu Ming published by University Of Hawaii Press in 2007.
This book contains 41 colour reproductions, mostly of Hu Ming’s recent work; Hu has taken the depiction of the semi-nude female body to new dimensions with work that exudes a unique sensuality and a dynamic realism.
She has held exhibitions in Japan and Singapore with her paintings being sold to buyers in the US, Canada, Asia and Europe. The New 87 Immortals was even chosen to be the background picture when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a speech on April 9, 2008.
Check out some of Hu Ming’s paintings below, and if you’d like to see more please visit her official website at http://hu-ming.com
军人 jūn rén Military Personnel
红宝书 hóng bǎo shū red books (written by Mao Zedong)
宣传 xuān chuán Propaganda
创意总监 chuàng yì zǒng jiān Creative director
文化大革命 wén huà dà gé mìng Cultural revolution
人体解剖学 rén tǐ jiě pōu xué Human anatomy