Hu Chi Chung

( 1927 - 2012 )

 

Copyright © 2017 Hu Chi Chung. All rights reserved.

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Zhejiang (浙江) province on the eastern coast of China.

he only son in a rural family with three sisters, Hu Chi Chung was born on January 27, 1927 in Song Yan Cun (松岩村), a small mountain village in



Quiet, shy but athletic, Hu enjoyed the outdoors. He loved swimming and fishing in the river that ran alongside his village, or hunting and trapping in the local mountains. In his free time, Hu also loved to draw. His family rarely had enough money to buy paper and ink, so he often sketched in the sand or on anything he could find. His favorite holiday was Chinese New Year’s because left over paper from the celebration provided him with material on which to draw.


Leaving Home


When Hu was around 13 years old, his parents arranged to have him married to an older girl from a neighboring village. Unhappy with this decision and disillusioned about his life and future, Hu decided to run away. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally left Song Yan Cun when he was around 14. With nowhere to go and little experience in the real world, Hu enrolled in the Whampoa Military Academy. When the school found out that he was underage, Hu was expelled from the academy. He transferred to a high school for refugee children and then to a military youth unit.


By the early 1940’s, the war with the Japanese had reached Zhejiang province. Hu spent the next several years, marching with his youth unit throughout the country in an attempt to evade the Japanese forces. The students had no food and little ammunition, and Hu watched many of friends die from starvation, malnutrition and disease. Hu was able to survive by relying on the skills he learned as a child to catch fish and hunt game.


Life in Taiwan


After the victory over the Japanese, Hu returned home to visit his family, but he could not stay long due to growing tensions between the Nationalists and Communists. In 1949, Hu moved to Shanghai and enlisted in the Chinese Nationalist Marine Corps. He became a cartographer known for his skill and speed in rendering maps and battle plans for the military leadership. When the Nationalists lost the war to the Communists, Hu moved to the island of Taiwan in 1950. Once there, he began spending more time on his two favorite pastimes: painting and shooting. Hu enjoyed sketching in the open air, practicing his marksmanship and going hunting in the hills outside the Kaohsiung naval base where he was stationed.


In 1952, Hu won his first award for oil painting, when he earned top honors at the 1st Armed Forces Art Exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan. Two years later, Hu represented the Republic of China Marine Corps at the International Pistol Championship in North Carolina. The trip to the U.S. represented a key turning point in his life. During the trip, Hu had the opportunity to visit the DeYoung Art Museum in San Francisco, California, where he was inspired by modern abstract artists like Willem de Kooning and French Impressionists such as Monet and Renoir. Hu bought numerous art books and returned home to Taiwan, with an even greater passion to paint.


A New Career


Hu’s career as a professional artist began in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, when he took one of his paintings to an art store to get it framed. The painting was seen by another customer, an expatriate from the U.S., who offered to buy it. Hu was ecstatic. The customer paid only a few U.S. dollars for the painting, but for Hu, it was worth a few months’ salary. After he learned that he could sell his paintings, Hu bought more art supplies and devoted all of his energy to painting. Inspired by the paintings that he saw at the DeYoung Museum, Hu began experimenting with abstract art. In 1956, Hu had his first one-man exhibition in Kaohsiung. A year later, Hu founded the Four Seas Artist Association with another young artist Fong Chung Ray.


The next defining moment in Hu’s art career came in 1958, when Hu started using sand in his oil paintings. Hu discovered that by mixing oil color with sand and applying it to the canvas, he could add texture and increased depth to his paintings. Once the sand dried, Hu would add layers of oil wash onto the canvas, using a technique that was similar to traditional Chinese brush painting, to create the look synonymous with his name today. This unique style garnered Hu much attention in Taiwan, and in 1959, Hu was selected to show at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris, France and at the Museu de Art Moderna in Sao Paolo, Brazil.


The 1960s brought Hu more recognition. In 1961, Hu joined the Fifth Moon Group, the preeminent group of contemporary Chinese artists, many of whom were at the forefront of the modern art movement in Taiwan. As a member of the Fifth Moon Group, Hu participated in group and solo exhibitions throughout the world, including Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, U.S., Canada, Spain, and Italy.


The Move West


After building a reputation as one of the leading Chinese artists of his generation, Hu immigrated to the U.S. in 1971, along with his wife Jena and his two sons, Daniel and Jerry. Hu stayed briefly in San Francisco before moving to Carmel, a small city on the Monterey Peninsula that is known for its natural beauty and rich artistic history. With its scenery and small-town charm, Carmel attracts many artists, photographers and writers, and Hu was one of them. The tall Monterey pines and green hills reminded Hu of his family home in Song Yan Cun, and quickly fell in love with the community.


For more than 30 years, Hu lived and painted in Carmel. He continued to show in art galleries and museums across the U.S. and internationally throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but Hu found that he was most comfortable in his studio in Carmel. Reserved and introverted, Hu didn’t like being in the spotlight. “I’m not very good with words,” Hu would say. “I let my paintings do the talking.”  When he wasn’t painting, Hu enjoyed camping, hiking and fishing with his family. He also trained bonsais and collected rocks and minerals, creating hundreds of beautiful rock sculptures in his backyard.



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