As a teenager in 1960s China, Hung Liu realized that relatives pics could be perilous. All through the Cultural Revolution, possessing an elite or educated household history could guide to prison, and Ms. Liu was the granddaughter of a scholar worse, her father experienced fought in opposition to the Communists. So loved ones users saved a handful of images and burned the rest. Diaries, also, went up in smoke.

No speculate that all over her vocation as an artist, Ms. Liu, 73, has been drawn to classic images as topics. Her huge new exhibition, “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands,” which opens Aug. 27 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., includes works in numerous designs that span her occupation. There are early landscapes recalling Cézanne or Pissarro, which she painted in top secret to cover them from Communist censors, and a 2006 mural of cranes in flight at the Oakland, Calif., airport, reminiscent of stained glass. But it is Ms Liu’s unconventional portraits based mostly on photos, generally elegiac and marked by deliberate streaks veiling sections of the graphic, that are the heart of the exhibition.

“Father’s Day” (1994) attracts on a photograph taken in the course of the artist’s visit to her father at a rural labor camp, trimming the canvas to the outline of the two subjects so that it pretty much pops out of the wall, and deftly balancing the off-centre figures with a fragment of antique wood architecture. Ms. Liu suggests the painting evokes the fragmentation of Chinese tradition she has professional. Immediately after a long time of Communist-mandated “re-education” in the countryside, she researched artwork at a leading faculty in Beijing. But she was identified to depart the state, and after yrs of delays in getting a passport, in 1984 she went to analyze artwork at the University of California, San Diego. She was in her mid-30s and arrived with about $20 in her pocket.

An early portray exhibits that, in spite of almost everything, Ms. Liu retained a sly feeling of humor. In “Resident Alien” (1988) she turned her green card into a 5 foot-by-7½ foot portray, with a several pointed alterations: Her name turned “Fortune Cookie,” whilst she altered her delivery day from 1948 to 1984, evoking both the year she came to The us and Orwellian bureaucracies. For the image of herself on the card, Ms. Liu utilized the techniques she experienced acquired researching socialist realism in artwork college.

Ms. Liu started experimenting with linseed oil, to start with using thicker layers of paint and then washing the canvas with the oil, which usually takes extended to dry and the natural way drips. The linseed streaks “become reminders of the passage of time. They include a layer of empathy. They generate emotion,” states exhibition curator Dorothy Moss. On Ms. Liu’s web page, the type is known as ”weeping realism,” and she frequently utilizes it for portraits centered on vintage photographs.