“Hong Fu’s art career started from painting large-scale Mao’s portrait in public spaces in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in China.”
Hong Fu was born in 1946 into a business family in Liaoning, northeast China. With his young parents, he went to Beijing at the age of five and started home-schooling with private teachers. He showed an early talent for drawing and his parents encouraged him.
China was experiencing some historical changes in everyday life in the 1950s and 1960s. With excellent academic results from Beijing Art and Craft College, his first job was to paint Mao’s portrait in a public space in Beijing. His technical skills impressed many people, and more invitations came to him. These portraits were usually several meters high, and it took weeks or months to complete one. Young Hong Fu was especially pleased about the good meals he was given in this role when many people were starving.
In 1974, Hong Fu joined China Radio and Television Theatre as a stage designer. He was transferred to the prestigious China Central Television (CCTV), becoming an art editor. While doing this daytime job, he continued painting at night. He says that “the night was mine. I could let my imagination fly high.” He painted figurative works, landscapes and even cartoons. Hong Fu’s work attained widespread recognition. In 1984, the highly acclaimed National Art Museum gave him a solo exhibition that attracted tens of thousands of people.
Hong Fu left his hometown Beijing and arrived in Australia soon after 1989. Hong Fu said, “it was Australia that gave me personal freedom and freedom of artistic expression”. With his solid techniques and new inspiration, Hong Fu’s work was recognised, especially the unique style of his oil paintings – a mix of vibrant and subtle colours and transformed impressionist application. He has gained a reputation in Australia and internationally.
In 2021, the Art Gallery of NSW held the Archie 100 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Archibald Prize. One hundred paintings were chosen from over 6000 works that had been shown as finalists between 1921 and 2021. Hong Fu was the only Chinese-Australian artist included in this historical exhibition. In 2022, Hong Fu’s painting of fellow artist Peter Wegner made him a fourth-time finalist for the Archibald.
This year is Hong Fu’s 60th year of art practice. From Mao to now, his art career has been a long and zig-zagging journey. However, one thing has never changed. Hong Fu said, “I believe in hope. My painting is a search for hope”.
– written by Dr Yeqin Zuo, Director of Vermilion Art