Watch This Famous Chinese Artist Splash Paint Live to Create an Epic Masterpiece
Hua Tunan mixes street art and traditional painting, and even kitchen tools.
Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.
Hua Tunan in his studio in Foshan, China.
Photos: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art
Starting Aug. 2, Honolulu Museum of Art visitors can see internationally recognized Chinese mural artist Hua Tunan work on two paintings on the museum’s Central Courtyard stage, one of them a landscape designed to be a long-term backdrop for the Emile-Antoine Bourdelle sculpture La Grande Pénélope. On the evening of Aug. 5, Tunan will finish up his works at the museum’s food-and-wine event August Moon, which will also feature a select number of original works for sale.
Tunan’s large-scale works of animals and landscapes look like turbocharged versions of traditional Chinese brush paintings, using modern acrylic and spray paint. He is a modern-day Jackson Pollock, throwing his whole body into whipping containers of paint at giant walls, creating images that somehow come out looking like precisely painted tigers and countryside scenes. Tunan says he sees his paintings as bridging East and West. Which is why, while walking through the museum, laid out with east and west wings, he said that the building and collection is “giving me many ideas. It is very nice here. I am finding myself in the design.”
Hua Tunan meets the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Guanyin.
As he explored the museum’s Buddhism Gallery last week, Tunan said he had jipi—chicken skin. His weeklong residency at the museum also includes an invitation-only workshop for artists. The Foshan-based Tunan is as much a social media star as an internationally known muralist (he has 57,000 followers on Instagram); his Instagram post of Guanyin earned more than 1,000 likes.
Tunan, accompanied by his girlfriend, Kathy Nguyen, answered a few questions on his first day at the museum, with museum docent Debbie Lee translating.
How did you get into traditional Chinese art?
Through my father. He’s an expert calligrapher, and I started practicing when I was five years old. He is not a professional—he has a furniture manufacturing business—but has a deep personal interest in art and encouraged me to find my own way. He would take me to the library and bookstores and let me explore and find what I liked. Now, every time I go to a library or bookstore, the smell of the pages takes me back to those times.
Are there any particular traditional artists who have inspired you?
Zhang Daquian for his splash technique, and Wu Guanzhong for his lines.
What about street artists?
Banksy and Vhils (aka Alexandre Farto). Foshan does not have a lot of graffiti or street art. I actually see things like temples and gardens as street art.
Hua Tunan experiments with using household tools including handmixer attachments in his painting process.
Did you experiment a long time to achieve your technique?
I can’t give you an exact answer—I don’t think I have completely achieved my technique yet. It is continuously evolving. Art is life—everything interconnects with each other. When I see my mom sweeping with a big Chinese broom, it’s like she’s making a huge calligraphy. (He presents a photograph of two paint-splattered drills with handmixer whisk attachments inserted in them.) I want to make art a part of practical daily life, and am employing some basic household tools into my art.
The philosophy of tai chi is also a big influence on my work. (He shows an image of the iconic black-and-white yin-yang symbol on his phone.) It’s a basic element that helps me solve problems when I am making art. Its dualism—action and quiet, black and white, western and eastern, is one of the things that motivates my art.
Hua Tunan’s design for McDonald’s art series, printed on French fry packaging in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.
I read that you worked with McDonald’s?
I was one of 12 artists around the world invited to create a design that was used on french fry packaging during the 2014 World Cup. My work is all about physical movement, and football is a sport—they are very connected. So I created an image of an animal—a parrot—with a football.
You’ve also worked with companies such as Louis Vuitton—how did you come to their attention?
I was discovered through social media. I’m too busy painting to do that. My girlfriend, Kathy Nguyen, handles the business side of things.
Hua Tunan works on a tiger painting in his studio.
How do you select the animals you paint?
Picking the animals is like doing a self-portrait—it depends how I am feeling. Tiger, leopard, eagle—they all have stern eyes, and that reflects my mood. Sometimes I like doing a panda because I am very cute [laughs]. I brought a panda with me because I want people to know I’m not always so serious. I paint animals because they are universal, and in war they are often victims. I want to raise public awareness of their plight.
Will you leave a little something behind in Honolulu?
I am hoping to hear if Pow! Wow! has a spare wall I can paint. I would really like to do something in Chinatown. I have done things in the Chinatowns in Chicago and Singapore. This would be my third one. I would love to leave something for Honolulu that supports pride in being Chinese.
10 a.m.–4 p.m., Aug. 2–5, Honolulu Museum of Art central courtyard, honolulumuseum.org
Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.