Pictured, from left (see below for more information on each): from Rogers Series, c. 1995
Gift of the Richard and Alita Rogers Family Foundation
Materials: Mixed media monoprint (left and centre); Sumi ink drawing on metallic leaf (right) each 30 x 22”.
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, fourth floor hallway, east end.
The artist says of this grouping of three works on paper that they were created at a time of illness and stress in her life: Her father had fallen and broken his hip, for which he needed increased support in order to expedite the healing process. The daughter’s response was to create a work in three parts that expresses an artist’s contribution to that process.
All three of these works display an overall field of pattern -- created in the printing process or alternatively, at right, by the artist’s gesture prior to drawing -- that becomes the ground of the work. The monoprints, left and center, are for the most part abstracted or totally abstract, revealing their details only upon close inspection. Hui-Chu Ying has chosen titles that hint at her intention for each, and the beholder is invited to follow the gesture of her brush or pen and in so doing, enter a shared meditative and healing moment.
On top of a printed field of muted oranges and reds, the artist creates a literal field of purple iris, the blooms on slender green stems suggested by daubs of the heavy-laden brush. The uneven distribution of the iris, which leaves large swathes of the print unoccupied, gives us a feeling of seeing a scene from nature, where such random groupings occur.
In Chinese culture, Hui-Chu Ying says, the iris bears meanings of faith, hope, wisdom, and courage. At the time these works were made, such meanings were needed for her father’s recovery; this print expresses her admiration for him and her efforts to contribute to his healing by making for him a field of the heavily symbolic iris.
This central print appears at first to be the most abstract of the three, limited to strokes of a sometimes dry, sometimes very loaded, brush on paper. The occasional bleeding of the stroke — we see the fuzzy edges of a line where it ends, surrounded by a softer grey area where the water-based ink has soaked and spread — creates little areas of punctuation across the surface of this monoprint.
Looking at the spots of blurred ink, we realize — as Ying tells us right in the title — that we are looking at literal buckets (surprise!): Repeated, overlapping, falling, spinning in profile across the surface of the sheet of paper and cut off at the margins as though we’re seeing only a snapshot of a larger deluge. We get the feeling that the artist has really looked at a bucket and discerned the simplest, quickest way to capture its features in a few bold strokes.
And, as Hui-Chu Ying says, we all have bucket (lists) that we wish to fill.
This work started with burnishing metallic squares (corresponding to ultra-fine leaves of gold, the format in which gold for surface application comes) across its surface to create the subtle woven pattern you note at first, under the black drawing in Sumi ink. Where the leaf folds over or is otherwise irregularly applied in the process, the orange backing appears, creating a rich, nuanced effect of abstraction. Ying makes the most of the results of an extremely time-consuming and delicate process, which was, itself, merely preparation for the drawing.
And that drawing is Ying’s rapid impression of a vertebral column (the spine), pelvis, and leg bones, with a scrummed area in the hip where, we might assume, the artist intends to represent the accident that befell her father.
The emphasis on preparing the ground, the use of gold (expensive, even when used as a material in a work of art), and the emphasis on body parts key to her father’s history would make this drawing a kind of ex voto. An ex voto is a type of votive object offered to an intercessor – a saint or deity -- by a patient or patient’s family as an appeal for a cure or for relief from suffering. Many take the shape of, or are images of, the afflicted body part, with none of the rest of the human form represented, as we have with the bones depicted in this drawing. In many parts of the world where Catholicism is the primary faith, entire altars of healing saints are covered with ex votos, the accretion of objects taking over the devotional space as testament to need and faith.
And in some ways, this entire group of three monoprints serves the purpose of an ex voto, as well as telling, in an abstracted and indirect way, a personal story about the artist, her father, and an artist’s way of expressing hope for healing and recovery.