Digital Imaging Instructor Creates Art that Honors Tradition


Phillip Hua. Courtesy of Phillip Hua.

With recent exhibitions at two London galleries, the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore, and the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ annual Juried Art Show, digital imaging instructor at Academy of Art University, Phillip Hua, is nurturing his career locally, while bolstering his international status.

The London shows, held at Sphinx Fine Art and The Lloyds Club ran in conjunction with the Young Masters Art Prize. Hua, who attended the shows, was among 30 international artists shortlisted for the award.

“It was a great experience and it gave me an opportunity to check out the London art scene as well as make friends with other artists,” said Hua, who grew up in San Jose and has exhibited work at several local venues, including Hang Art Gallery and the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. “I think the inclination is to want to show locally, within our community. But what I’ve found is that every artist’s appeal can vary from city to city, state to state, country to country. We have to think globally.”

The 30 finalists for the prize all had one thing in common: their work pays homage to artistic traditions from the past. Featuring natural imagery like swooping cranes, gliding koi fish and delicate bonsai, Hua’s artwork references Chinese brush painting, paying tribute to masters like Qi Baishi, Shen Zhou and Chao Shao-an.

But while Hua’s work reflects the graceful poetry of these revered artists, it also incorporates digital media techniques, while commenting on environmental and economic issues.

To make pieces like Proven Performance, which was included in The Young Masters Art Prize Auction, Hua prints digitally painted images onto sheets from financial newspapers. He then paints the printed image with water, letting the colors of precisely printed ink bleed into each other, blurring the line between the concepts of man-made and industrially manufactured. The final touch is wrapping them in packaging tape, which symbolizes the manufacturing process and the commodification of both fine art and nature.

“The original purpose of Chinese brush painting was to meditate on nature. I continue this process by contemplating the role of nature in today’s society as a commodity. I incorporate the aesthetic of Chinese brush painting and modernize it by adding an environmental angle as well as the use of digital media to create the works,” Hua said.

An essential component of the artist’s works is the way in which they change over time. Ink fades and newsprint turns yellow in a gradual degradation that mirrors themes of a changing climate and mankind’s relationship with nature.

Hua shared that his interest in environmental issues started about 11 years ago during a visit to Beijing where he witnessed massive industrial growth coupled with environmental decay.

“The skies were thick with smog,” he said. “It made me realize that we are playing a zero sum game with nature. We consume, and nature gets devoured.”

This month, Hua’s work appears in a group show at ProArts in Oakland, which runs from December 2, 2014 to January 16, 2015. Other upcoming exhibitions include group shows at Root Division in San Francisco, the Museum of Los Gatos, as well as a solo show scheduled for later this year at the E-Moderne Gallerie in Philadelphia.


phill HUa Missed Opportunities - install image.jpg

'Missed Opportunities' (64" × 256") installed at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. Pigmented ink and packaging tape on The Wall Street Journal newspaper, mounted on dibond. Courtesy of Phillip Hua.