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Asian art

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Trees without wind: impression of Australia



Huang Yongyu


1924 -


Huang Yongyu is one of the most well known artists in contemporary China. Born in Changde Hunan province in 1924, his ancestral home was in Fenghuang. Aged 16, he studied woodblock prints under the artist Li Hua. His work first came into prominence during the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966- 76 and was regarded as the '10 lost years'. The dominant and official artistic styles were Socialist Realism (stylised heroes), Chinese and Peasant (often cartoon-like, colourful and New Year pictures). Subjects often had to be approved or reapproved dependant on the times specifically for Chinese paintings. From 1970 to 1976 it was Jiang Qing who controlled cultural output until Mao died in 1976 and she and the Gang of Four were overthrown.

In 1974, one of the most disturbing exhibitions was to occur. Leading artists in China were invited by Zhou Enlai to decorate the new Peking Hotel. However, Jiang Qing seized the opportunity to make charges against participating artists, accusing them of creating ‘black paintings' that encouraged capitalist sentiment and in so doing discredited Zhou Enlai.

Huang Yongyu was particularly singled out (as was the artist Li Keran) for painting an owl in an album. As one eye of the owl was open and the other closed, the image was deemed to be making fun of the government by winking. Huang was evicted from his apartment and after being questioned was forced to do three and half years hard labour.

Huang's work is an amalgamation of both East and West. It exhibits both traditional Chinese 'flung ink' style and western abstract expressionism. During his childhood, Huang became familiar with his natural surroundings learning about the complexities of nature such as lotus reeds, flowers and dragonflies. He is well-known for his paintings of lotus and social comment is often embedded in his work.

This abstract expressionistic painting, 'Trees without wind: impression of Australia' was created particularly for Moon Lin Chey and Jocelyn Chey. Jocelyn Chey later recalled, she and her husband became close friends with Huang and his wife Meixi in the mid 1980s when they moved to Beijing. Huang later supported the Democracy Movement in Beijing in 1989 and was forced to take refuge in Hong Kong, where by coincidence the Chey's were also. Jocelyn was the Australian Consul General from 1992-1995.

After numerous visits to the Chey's house, which was the Australian Consul General's official residence, Huang was inspired to create a painting responding to the Australian paintings he saw hanging on the walls. Jocelyn Chey stated:
"Yongyu commented on the picture when he presented it to me. He said that he had selected the colours that he thought were typical of Australia and he had been impressed by the character of eucalyptus trees that he had seen on his visit [to Australia in 1981] – each growing as it wished, not conforming to a regular pattern. He thought that the Australian personality was similarly individualistic. He had seen trees growing near the sea that were bent by the wind but still strong. This also represented the hardiness of Australian people."

Asian Department, AGNSW, September 2011


Place where the work was made




Media category


Materials used

ink and colour on paper


140.0 x 208.0 cm sheet; 180.0 x 300.0 cm frame


Gift of Jocelyn Chey AM 2011


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Huang Yongyu

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Referenced in 4 publications


Jocelyn Chey, TAASA Review, 'Huang Yongyu, Some personal reminiscences', Sydney, Sep 2019, 18-19, 18 (colour illus.).

Joan Lebold Cohen., ARTnews, 'Art in China Today: A new freedom', New York, Summer 1980.

Ellen Johnston Laing, The Winking Owl: Art in the People's Republic of China, United States of America, 1988.

Huang Yongyu., Huang Yongyu at 80: An Art Exhibition, 'Foreword', Hong Kong, 2004.