It's now more than thirty years since Hong Si was awarded one of China's most prestigious art prizes. She was a graduate of Shanghai's Institute of Art and Design, and her work earned high praise from the critics. It seemed she had a future as a highly successful artist in China, but her life took a different course. Only now, with her first exhibition in Australia, can Hong proudly say that she has triumphed over the difficulties of coming to a new country, and survived tragic personal loss to allow her unique talent as an artist to be appreciated.
Hong arrived in Australia in 1989 with two hundred dollars. She had no English except for the phrase "I'm looking for a job". The job she found was working in a clothing sweatshop for twelve hours a day for four dollars an hour. For Hong, life in the "lucky country" was a ceaseless effort to survive, with her beloved art something she could only dream about.
In 1990 she married a man who had also come to Australia from Shanghai, and together they battled to make ends meet. A year later Hong gave birth to their daughter, Laura, and together the family struggled to settle into their adopted country. For Hong, that meant looking after a small child while working long exhausting hours. Any prospects of her picking up a brush, or even affording a canvas to paint on were non existent.
Then Hong's husband became ill, and it wasn't long before he was unable to work. The diagnosis was cancer, and Hong became his full time carer. That meant she had to juggle the roles of breadwinner, mother, and nurse while suffering the pain of watching her husband lose his battle for life. Laura was just ten when he died.
Not surprisingly, Hong suffered serious depression, on occasions so serious she was hospitalized. It was not the time for Hong to rediscover the artistic skills she had left behind.
It's not true that time heals all wounds, but in Hong's case, the scars became less obvious. She found a new partner, and her work as a private cleaning contractor although menial, allowed her the time and money to buy the artist's supplies she had wanted for years. Finally, she was painting again, and the results are outstanding.
Hong says her paintings include her recall of her life in China thirty years ago. She lived through the Cultural Revolution as an early teenager, and her family's treatment at the hands of the Red Guards was cruel and degrading. Her grandfather owned a factory and was regarded as a "class enemy" - at one stage her family was confined to one room in the house they owned, while the Red Guards occupied the rest.
But her paintings are not political. In the main they're impressionistic landscapes, scenes of life in rural China recalled from her extensive travels. There's also a self portrait, some wonderful abstracts, even a memory of Mao Zedong and his Little Red Book painted in classical style.