In Memory of an Outstanding
Man and Artist
--------------------A tribute to Max Liu
Rachel Chiou Translated by Cheryl Robbins
this year, I had the chance to visit Max Liu's studio.
What I saw was not what I imagined a studio belonging
to a famous painter would look like. It was located
on the fifth floor of an ordinary apartment building
and was crammed with books, magazines, knickknacks
he had brought back from his travels around the world,
sculptures and paintings given to him by other well-known
was dressed casually in charcoal gray and khaki. On his
face was the smile often seen in his self- portraits.
Although he had accomplished so much during his long life,
he was one of the kindest and humblest people I have met.
Many people called him Teacher Liu. To that he responded,
"I call everyone teacher. There are things that you
can do well that I cannot. So, you are my teachers."
recent illness had left him with almost no voice,
so it was necessary to listen closely to understand
what he was saying. But, his kind smile communicated
far more than his words and revealed the depth of
his love and passion for life. He was also very humorous.
When asked how he had been, he replied, " Just
like a beggar."
forced a smile and lit a cigarette. It seemed he was thinking
about something more, but he just let his thoughts drift
upward along with the cigarette smoke. There was a brief
silence and then he continued, "Just before you came,
a crew from a public TV station interviewed me, so I am
a little tired. They asked me about the events of 2-28.
I got really angry! The young people today don't study
history. Instead, they use past events for political purposes,
to create divisions among people. The Chinese people nowadays
don't really have any nationalist concepts. I don't like
to talk about politics. I don't watch the news. Because
what I see on the news makes me so upset that I cannot
to Merina Lin, one of his former students, Liu seldom
got angry. I didn't mind because it is not often that
you meet a 90-year-old who is so patriotic.
conversation then turned to his artwork, books and
travels. After telling us about his most recently
published book on art anthropology, he jokingly said,
"I'm not an artist. [I do it] just for fun! I
am a con artist and a magician." His eyes sparkled
as he laughed, radiating a mischievousness and charm.
like my paintings because they don't cost a lot to buy,"
he continued. "Especially young people. They don't
have a lot of money, so they like my art because they
can afford it. I never went to art school. My paintings
aren't worth much money, so I like to donate them. If
I just keep my paintings here, they are of no value. But,
if I donate them to a museum or art center, then I can
feel proud that people will pay money to go to see them."
pointed to some sculptures in the corner of his studio,
some of which were his own work, and said, "If
a museum needs something for a research study it is
conducting, I will donate it. To me, these things
do not have any value." This surprised me. In
addition to being very humble, he held ideas about
value that differed from mainstream society. I admired
his ideals. I then smiled at him as I asked he thought
was of value.
smiled back but didn't answer right away. Finally, he
said, "You already know the answer to that, don't
you? The most valuable thing is love. Poor people need
love and rich people need love. Love can be learned and,
once you know what love is, then you know how to appreciate
everything you have." I saw that tears had welled
up in his eyes and then, my vision became blurred as tears
came to my eyes as well.
was the first and last time that I saw Max Liu. I often
think of our conversation and, afterwards, watching him
slowly walk back to his home with the help of a cane.
As this is a city guide and not an art magazine, maybe
it is not possible for me to educate readers on all of
his professional achievements. But, in this article, I
hope that I have been able to reveal his personal side,
his love of life and his energy that allowed him to keep
working and learning until the end of his life.
Liu passed away on April 13, 2002 at the age of 93.)