In between his shooting schedule, working as a contemporary American filmmaker in New York, Tu (b. Ohio, 1979) is a large scale abstract painter working with elements of watercolor, Italian paper & black sand. The finishing ranges from matte to resin coated w/LED light. The current on-going collection, Sea Dreams by Tu, is designed to feel as a color installation versus a painting.

[ A__C | JOE SMITH]  I understand you are trying to explore a form of emotional architecture for the person standing in front of your artwork – What memorable responses have you had to your work? Why does the reception of your work interest you?

[TU]  This is a great question as I have had the pleasure of getting a lot of interesting reactions since my work is abstract and the emotional experience is what I feel is truly the work not the physical ink on paper.

That being said, my most memorable recent experience was two weeks ago when I had some movers to my home to deliver some furniture. One of the gentlemen who entered stopped at a nearby wall where a lot of my pieces are and he said these paintings makes him feel submerged and under the ocean current. A memory he had when he was young. There was no plaque or anything calling the collection SeaDreams, what I call the current series, so I felt a sense of pride that the emotional experience was being communicated without a single word to guide it. That response was almost too perfect to express. Makes me happy to have created that series.

Framing Tu’s Only You Can See With Eyes Closed, 2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.

[JS]  You say that we all have our own special relationship staring into the ocean, what is your experience – what does the ocean evoke in you?

[TU]  The truth is a bit nostalgic and yet frightening to be completely honest. I grew up on the coast of Southern California so my childhood was spent with my older brothers challenging me to go deeper and deeper into the strong waves of the Pacific. In some moments in time I remember being 10yrs old staring from the beach into the endless depths of the beautiful ocean as a meditation…considering where life will take me. That is the nostalgic part of my work.

In other darker moments when I was was a child swimming in the ocean, I was a terrible swimmer, I remember being pulled underneath a series of huge waves and feeling a sense of panic as I was at risk of drowning….where the only way to survive is to calm yourself and understand that these waves will pass and you will be able to emerge up again for air when the time is right.

I truly believe life is always about finding the right time to emerge for air. The waves will come but they will not end you.

[JS]   Why do you use paper as your main medium?

[TU]   In the spirit of time and the vulnerability of memories, I always love how my paper remembers my ink a way that canvas does not. It’s a chemistry that happens when ink and black sand dry on the watercolor paper, which is thin and can ripple, creating a similar shape when islands of sand in the South of France or Bali emerge when looking down from an airplane landing. Large canvases would be much easier for me to work with but the paper has a different relationship with the ink that I appreciate and I will never change.

Tu working in Los Angeles where he grew up. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Artist Tu. Photo courtesy of the artist.

[JS]   How do you make your work and what about the creative process excites you the most?

[TU]   It’s a process that is hard to describe but it does come in waves. The purest expression of how I make my work is this, especially when I am working in abstract color rhythm, I always start my studio session trying to recreate something I really loved a few years ago. Maybe something that sold very quickly or something I just felt truly expressed what I wanted my collection to be at that time. Oddly enough, I am never able to recreate the same painting as hard as I try.

Quite odd if you ask me. But, something new emerges and I love the birth of a newer form. It inspires me to continue in a different way and then the journey continues each time. Born again.

I guess it is kind of like how everyone’s fingerprint is different even after billions of us have been born. Each and every piece I make has its own fingerprint that I can never recreate even when I try.

There is something to be said about the universe being this way. That is what excites me the most about starting a new series.

Tu, The Dream That Lasts Forever, 2019, Italian watercolor paper w/condensed Sumo ink. Matte Finish. 96 x 48in. NYC

[JS]   As ‘a modernist in a post modern art world’, do you think the art of our time is too involved in the socio-political issues? What are your thoughts on the art world today? What matters, or should matter, in the art of our time?

[TU]   I think it’s interesting being part of a generation that is almost 75yrs away from modernism. I stay away from the art speak as much as I can but I have always been driven by the Bauhaus spirit of design. The concept of Form Follows Function is not exactly what you’d expect seeing my work but I would argue my Sea Dreams collection in particular is exactly that.

I did not set out to create paintings. I want to create emotional experiences for collectors that wake up each day in their home or office and find my blue architecture a version of form that delivers the function of nostalgia. People who do not have this type of relationship with the ocean do not feel this way and that is ok. But the ones who grew up staring deep into the depths of the sea understand what I am recreating.

[JS]   What is your dream project?

[TU]    My dream project is to compliment the Sea Dreams experience with the feeling of the sunset and sunrise. Both are important ingredients to the Sea Dreams world. One day soon I will figure this out. For sunset it will be the orange, purple, and yellow’s and for the sunrise it will be the muted blues and whites of the morning fog.


Tu will be exhibiting his ‘SEA DREAM’ collection at Art Basel, Miami, for the first time at The Next Generation — Pulse Art Fair, December 5–8, 2019

For private commissions or other inquires, please contact the Tu studio: