or English: Ying-Ming Tu)
is a visual fine artist who focuses on painting, photography, and documentary films. Born a Gemini - hence his
self-given nickname, "Tu-2" (pronounced “Tutu” or "too too") - to a Hakka family in Taiwan,
Tu-2 was infatuated with faces at a young age, influenced by the Taiwanese puppet shows.
His father, an electrical engineer who managed a hydroelectric power plant, encouraged him to draw, so he did,
whenever and wherever he could... until drawing became second nature to him.
His father's untimely death
plunged the family into crisis on all levels, turning Tu-2's life
upside down throughout his early teens. Though shipwrecked, he survived on the sails of his innate intelligence, emotional
sensitivity and awareness. Tu-2 gradually found his bearings
(often through art), learned to nurture his soul-saving
vulnerability, and began to build a steely resolve... a working mast
of his character. He emerged a
warrior, determined to strengthen his mind, heart, body and spirit.
Tu-2 later made the first portrait of his father (right),
during a near-death experience, not just to honor his memory or
lessen the pain of his loss, but for Tu's own salvation.
This portrait is significant for allowing the artist to
experience the possibility of
healing through art,
awakening in him a timeless connection to the infinite through
The idea that art can transcend life probably began for Tu-2 here.
Personal discipline, hard work, and his natural physical
competitiveness led him to master and teach
martial arts, after which he was chosen to join the corps of personal bodyguards for
Chiang Kai-Shek and his family. Tu later entered National Taiwan University and earned his BA degree with a major in history,
while continuing to draw, photograph, and practice martial arts.
He then worked as a photojournalist, traveling
extensively along the Silk Road and other international locations; a documentary filmmaker;
an art reviewer; and
the founding director of the first
Chinese-American television news unit in Taiwan.
In the early 80's, Tu-2 came to the U.S. to study film and television at UCLA, where he earned his MFA degree,
rounded out with lots of drawing classes. He became the news director of the major Chinese-American television station
broadcasting from Los Angeles, Chicago, and eventually New York, after Tu was sent to establish that station
on the east coast. Living in New York, Tu-2 moved into an East
Village basement studio after his divorce. It was a cold, snowy
winter in 1987... He got very ill and almost died. Since the
creative act of drawing is
so natural for him, what else would he do with his fading
consciousness and last drop of strength? His explanation is
typically simple: “...in order
to survive death, I picked up a colored pencil and began to draw my
dad's face. I felt much better after that, and decided to commit to
becoming a serious painter.” From second nature to practiced
skill, from hobby to therapy, then philosophy, belief, and
eventually beyond, his talent crystallized through
this near-death experience that awakened Tu to his lifetime
He also made some fine documentary films in this decade -- his seminal documentary on the
history, early days and subculture of "breaking"
in Southern California, The Story of Breakdancing, is a well-observed, timeless charmer, and
Dialogue with Robert Heinecken, a poetic
documentary, is both
historically important, shown as part of museum exhibits in
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Taipei from 1988 to 1991. But while hindsight (which often determines
value in the saturated, finance-directed Los Angeles film scene) was
just beginning to accumulate for his films, his paintings were
already drumming up kudos in Europe and Asia. The chance to
communicate and share his art with a receptive public sealed his
dedication to fine art, and his lifelong fascination with faces drew
him to portraiture, cinched by his natural curiosity and compassion.
Throughout his life, whether in joyful times, or times of great anguish, suffering, hardship, and loss,
making art has been Tu-2's silver thread of
salvation. His iconic, monumental four-sectioned portrait of the Dalai Lama,
an earlier work,
fairly vibrates with emotions – electrically charged with
compassion, radiant with love, hypnotic with
serenity. The artist's painful
journey from a tortured period to his hard-won, transcendent
transformation is etched in every line, and all this seems to be communicated directly to the viewer's higher emotional center by some powerful magic...
You feel it with all of you, all at once. Infused with wisdom, compassion, humor and timelessness—like the Dalai Lama himself—the conscious art behind the "simple" silver lines
illuminating the subject's inner qualities on a midnight sky-dark background is
like a punch in the gut... it galvanizes you into the moment and changes your breathing. The heart beats differently,
brainwaves shift, you feel as if you're vibrating at a higher frequency... awakened, on the verge... impassioned yet calm
with subtly heightened awareness in an all-encompassing state of bliss-being.
Only conscious art can have this effect,
and it can only be made by an artist who is in a state of conscious enlightenment.
...Only true art can feed your soul!
Tu-2's Timeless series is deeply personal, iconic yet intimate, impressively crafted with a brilliant, original
array of techniques. Representing his unique identity with such
honesty has sparked intellectual analyses of his work regarding
"'Doubling Identity' in the Chinese Diaspora" (one
literary scholar's essay
is published in the book about the artist's Timeless series
Tu-2 Timeless) and other scholarly musings on truth
and and identity in a global age; The large paintings are beautiful, powerful and... timeless!
His Mickey Mao series
Mao-ology (Mao-ology from 0 to 2)
tour de force
of bold revolutionary art and has been exhibited in Belgium, Los Angeles and Taipei.
Mickey Mao made the cover of
News magazine, an influential English-language magazine,
established and sold in the US and Asia for over two decades. His work
in both series was highly acclaimed by critics and public alike,
and is the sole subject of two books and explored in more than a
score of publications and interviews in Europe, Asia and the US. Tu-2
was then invited to represent the
artists of his country at the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennial (Biennale di Venezia),
which he did with gratitude.
A little over a decade ago, after a period of robust success with his first two series,
Tu took a prolonged sabbatical from painting to search his soul, reset his spiritual compass,
and examine his increasing calling toward monkhood.
body of work emerged:
a series of spiritual portraits in silver pencil on blue paper that reveal the interior qualities
subjects, who cover a global range of occupations, ages, races, and interests.
Depicted in chiaroscuro (a light-dark technique with ancient roots)—but using a silver pencil to draw only the
light— the images seem to be floating
from darkness to light, mostly in a state of serenity. Creating these portraits is an act of meditation for Tu-2, as he works exclusively in a
focused meditative state—connecting to the subject’s essence, free of ego. The resulting works of conscious art inspire awakening, affinity and compassion. He named this new series
"108" (Portraits of Compassion), as in many eastern religions (including Zen Buddhism)
the number 108 symbolizes the
infinite, or “infinity.”
This number is a concept,
not a limitation, so the actual number of portraits is
ongoing, toward infinity.... Although a representative collection of 108 of them
would rarely be shown at once, due to the usual
constraints of space and logistics,
they are ideally viewed as a group, to illustrate the infinite ways in which humanity is
connected through time and space.
See "108 Portraits of Compassion"
show + videos
An artist in mid-career, Tu-2 recently completed
his year-long residency as artist-in-residence at the O Street
Museum Foundation in Washington, D.C., for the year of
is continuing work on his latest oeuvre, the Blue
Series, "108" (Portraits of Compassion) in his intriguing art
The existing "108"
Blue Series portraits are not for sale, but privately
commissioned portraits may
be ordered, in various media, depending on the artist's
More Reviews and Stories
Gallery Exhibition 2013
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