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 had
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,
during a near-death experience, not just to honor his memory
or attempt to heal 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, and
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; a documentary filmmaker; art reviewer; and 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 and a brief marriage. 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, his talent was honed to a sharp edge through
this near-death experience that fully awakened Tu to his lifetime
He also made some fine documentary films in this decade -- his seminal documentary on the early days of "breaking"
in Southern California, The History of Breakdancing, is a well-observed, timeless charmer, and
Dialogue with Robert Heinecken is both artistically and
historically important. 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's silver thread of salvation. His iconic, monumental four-sectioned portrait of the Dalai Lama,
an earlier work,
fairly vibrates with emotions – it's 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 is communicated directly into 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 make you swoon!
Tu-2's Timeless series is deeply personal, iconic yet intimate, impressively crafted with a brilliant, original
array of techniques; beautiful, powerful and... timeless! His Mickey Mao series
Mao-ology (Mao-ology from 0 to 2)
has been exhibited in Taipei, Los Angeles and Belgium. His work was highly acclaimed by critics and the public alike,
and is the subject of two books and several publications in Europe and Asia. Tu-2 was later invited to represent the
artists of his country at the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennial (Biennale di Venezia), and
is taking up
his residency as artist-in-residence at the O Street Museum Foundation in Washington, D.C.
starting in January, 2012.
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.
A new body of work began to emerge around six years ago:
a series of spiritual portraits in silver pencil on blue paper that reveal the interior qualities of their
subjects. The subjects 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. He named this new series "108 Bodhisattvas"
(“enlightened ones”), as in many eastern religions (including Zen Buddhism)
the number 108 symbolizes the
infinite, or “infinity” (as well
as the number of vices, sufferings, steps to ascend or
challenges on the way to perfection or "Buddhahood"), so the
name suggests the "infinity" of "becoming a Buddha" in
"ones who are enlightened." This number is a concept, not a limitation, so the actual number of portraits is
ongoing, toward infinity.... Although a collection of 108 of them
would rarely be shown at once, due to space requirements,
they are ideally viewed as a group, not separate pieces,
to illustrate the infinite ways in which humanity is
connected, through time and space.
Deeply spiritual, disciplined, and ever a seeker, Tu-2 was invited several years ago
to a dojo hidden in the deep valley of Kalihi, Oahu, for Zen meditation training.
He experienced powerful epiphanies during the meditation rituals,
and has made several
pilgrimages since then. His encounters at the dojo have helped
him refine his focus on the compassionate connection required to capture a subject's innermost nature,
without the bias of ego-based "self" or left-brained rationale spinning the result into either
self-projection or mere shallow flattery. Tu's Zen-inspired work reveals a person's true
essence, and a real, inner beauty, illuminated by truth.
The "108 Bodhisattvas" Blue Series is not for sale, but a privately
commissioned portrait (with broader possibilities) may
be hired, depending on the artist's
An artist in mid-career, Tu-2 is continually growing through spiritual and practical meditations and
has completed substantial work on his latest oeuvre, the Sacred Blue
Series, 108 Bodhisattvas.
Tu-2 lives simply... like a monk... in his intriguing art
studio. He also loves to play tennis and soccer with
deep, heartfelt commitment, and considers them another
form of meditation.