Tomas Vu was born in Saigon, Vietnam and at the age of ten moved with his family to El Paso, Texas. Vu received a BFA from the University of Texas, El Paso in 1987 and went on to earn an MFA from Yale University in 1990. He currently lives and works in New York City. Vu has exhibited nationally and internationally and has had solo museum shows in Japan, Italy, China, and Vietnam. He has received numerous awards including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship. Most recently, in 2013, he participated in the 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia and received the Audience Award for Best Artist.
Vu has been a professor at the School of the Arts of Columbia University since 1996, when he helped found the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. For those 17 years he has served as Artistic Director of the Center. In 2000, he was appointed the LeRoy Neiman Professor of Visual Arts. At the Neiman Center he has overseen collaboration and publication of print projects with artists such as Kiki Smith, Sarah Sze, William Kentridge, Jasper Johns, Kara Walker, and many others.
From 2003-2004, Vu began work on the Opium Dreams series, which includes drawings and paintings. In Opium Dreams, Vu depicts a fantastical journey through the stages of a hallucinatory vision. Layering paint, silkscreen, drawing, and collage, Vu shows us a modern day vision of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” where helicopters, poppies, and mushroom clouds form a floating world.
From 2006 – 2012, Vu worked at the Neiman Center to produce a serial body of work entitled Flatland. This series of 103 unique prints combines silkscreen, painting, drawing, and laser engraved images on wood veneer. The significance of 103 drawings is rooted in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, which began at 8:46 AM and ended at 10:29 AM when both towers had collapsed. Each drawing represents one of the 103 minutes from 8:46 AM to 10:29 AM.
In an ongoing project started in 2011, Vu has created a series of alaïa surfboards, hand-shaped paulownia wood surfboards based on a pre-20th-century Hawaiian model. On one side of these boards, Vu uses laser-engraving technology to create sprawling drawings composed of many overlapping images. On the reverse, he engraves drawings composed of the lyrics of Beatles’ songs. He plans to produce one board for each song in the Beatles’ discography. These surfboards are Vu’s most autobiographical work, inspired by childhood memories of caring for American GI’s surfboards on the beaches of Vietnam and being introduced to the Beatles by those GI’s.
In 2012-2013, Vu revisited the Opium Dream series, adding to drawings that were originally made as studies in 2003-2004. Currently, Vu is working on the Dark Side of the Moon series, which includes paintings of various sizes as well as drawings on mylar. These futuristic landscapes are informed by the technological and post-industrial advances of man. Deeply in tune to the impacts, both positive and negative, of these innovations, Vu plays with the roles of man and machine and the waning boundary between the two. The work is ultimately a protest against the destruction of our planet and our humanity.