Artist Spotlight: Rich Tu [Part 2]
Wika Mag - Part II with Rich: More on creative processes, creating Art - with words and without, the “Filipino” Perspective, and the state of New York’s Creative Movement. (To re-visit Part 1, click here.)   More often than not, what is your process when your work calls to be presented without the use of words – this for someone who is a Communications Major, I assume there must be a challenge there?  “For one thing, I think (in regards to creating) with words – I know I’m influenced by comic books. It’s just something I grew up with. So the idea of having words accompanying an image isn’t crazy to me. Of course, I only do that when it adds to the piece, and it’s not extraneous. “From the onset, there really is no reason to (go one way or another). It’s all about feel – if there’s something that is needed to be said. Is there a parallel message that I want to happen, or is there an intersection of something here? Where is that tension coming from... Or can the interest come from something that would need to be decoded? Sometimes, you can create visual noises that look like (words) should be there, but when you get close, they ultimately wouldn’t serve a purpose. “Compositionally, you can still create a piece that can be totally wordless… and it can still live in the moment.”
“Compositionally, you can still create a piece that can be totally wordless… and it can still live in the moment.” - Rich Tu
What would be an experience that you feel most proud of? “In general, the work that I feel happiest with is work where I get to be as honest as possible. It’s when I look at a piece and I feel like, ‘Yeah, I really swung for the fences with that one.’ It wasn’t too ‘noisy,’ there wasn’t any extraneous bullshit in there. “Specifically, I think the series ‘There Will Be No Survivors,’ I was super proud of that. I love that series, and I lived with it. It felt like I was in a cave making that shit.” “The personal work, of course, would be most satisfying control-wise, but then it’s the hardest to create just because there’s no definitive deadline. There’s no one to tell you to do anything. And that is also what makes it the most gratifying. You feel rewarded knowing that when you’re done, YOU were the driving force behind it, and it something that came from a place not based in the real world – it exists in a place outside humanity.” I’m sure that with all your work, as anyone would, you tend to lay it all out and give everything you have. But has there anyone that you had to work for and didn’t feel as strongly as you did for your work? “Oh yeah, totally! Especially in the commercial art field, it happens all the time.” So is this when the ‘Don Draper’ comes out and you’re like, ‘You can shove it, this is what I think.’ “Wait, so am I Don Draper, or is Don Draper yelling at me,” he grins. No, you’re Don. “Oh, sweet! Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been Don Draper, now that I think about it. If I ever have that kind of moment, I’d end up getting fired,” Rich says, with laughs all around. “But one time,” he recalls, “I did go to bat for something that was the most trivial thing ever! This was a few years ago, with Time Out New York, they used to do this thing at the beginning of the magazine where they would do a comic strip. It’s called Photo Finish…” Rich trails off, due to a brief interruption by a cute waitress checking on us. He goes on… “You start off with a photograph that a reader gives them, and you finish it in a comic strip form. Real short, real tiny. Honestly, this wouldn’t take more than – it’s like Garfield, Heathcliff type gag in an hour.“The photo that they gave me was of a woman on her cell phone. So the strip I made was of a ton of people on their cell phones, and at the very end, there was a homeless guy, and he was, ‘Hey, if you guys could get off your phones for a second, can you give me a dollar’ or something like that. Honestly, I didn’t even know where my head was with that. I just wanted to bring a little heaviness to the strip.” That sounds pretty funny, man. “Yeah, totally. To me it was, but they were like, ‘oh, can you lighten it up a little, can we get more of a gag, like have  the homeless guy freaking out or something?’ “And I was like, ‘NO! He is SAD! He is sad as F***!” He was adamant with his voice. “And this thing took three or four days, and it never takes that long… And I was upset, I thought they were killing my vision. It felt like they were subverting me, so I said to myself, ‘This is an injustice, this is bullshit!’ “So that was the last one I did… Not of my own volition – they just stopped calling me,” He laughed. “I’ve worked with Time Out since… but it is what it is. I’ve gone to bat for more trivial things than that, it was ridiculous. Knowing what I know now, sometimes I wonder, ‘What the f*** was I thinking?’ “I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever the thought of trivial things come up, Picasso. He had this idea of ‘fakes.’ If someone would ask Picasso – it was like, ‘Give me a Picasso!’ He would do it as maybe something to pay lunch with, to create something that people can associate with him. But in his heart, it wasn’t necessarily a statement. It was just from the intellectual part of his brain that aesthetically looked like a Picasso. But personally, he would call it a ‘fake,’ as if it was his own forgery of himself. “Sometimes you have to take one for the team,” Rich explains. “You sometimes just have to get it done, to pick your battles. And then something like ‘Norwood’ and ‘Survivors’ would come up, and those would be things that I would have control. That rarely happens, so you really have to let it go and pick your battles, otherwise you’ll burn yourself out.” How often do you get the itch to do something personal? “Once or twice a year. I like to do a good series, at least once a year. I like to make a big statement pretty often.” In today’s landscape in your field, do you have any criticisms, or what has changed that you think you can lend a hand in adjusting, or maybe fixing? “Oooh, man… This isn’t really a criticism, but it’s more of an observation. There are a lot of creatives, and there’s a big up-and-coming community that I feel they feed from the same sources. Hence, similarity.” Do you think there’s a lack of originality? “No, I don’t think so. I think if there is a lot of people working on the same thing, a movement is built, and that’s perfectly okay. I do mind work that feels insular, though. When there’s potential that’s being wasted. I believe in growth, and the fulfillment of potential.” Are you a minimalist? “I like simplicity. I do a lot of simple things. I also do a lot with colors. I don’t think it’s necessarily about minimalism as much as it has to do with ‘visual volume,’ when a statement can be made. I like to work in extremes, so I find that the best way to do things – to put emphasis or focus on something I think is important. “I’m anti-meandering.” Smiles. Culturally, does being a Filipino-American play into your process? Have you kept up with Filipino-related art? “Not really. Maybe, but not necessarily consciously, but how can you deny what or who you are? “I wish I was more cognizant of other Filipinos (in my field). But one thing that I was conscious of was, I didn’t want to get distinguished just as a Filipino or even 'cultural' artist, as much as I want to be recognized as an artist who just happens to be Filipino.” How strongly (if at all) does the fact that your being a Filipino-American reflect in your work? While it might be an unfair question, there is the sense that as a people, we are in a lot of ways up-and-coming as far as an international and American recognition is concerned, and it is a curious thing with how this affects your persona, regardless of how much. “There is, totally, a direct reflection with regards to (how I handle) rejection, acceptance or even indifference. There are a lot of differences that you become hyper-aware of, as it was with how I grew up. It’s always something I think about. “In the beginning though, I think I was conscious, in terms of not really acknowledging it, because you don’t want to get pigeon-holed. You want to come out as your own thing, and not as, like – oh, that’s that Filipino guy. It’s a valid question, though. “This first generation, for sure, we’re coming up as the most Americanized Filipinos, ever. And with growing up, I didn't even have a lot of Filipino friends until high school – I didn’t even have white friends until I was 13, 14. I’ve always associated with Black culture, because that was how I grew up, all my friends were Black.” How was the struggle with identifying with whoever you had to associate with? “Sure, there was that obvious difference. I looked different, we weren’t good at the same things – you can call that whatever you want to call it – our families had different ways of doing things, I came from a more conservative home. It was different when I went to a friend’s house and they went to mine… And I always wondered why my school was different from a (typical) school on TV. It wasn’t something I would automatically resonate with, even to this day, simply because of how I grew up. “I look in the mirror in a crowded room, and sometimes I think, ‘Oh, I’m that guy.’ And it isn’t correct, but that is where that struggle is.” What is your take on today’s Filipino-American? “I think we’re fine. But one thing, I look at it is the term 'Filipino-American.' By even just focusing on that term, it creates an otherness, a ‘separateness,’ even if, in a way, it brings us closer. Like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m Filipino-American.’ But it also puts us in a ‘category.’  Because we love our cliques. It’s an Asian thing, it’s a cultural thing. “Ultimately, that otherness is dependent on what the context is. It’s not necessarily a negative or positive. And in terms of what I do, I don’t know a lot of other Filipino creatives that do it the way I do. As a Filipino, in this culture, we get associated with ‘street culture,’ too, and in a way, I wanted to disassociate myself with that (singular thing).” Why? “I wanted to be a smarty-pants. And that’s not to degrade street culture, I love it – I loved working with Staple Design, I like doing for with North Face, for example. “But when I started I wanted to work with the New York Times. I wanted to get into The New Yorker. I wanted to be associated with some of the smartest people out there, and this is regardless, and in spite of, being a Filipino. I simply wanted to gain credibility, so I could work my way to other projects. Then I could get my passion projects done, and be able to get back to other things. “I had to almost wait until I had my feet set in the ground, so when I built my own name, it was like, ‘Oh, by the way, I am Filipino.’ And this is just from that perspective of wanting to emphasize the quality of work, and not some heritage.” What would be advice that you can give up-and-comers, and this I would ask on behalf of Filipino kids out there who want to pursue in your field? “Just to not be afraid of rejection. That rejection is part of the whole thing, you have to deal with it. For every 9 No’s, you’re gonna catch 1 yes. And that’s fine, because at the same time, anyone who says ‘YES’ that you want to say yes, that’s a great thing. “You have to be tenacious, and always strive to be better. And, really understand what you are, who you are and how you do what you do. You have to bring your projected self and actual self closer together. Those are the things that I believe are most important, because at that point if you’re good, you’re working, and you’re tenacious, then you will be more likely to produce good work because it’s coming from an honest place that you know to be true. People can sense that, regardless of what it is. “Make sure that as you progress, you’re always working towards an expression of honesty.” --- To find out more about Rich and see more of his work, check out his website - And, you can also follow him on