NYC-based American painter, printmaker Tomas Vu offers his perspectives on Artist in Residency programs.  Vu is currently faculty at the School of the Arts, Columbia University.  He holds the LeRoy Neiman Professorship in Visual Arts and also serves as the Artistic Director of the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies.  At the Neiman Center, Vu has produced a serial body of work entitled Flatlands.  With layers of silkscreen and laser engraved images collaged together, Vu creates fantastical scenes depicting cycles of destruction, decay and rebirth, as he explores nature’s capacity for both violence and compassion.  A powerful source for his imagery comes from his personal memories of growing up in Vietnam during the war. Vu’s imagery describes a dystopian vision of our future, an epic clash between man and machine, nature and technology, which he sees as the defining tension of our modern era.  The visual idiom of his drawings consists of layered, open spaces that evoke both topographical landscapes and gravity-less space. This cosmic space is populated with industrial detritus and efficient technologies of war that crawl in and amongst tangles of anthropomorphic and organic forms.  His landscapes describe spaces where lines between imagination and memory become obscured.

Tomas Vu, Flatland 2, 2012, Mixed media, 84 in x 96 in

Tomas Vu, Flatland 2, 2012, Mixed media, 84 in x 96 in

Heather Zises: In your opinion, what are the top five to ten artist in residence programs and why?

Tomas Vu: Not ranked in any particular order– Skowhegan; Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program, Provincetown; Yaddo; Marin Headlands Center for the Arts; American Academy in Rome; Harlem Studio.

HZ:  What are your thoughts on Museum Programs vs. University Programs vs. Private/Non-Profit Programs?

TV: It’s impossible to say that one type of program is better than another; their goals are different.  Museum programs generally exist to benefit both the artist and the public. A good example is the PS 1 International Program. University programs are meant to benefit the artist and the students within the program.  Artists are usually invited by the institution rather than going through an application process.  Columbia University has done this, for example. So has Rutgers University. Private programs are often more of an opportunity for the artist to learn or get time to simply make his/ her work.  Good examples that adhere to this model are Yaddo and Skowhegan.

HZ:  Did you do an artist in residence program?

TV: No, I applied to the Whitney Program after graduate school and was accepted.  But, upon seeing their studio situation, I declined.

HZ:  What is the best amount of time to realize a body of work?

TV: It depends on the artist and the work he or she is making.  It takes me on average two years to do mine.

HZ:   Are there benefits to solo ventures vs. collaborative or communal programs? For example housing just one resident for a period of time as opposed to housing several residents.

TV: There are advantages to both, depending on one’s situation.  With an artist who has been removed from a formal artist community and craves the feedback, sense of community, and the like, they will want to be in a communal situation.  This can be particularly valuable for emerging artists who may not have formal studio spaces in buildings with lots of other artists for example.  Conversely, some artists may value a residency as a time of seclusion when they can simply make their own work.

HZ:  What are the major differences between a fellowship and a residency?

TV: An artist residency refers to a program in which an artist is generally given living and working space.  It may only be partially funded; that is the artist may have to bear some cost, although there are certainly no-cost residencies.  A fellowship can be associated with a residency and that would include a stipend, etc.

HZ:  What does “low-residency MFA” mean?

TV: A low residency MFA generally refers to an MFA program that requires less time of its students.  The program is designed for students who are working, so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time on campus.  Most are actually writing programs though.  However, there are a few visual arts programs, in which the MFA’s only meet over the summer, and it takes place over several summers. Bard has a program like this and Maryland Institute College of Art does as well.  There are also some universities with campuses abroad that offer this option.

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 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.