In a time when everyone is relentlessly bombarded with noise, it can be difficult to cut through it all and capture people’s attention. The artwork of Thai illustrator TU!! is immediate and slices a path through it all effortlessly. Inspired by manga and comics, his work is full of bubbly characters, bold linework, dense layers, and bright colors with flashing animation.
A skater boy with fire in his eyes chases a floating heart while monks pray to an eye resembling Mordor that angels are pouring liquid into. A rat holds a flaming globe in his clawed grip while Biden and Trump duke it out and the words “I love PM2.5” float by on a layer of smoke. Hanuman throws a disco party while setting Lanka aflame in one piece and elephants breakdance to music DJed by a yaksha in another. The blazing colors are often animated in fluttering and flickering colors that give them a hypnotic video game feel.
TU!! chose his artist name as a shortened version of his real name Nutshapon Tusangiam to show homage to his family. “My parents and younger brothers always dreamt of being artists, but they’re all dentists. I’m the only one doing it,” he says. “This way I bring their dreams along with me on my journey.” He’s been an artist since childhood and even had an art tutor in middle and high school. During university he won a scholarship to study in the US for 18 months and has lived overseas off and on since then. Most recently, he lived in Germany for a few months, where his work was displayed on a several story billboard that viewers could watch an animated version of on their phones through an AR app.
“Living there boosted my passion because of the opportunities to grow as a street artist and contemporary artist,” Tusangiam says of Germany. He feels Thailand can still be conservative about art, especially the universities, where they frown on students who want to try the newest things. “It’s up to us to push us harder, rather than rely on the system.”
Tusangiam credits the NFT boom for launching his career and helping him find a personal style. As a kid he was inspired by manga like One Punch Man and American comics like Marvel. After university, he got a job as an illustrator, gaving him a fluency with the digital tools that he used to break away from those well-trodden influences: “The key words were shadow, color, childhood innocence, and fun. So I focused on them. I loved to create loop animations, which became useful when I found NFTs.” He calls the style pop psychedelic art; easy to digest with cartoons and colors animated by piecing a lot of individual frames together. “People interested in NFTs are really drawn to the energy in my work.”
The NFT market stumbled badly along with the wider crypto crash, and Tusangiam has certainly felt the sting himself. “It skyrocketed my career, but I never thought it would last forever. Things come and go, they have their own times,” he shrugs. But the lack of hype swirling around NFTs may actually be a good thing. Collectors and institutions are continually growing more interested, so now maybe the quality of the art will have a chance to take center stage. “It got a little stale and bland, people felt that if they wanted to sell they had to follow what’s popular. Outside audiences think it’s all junk and memes. We just need to keep creating and pushing ourselves because the world moves so fast.”