Adam Vu Transforms Cheesy Motel Art Into Beauty

When he’s not inking bodies in his tiny Dana Point tattoo studio, Adam Vu is feeding his wanderlust by traveling across the world and staying in cheap motels. Vu began his quirky project about a year ago in Virginia, after having stared at a framed landscape and thinking he could see a gorilla fit in the scene. Since then, he has taken to searching for so-bad-it’s-good art wherever he travels for the opportunity to improvise and challenge his creativity. He transforms cheesy artworks with his own subtle additions. By check-out time, a landscape might have a UFO or a tentacle popping out of a pond, or there might be wild horses adorning a framed quote.

“It’s basically a collaboration with me and some other artist,” says Vu. “You’re adding a whole other narrative to the one that someone else did.” The artist only works with prints, not actual paintings. “At a lot of these hotels, every room has the same painting. I would never paint over someone’s original painting—that’s disrespectful.”

Remarkably, Vu accomplishes his work under serious restrictions; he never travels with his art materials, so he uses whatever he can find, making paint out of the ashes of burned paper or cigarettes or crushed allergy pills—”MacGyver with a paintbrush,” as he puts it. He also tries to match the style of the original work, so the additions look as if they belong. Vu checks in pretty late, so he must work fast to complete his pieces.

Vu geo-tags his artwork through Instagram posts (@adamvunoir), so hotel employees eventually find them and contact him. “Most recently, a hotel in Hong Kong messaged me about a painting I did in the hotel bar, so I just let them know they can just wipe it off with hot water and soap,” says Vu. “They never wrote me back. But my friend lives in Hong Kong. He went back to that hotel two weeks later and told me my painting is still there.”

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