ISSUE 11 (Fall 2007)

Article and Intterview by Geoff Whitehouse

Luke Chueh is officially a big deal now. Just have a look at the crowds that greet any of his show openings (assuming there are any pieces left for sale!) or the launch of his Possessed figure at Munky King in LA
This painter and illustrator from LA has been plugging away for years and is now getting the recognition that I, and a lot of other people think he more than deserves. And quite apart from being an amazing talent with a brush or pen, he's also turned his hand to publishing a dance music zine... think more the Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada end of the spectrum than Ministry of Sounds Dance Anthems.
It's perhaps slightly clichéd tp say his work is marked by the juxtaposition of cute animals engaged in macabre actions, However those elements of light and dark are portrayed as common narrative throughout his work. A bit of pop art, Aoshima, Murakami, cultral references, Rothko, caroons all melding into one glorious body of work. Or in other words: it toally kicks arse.
Born in Philly and raised in Fresno, California, Luke earned a BS in Graphic Design from California Polytechnic State University. "I didn't truly start feeling any interest or enthusiasm for painting until I was in college," he says. Thankfully for us during that ime he took a series of Life Drawing and Illustration classes where his abilities were spotted and encouraged, Anakin Skywalker syle, by professors.
His natural affinity for illustration led to a job in teh Ernie Ball company design department, while various illustration and design work has won him numerous awards from Communication Arts and Print Magazine.
We caught up with Luke to get the lowdown on his influences, art and talk colours.

What influences your work and why paint animals?
Ideas for my paintings generally come from life experiences, pop/street/geek cultures, western idioms, and the artwork of my friends and contemporaries. To be honest, I started with animals because they were easy for me to paint. If you recall, I'm pretty much a self taught painter, so in the beginning, my skills and abilities were limited.
Around that time, I formulated my a theory/philosophy in order to validate my work to myself. What I figured was that if I replaced my animal characters with a 30 something asian male, or a geriatric black female, I would instantly divide or alienate my audience. Despite how open minded we like to think we are, as a human being, we all feel varying degrees of prejudice whether we're conscious of it or not. By employing animal characters in my paintings, I believe my narratives have much more universal appeal, bypassing issues of agism, racism, and sexism.

How would you describe your work? Do you like the term "low brow"?
I think words like "Illustrative", "Character Driven", and "Narrative", though terribly vague, definitely describe the kind of work that I do. But of course, "low brow" is probably the best way to describe my work to someone whose not familiar with my paintings, but familiar with the genre. Personally, I still have a hard time swallowing the term "low brow", only because it has obvious demeaning qualities. When I think of the artists who were instrumental in coining the title, I think of "Big Daddy" Roth, Von Dutch, Robert Williams, The Pizz, XNO, etc. Their paintings and personalities had obvious anti establishmentarian ideas, and none of them were afraid of drawing inspiration from white America's trashiest corners (horror films, tiki idols, serial killers, strippers, hot rods, choppers, and drugs-drugs-drugs). Not only does "Low Brow" totally suit their work, I would assume most of those artists reveled in the idea that the contemporary art world looked down with disdain at what they were doing, especially since the feeling was most likely mutual.
Though I happily admit I feel a certain degree of disdain and rebelliousness toward the world around me, I definitely can say that this rebelliousness isn't as permeating, or thorough, as that of the original low brow artists. Also, the source of my ideas and the inspiration for my work is seems to come from very different places. It's these differences that make me a little uncomfortable when being labeled "low brow".

How do you think your style has evolved over the last few years?
What I've noticed with my own work is an all around "tightness" that has come with experience. When I first started painting, I was drawn to artists with a strong "graphic" styles. Painters like Bansky, Gary Baseman, Camille Rose Garcia, Barry McGee, Takeshi Murakami, and Yoshitomo Nara, really inspired me. More recently, as I've become more comfortable with painting and I started incorporating blends and details I originally didn't have the skills to execute, my admiration for artists like Mark Ryden, Todd Schorr, and Robert Williams have come to fruition.

If you had to pick one, what is your favorite piece you've done?
It would have to be a toss up between "The Alchemist" or "Bear In Mind".

Is there a message to you work? Are the animals/situations metaphors?
My paintings definitely have a narrative quality, but I'm not sure I would say there was a message or lesson behind my work, asides for maybe "life sucks, oh well" or "I've got issues".
I would say that it goes without saying that my animal characters function as metaphors. Most of the time I consider them metaphors for myself.

What is “The Colour-Wheel of Doom” and can you give us some examples?
The "Colour-Wheel of Doom" came from a Color Theory class I took at Cal Poly. The class considered the psychology behind color, and its application. I was fascinated by the way the fast food industry decorated their business' with "inviting", and "appetizing" color combinations to get people in their doors, while decorating the insides in a way to discourage customers from sticking around, thus keeping the flow of new customers constant and efficient.
For my "Wheel of Doom", I assigned a specific feelings or experiences to each colour. Blue compliments feelings of depression, loss, or sadness, while red exemplifies violence, anger, or bloodlust. Green embodies disease, and pestilence and orange is simulative of insanity, madness, or confusion. I've designated yellow and purple as "wild" colours (ie. colours without a specific feeling or theme).

Does living in LA inspire/inform your work?
Absolutely! LA seems to be the home of the "Low Brow" art scene, and the amount of talent coming in and out of here is awe inspiring. If it wasn't for the LA based Cannibal Flower art shows, I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing. There's also a very dedicated and enthusiastic audience for this kind of work. What's the art scene like over on LA right now? From the UK, it seems to thriving with many galleries and new shows almost every week (note: we're jealous!!!)
The LA art scene is blowin' up right now. New galleries seem to be popping up like weeds, and the amount of talent crawling out of the wood work is awe inspiring. All my LA based artist friends who all came up around the same timeagree that our timing was impeccable. Four years ago, if someone told me I would be doing what I'm doing, I would never believe them. But one of the most important factors that needs recognition is the Cannibal Flower art show. Without Cannibal Flower, several of my contemporaries and I would never have had a venue to show our work, find our voices, and be discovered. I honestly think Cannibal Flower plays an important factor in making the LA scene what it is today.

Can you tell us about E.X.P and your interest in dance/electronica?
When I was attending Cal Poly, I was a HUGE electronica fan. I avidly collected artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, and µ-ziq, or labels like Warp, Schematic, Skam, etc. E.X.P. was my attempt to combine my two loves, music and design. Publishing E.X.P. was definitely a learning experience. Because of it, I can totally empathize with 'zine publishers, and the amount of blood sweat and tears that go into each issue.

How did the relationship with Munky King come about?
When met Patrick Lam, owner of Munky King, I was just beginning to establish myself, and developing my reputation. At the time, Munky King was simply a retailer. The Possessed toy was originally to be produced by another toy company, but when things fell through with them, Munky King were coincidentally moving into toy production. They quickly picked up the Possessed project, and the rest is history.

Possessed underwent a few change before appearing - where you determined to make it look like your illustrative work?
Since Possessed is based directly on a specific painting, I think it's imperative that the sculpt be as faithful a translation to the painting. I think that the changes and evolutions the sculpt made were necessary for us to come to the final product.

Did you have any concerns about translating your paintings into a 3-d object?
Not really. the sculptor, Dave Bondi, is a friend of ours, and is locally based, so we were able to work very closely with each other.

The response to Possessed has been insane - what was that launch night like?
From what we could tell from the message boards, we anticipated a rather "enthusiastic" launch. So instead of holding the release party at night, we actually started it to the afternoon so we could have better crowd control. It was my first 5 hour (plus) signing session, and the opportunity to meet so many fans, and to have met people that actually came into town from places as far as New York totally blew me away.

Any plans for more Possessed's or other figures?
We just released the third and final colorway of Possessed: the Mono Possessed (ie. a Monotone version of the Possessed toy). It was a San Diego ComicCon International exclusive.

Your also involved in the Vivisect set - how did that come about?
The Vivisect Playset is a group art show I conceived and curated for the past 3 years. The toy version was conceived by Gallery 1988 (the Vivisect Playset's home and host) and the San Francisco based StrangeCo. toy company. The artists featured in the toy set have regularly been featured in the art show. We are anticipating a late 2007 release for the toy, hopefully in time for the 4th Vivisect Playset show, to be hosted by Gallery 1988's San Francisco gallery.

What does the next year hold in store?
I've got another big show at Copro/Nason in 2008, several group shows and a couple 3/4 person show at various galleries across North America. Munky King and I are working on a follow up toy to Possessed, but we've got no date for this project just yet.
To learn about upcoming shows and products, please check out my website:
From my website, you can also join my mailing list, which will keep subscribers up on my latest developments via email.