EMPTY MAGAZINE
ISSUE 2 (November 2004)
www.emptymag.com

CUTE BUT SAD
by Matt Leach

You really get the feeling that Luke wants to be the best at whatever he is doing at the time. He comes across in interviews as a person who is constantly trying to better himself, upgrade his skills and move up to the next level. He clearly likes to concentrate on the task at hand freely admitting that he stopped drawing and painting at one point so he could focus on becoming a Graphic Designer.

It was only when he moved to Los Angeles and couldn’t find work he started painting again as a way to keep himself busy while looking. In March 2003 he decided to show some of his paintings and was surprised by how well they were received, coming very close to a sell out show. As you can imagine this encouraged him to keep painting for a while and put design on the back burner.

Touted these days as one of the hottest properties on the LA art circuit you might say it was a good decision.

Looking at his work your first reaction is based on the cuteness of his Manga styled characters in their many forms of bear, monkey and rabbit. These instantly adorable characters are juxtaposed against the ironic and slightly disturbing situations they find themselves in. A bear finding himself on fire is slightly bemused at the fact that the tap of the shower has come off leaving him to burn. Or the cute rabbit that turns his back on his adoring audience to take a much needed cigarette break. It’s as if these icons of 20th century innocence are thoroughly disappointed at how the world views them and have resorted to often extreme acts to prove they have more depth than the average toy.

While some of the pictures are clearly quite horrific, Luke creates a buffer zone between the viewer and the tortured creature allowing us to look on from a comfortably safe distance. An idea that appeals to many in our voyeuristic society and is demonstrated most prominently by the way his art consistently sells. A bunny chopping his ears off in muted silence is the perfect conversation opener for guests to your house… unless of course they have small children with them (in which case you’ll probably be seen as the devil incarnate for purchasing such an upsetting piece of art let alone actually putting it on your wall).

The themes stem from Luke’s unhappy childhood of growing up as American Chinese in a minority intolerant community. Seen as a commodity by the other kids you can see direct parallels to the loneliness his creations show. Not fitting into a world that demands stereotypes the animals can take their frustrations out in ways that Luke was never able to. Luckily he has chosen to turn those frustrations into inspiration for his art and although the pictures insist you feel empathy for these melancholy forms they also provide humour based on the irony that horrible things happen, no matter how cute or harmless you are.

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