Talking with Luke Chueh About His Solo “From Light Cometh Darkness” at Corey HelfordJuxtapoz // Monday, 30 Mar 2009
From Light Cometh Darkness
Corey Helford Gallery
8522 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
March 20 – April 10, 2009
Words and photos by Trina Calderon.
Luke’s new show is what you hoped for and more. It is consistent with his visual battle between good and evil, which could be better described as cute characters doing very bad things. His simple style is growing, as his painting technique has expanded to incorporating still more human elements (Self Portrait 2009/My Ball & Chain) and even an homage to his favorite Goya painting (Saturn Devours His Son [Remixed by Luke Chueh]).
Luke’s true strength lies in telling a story that makes you keep looking…and wondering. Often you might think ‘that’s so wrong!’ or ‘wow, wtf?’ Or often I bet there is just a ton of laughter if you can share his sick imagination. His work is full of multiple meanings and layers of emotional question. A Chinese-American, Luke grew up in Fresno, California, and he is a contemporary painter with a different story than most. He did not go to art school, but instead pursued a “safe” career as a graphic designer after graduating from Cal Poly San Louis Obispo. He re-visited painting after a good design run with Ernie Ball (the guitar string manufacturer), and eventually found acclaim through the underground Cannibal Flower art movement in Los Angeles. He started showing his work and it quickly began to sell. End of story, but just a beginning for Luke and his cast of conflicted animals.
Sitting in the gallery with his new works, we took at look at his website on his iPhone and checked out some of his earlier paintings (look up Smoke and Feeling Blue). “Basically all the work that I started doing in Southern California has been pretty much in this vein of cute characters in shitty situations, it just kind of seems like this like a combination that you just can’t go wrong with. It’s about the duality of dark and light or cute characters, dark situations, and it goes backwards and forwards.
“Feeling Blue, was one of the 2nd things I did with Cannibal Flower and it sold…I definitely lucked out because the thing was, at the time, the work I was creating was very different from what was being produced at the time because a lot of that work was really schizophrenic, frenetic, crazy and there was a lot of shit going on at the same time. Because all this real loud work was being produced, when people stepped in front of one of my pieces, because of the quiet simplicity and the cutting narrative, it was such a startling contrast to what was going on back then. Attitude is success, and I definitely lucked out.”
Though they may have seemed calm compositions back then, the story they tell is not. The pieces in his new show are still very thought provoking. While some have real violence and others have a suggestion, they all have a kind of harsh drama.
“It is something that I was talking to people at the opening about - that they have their ideas as to what the paintings mean to them. I am always fascinated by their personal interpretations. The last thing I ever want is to say that they are wrong. It’s not about what I am trying to say, it’s about what the art says to you. It happens to say, what I admire, and it says that to me. That’s great, but I think that art is obviously a form of communication and it should be open to interpretation and open to personal interpretation, and those interpretations are never wrong. It’s all driven by personal experience, and how you look through your experiences individually.”
His subjects are usually animals like bears, rabbits, monkeys, or chickens. They are presented in a fairly simple visual style. He always sketches his ideas out first, and then does his line work on canvas with blue India ink before he takes them on with his brush and acrylic paint. Luke chooses to use animals in his work because there is a universal element he is able to bring to his narrative that he would not have if he painted everyday people.
“When I started doing all this, I really had to legitimize it all to myself. I had to find a reason why I can work with these characters and it makes sense. It is the infallible reason why I should be using these particular characters instead of humans. Technically, I wasn’t able to render human beings that well in the beginning. I think I am much better at it now, and there are some human characters spotted throughout my work, but I realized that by using a bear or a pig or a rabbit or a monkey, it takes away any possible racism, sexism, or ageism that the audience would - my deal say if that painting was of a black person painting himself white – it just creates more of a universal. You’re no longer concerned about these issues of race and sex, your more focused on what the fuck is going on, so that’s the reason I do animals. The reason I chose a bear is because, you know, I am Asian, surprise! Chinese-American! I basically lived in San Luis Obispo, a real classification game - that kind of town, they love white chicks. There were little nicknames that were real disgusting, like panda, or this and that. It’s cute at the time, but, oh God.”
Luke shared that the bear nicknames stuck between him and a few friends, probably because of too much partying and varied from Care Bears to Bullshit Bears to even just Luke Bear. “The bear is now a metaphor for myself.” As for the rabbits, he told me, “I go between with rabbits because they have so much pop culture shit attached to them. Like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland to the 1960’s psychedelic references to the white rabbit. How can you not use a rabbit? It’s got long ears too, and it’s fun to draw and people love it. Everyone wants to think of themselves as fast and wily like a rabbit.”
The biggest treat in the new show is his Francisco Goya homage Saturn Devours His Son (Remixed by Luke Chueh). It is classic anti-religion subject matter (the original is Saturn eating Jesus on the cross) but with a grueling and funny twist. Luke’s rabbit replaces Saturn and chomps on a smaller version of a rabbit. This macabre sense of humor is what makes Luke’s pieces so great and he has created a style that makes the experience relatively harmless.
“I found that with this entire stripped down focus on a simple narrative that I can be able to illustrate with very simple character design. That was what I could do, like what I could be able to pull off and look good. Basically, my initial work was based on my current skill level as a painter, and a general reaction of my personal life experiences and superficial social commentary on the world at the time.” Sounds like a description of a real artist to me.
Luke's From Light Cometh Darkness will remain on view at Corey Helford through April 10, 2009.
Details at www.coreyhelfordgallery.com
More on Luke Chueh at www.lukechueh.com