Pop surrealism artist Luke Chueh caught the eyes of his peers and art aficionados in 2003. Despite having a background in graphic design, the Fresno native took to painting to make ends meet. Trying to distinguish himself from other artists, the self-taught painter incorporated an ironic concept to his art which helped make a splash in the medium.
You may have seen paintings of Luke’s characters around before. They’re often of cute animals (usually a bear) depicted in disturbing and morbid imagery, yet rife with universal subtext and messages, both positive and negative.
Read on as we Hi 5 artist Luke Chueh!
Luke had his first successful art gallery in 2005, and since then has been a presence in the art world. His art has been featured in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly and Juxtapoz, his designs have morphed into vinyl toys, and he even did the artwork for Fallout Boy’s album “Folie à Deux”. It all has culminated in the release of his very first book, “The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable”, which is officially available to the public today.
Despite being in the midst of preparation for upcoming book signings and promotions, as well as the usual painting and designing, Luke took time to interview with Pop GO.
1. There’s always an origin story for everyone, especially for those who achieve any type of success through their talents. At which point in your life did you discover your love for drawing? When did you realize that, even before you sought out painting for income, that you wanted to make a living as an artist?
I discovered my love for drawing when I was 4-5 years old. My mother taught me how to draw Mickey Mouse during a family function (to keep me busy). Since then I’ve had an on/off love with art/illustration.
While attending college (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo - Graphic Design) I flirted with the idea of pursuing a career as an illustrator. I had taken a couple of illustration/life drawing classes and found that it was a subject I enjoyed and apparently succeeded in. When I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue a career in design, I was introduced to the Cannibal Flower art show. After getting to know the show’s founders, L. Crowsky and Michelle Waterman, I was invited to contribute some work to their events which got things started for my life as a painter. But to be honest, I didn’t considered taking a career as a painter seriously until 2005 when I finally had my first successful gallery show.
2. Your paintings and designs have been described as cute, yet dark. Simple, yet complex. One can also get a sense that there are cartoon influences present in your art. What specific cartoons and/or anime, or even specific character designers or artists from those particular mediums, have influenced your style?
I was born in 1973, and like most American’s who grew up at that time I was raised with a healthy dose of Hanna Barbera and Disney cartoons. Robotech (Macross), Transformers, G-Force (Gatchaman), G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Garbage Pail Kids, and Battlestar Galactica were shows and toys that fueled my imagination when I was in grade school.
Later, anime like Akira, Leiji Matsumoto cartoons (Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato) and Studio Ghibli productions, along with an assortment of different comic and manga titles kept me going.
On top of all this, my work is currently inspired by the works of my colleagues, while I’ve also been relearning all the art history I was taught (and forgot) in college.
3. No one would be surprised to hear that you eat, breathe and sleep painting, illustrating and designing if you actually came out and said as much. Such is the life of an artist dedicated to their craft. But during the times that you’re not immersed in your art, do spend them on any other hobbies? Any geeky hobbies?
I definitely live and breathe my work. It’s what gets me up in the morning. And when I’m not working on my own stuff I’m going to art shows on the weekends as a social activity. But I also love video games, food, UFO stuff, cryptozoology, and an assortment of all kinds of nerdy activities.
4. Your very first book, The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing The Unbearable, has officially been released to the public. I can’t imagine how stoked you must feel. Could you describe the process it took to get from an idea and a dream of one day wanting to create an art book to the reality of actually getting that book published?
The dream of one day having a book is like a fantasy come true. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been diligently scanning and documenting all my work. But the business of making a book was something I could never do on my own. “Bearing the Unbearable” was produced by Gallery 1988 and Titan Books. They handled all behind-the-scenes stuff like finances, distribution, promotion, etc.
Concerning the book itself, though my background is graphic design, I am not a book designer, so I felt it would be better if we had the book put together by Titan Book’s design team. I subscribe to the idea that it’s better to have book designers to design your book. Of course, I was around to give my input on its look, feel, and content.
One thing I want to mention concerns the actual writing featured in the book. Of course I considered having colleagues and critics that are “higher on the totem poll” to contribute to the book, but I thought it would be best to feature the thoughts and memories of the people who made a direct impact on my career. This is why the book features Jensen Karp and Katie Cromwell, the owners/curators of Gallery 1988 and the producers of this book; L. Crowsky, the man who gave me my break and the first person to show my work in Los Angeles; Gary Pressman, the curator of Copro Gallery; Patrick Lam, the producer of my first toy and owner of Munky King; Josh Madden and his brother Joel Madden of “Good Charlotte”, whose support and exposure have been nothing less than priceless; Pete Wentz, whose band “Fall Out Boy” I created album artwork for; and Jan Corey and Bruce Helford of Corey Helford Gallery.
5. What advice and tips can you give to those aspiring to build a career through art?
I think the best advice I can give is to create things that make you happy. But if you’re looking to develop something that is fiscally successful, go to shows (preferably group shows featuring new unknown artists) and pay close attention to what is selling. Try and understand why those things are selling — Is it its size, the subject, the technique, or all of the above? — and with that knowledge, find a way to incorporate that into your work.
Finally, I think there’s lot of different ways to go about a career in the creative industries, but what I’ve noticed in myself and my friends is there are three attributes you need: Talent, Discipline, and Luck (not necessarily in that order). With that, you can do just about anything you want.
Visit LukeChueh.com to view the majority of his critically acclaimed paintings and designs, as well as get all the information you need on upcoming art shows and book signings and any other contact and background info you may need!