Interview with Luke Chueh

Posted by Grey Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just in time to coincide with the release of Luke Chueh’s first monograph, "The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable", The Daily Zombies interviews the Los Angeles-based artist critically acclaimed for his starkly macabre yet adorable work in the Lowbrow and Pop Surrealist art movement.

Being keen follower of the global graphic art scene, I can still vividly remembered stumbling into "Bear in Mind' some years back and the sense of cordial bewilderment that it gave me back then. While "Bear in Mind" has undoubtedly become one of the most recognized works of Luke Chueh, the Los Angeles-based artist has by now become one of the Lowbrow and Pop Surrealist art movements.

With the release of Chueh's first monograph, "The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable" by Titan Books today, The Daily Zombies talks to Luke Chueh on his greatest achievement, his inspiration, and what lies ahead of the Chinese-American artist.

The Daily Zombies: Let’s start by telling us a little about yourself. How did you get started in graphic design? In your opinion, what exactly was the big break in your career as an artist?

Chueh: I started with graphic design because I felt it was the safest way for me to find a career in the visual arts while potentially making a consistent income. I attended California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo's Art & Design department, Graphic Design Concentration. My first big break as a designer was being hired by the Ernie Ball Company. The company is a guitar and guitar string manufacturer, and while I was there I created designs that would be submitted and accepted to design annuals such as Communication Arts, Print, etc.

My first big break as an artist was when I the Cannibal Flower art show started featuring my work in their regular line-up.

Can you decide on three illustrations from your portfolio that you are most proud of?

The Alchemist: The act consuming something bad to produce gold is a something I've strived to do with myself since I started painting full time.
Disintegration: Concept and execution come together for this painting about falling apart.
Bear In Mind: The first painting I created where I attempted to render as realistically as I could. The bear in the costume is the product of photo references which is a technique I had never used. It forced me to work out of my comfort zone and I was happy enough the end results to use as the cover of my book.

Being a Los Angeles-based Chinese artist, does your Asian heritage affected your career both in terms of career opportunities and artistic inspirations? (In an interview with you, Empty Magazine described your childhood as “unhappy”.)

I'm not sure I can say my Asian heritage plays a direct role in my career opportunities, as far as I can tell. But it definitely effects how I see myself, how I fit in this society, this art scene, and this world in general. I would say that it's this perception that effects my art directly.

We understand from Art Prostitute Magazine’s interview with you, that you are drawn to the works of your contemporaries such as Chiho Aoshima, Marcel Dzama, Jeremy Fish, Camille Rose Garcia, Barry McGee, Takeshi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Mark Ryden, and Ralph Steadman. What are the main influences of your work? Who are your favorite artists ever?

The main inspiration behind my artwork is simply my life. I'm basically reinterpreting events from my life, or the lives of my friends and family. Concerning the works of artists, I can't really think of one specific artist, nor do I want to create a distilled list of artists whom I enjoy. Let's just say the list of artists I enjoy is constantly growing, and I'm constantly buying books, looking online, and going to art shows.

What is the single most difficult challenge in your career as an artist?

I believe finding the courage to change and evolve to be one of the most difficult challenges for myself. At the moment, I'm currently recognized for creating a specific style of art. For me to let go of those things and start painting something completely different requires a lot of time, energy, confidence, and courage. With each painting, I've been looking for opportunities to try something new or find a way to expand on my visual lexicon.

Do you actively seek out inspirations? Or do they just come to you in an “aha” moment? How do you get inspired and stay motivated?

Both. You can never predict where inspiration will come from so I strive to put myself out there, immersing myself in other peoples work. I guess I find inspiration and motivation by looking at the works of other artists.

What do you think is your greatest achievement?

I'm a recovering drug addict, so I would say my sobriety is my greatest achievement.

Your homage to Francisco Goya’s masterpiece “Saturn Devouring His Son” was awesome. Do you plan to revisit fusion pieces like this one in the future?

I'm really happy with the way "Saturn Devours His Son" came out. It was a valuable learning experience for me both technically and conceptually. Since the Goya painting I've "remixed" Francis Bacon's "Figure with Meat", and before that I created a painting called "Mono_ram", inspired by Rauschenburg's "Monogram" sculpture. I'm definitely open to embracing and remixing other artists artwork. It's a way for me to learn other techniques, encouraging me to step outside of my own understanding of art and embrace another artists perspective.

The original masterpiece, "Saturn Devouring His Son" by Francisco Goya
The Remix by Chueh
The original "Figure with Meat" by Francis Bacon
The Remix by Chueh
The original "Monogram" sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg
The Remix by Chueh

Looking into the future, where do you see yourself doing three years from now? Or rather, what you hope that you will be doing by then?

I'm hoping that I'll be doing more shows around the world while finding more opportunities to travel. I also hope to find ways of seeing my work evolve stylistically and conceptually. I'm currently working in other mediums such as animation and sculpture. I've also been flirting with the idea of performance art. All I can say is the future is potentially exciting.

In closing, any advices for the up-and-coming young artists looking out for their big break?

I think the best advice for new artists I have is to create things that make you happy. Create art that you would be excited to see on a wall (that isn't a copy of another artists work). Also, it's important to get out into your community, go to shows, and keep an open eye and mind. But while you're out there, don't go blatantly pimping your artwork, especially at another artists show. Galleries seem to prefer "discovering" talent as opposed to having it handed to them on a plate. I'm not sure how you can get a gallery to "discover" you, but I'm guessing it's all about finesse.
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 a three attributes you need: Talent, Discipline, and Luck (not necessarily in that order). With that, you can do just about anything you want.

Many thanks to Luke for both taking the time for the interview as well as his earnest and forthright comments. In addition, kudos to Tom Green from Titan Books for making the special arrangement. We will be reviewing the giant-size (9 x 0.8 x 12.2 inches) coffee table art book shortly.

The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable will be available in fine bookstores everywhere on June 12th. For those who would like to order the book online, head over to or Titan Books.


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