Luke Chueh – Bear Necessities

luke chueh - interviewLuke Chueh (pronounced chu) is one of my favourite artists. His work can be dark and brooding but also funny and ironic.

His pictures (often featuring the same bear) remind me of when I first realised there were bad things in the world, but was still young enough to escape back to fantasy.

His work has appeared on everything from record covers, clothing, and even the occasional wall. There are also quite a few people walking around with tattoos of Luke’s art on their bodies, so he must be doing something right. He is also a big foodie.

As part of our Art Month 2011, we caught up with Luke and got the ‘bear’ facts.

How is life at the moment?
It’s going well, thanks for asking.

When you do a new picture do you always start with a sketch?
Yes. I sometime wish I was more impulsive, but I’m really very methodical about my paintings.

How long does a painting generally take you to do?
Depends. Small paintings can take me one to three days. Larger paintings upwards to a week or two. It all depends on the size and concept.

Is it difficult be commercial and still have artistic integrity?
I’m assuming you’re asking if it’s difficult balancing a pop aesthetic with artistic integrity, in which case, I have to admit that I can see how my work is a step or two away from editorial illustration…

…But lets start with the defining the two. When I think illustration, I think of images created specifically for a function, whether it be something like product illustration, or to compliment something like a magazine article in the form of editorial illustration.

Basically, ”illustrations” are images created with an intended purpose, while “art” is pure, selfish, artistic expression….

Luke Chueh - More than a Jumpsuit

…. Now then, to get back to your question, is it difficult to distinguish between the two? I don’t find it at all difficult because when I create my paintings, I’m really being very selfish. When I first started painting full-time, I decided that I wanted to create work that if I saw in a gallery or on a wall, I would get excited or inspired. With that as my base philosophy, it became easy to distinguish illustration and art.

I’m not creating something with some sort of ulterior message or motive. I’m just trying to satisfy myself, which I believe truly makes an end product that is by my definition, “art”

What one piece of advice would you give a young artist just coming out of college?
I don’t really have any specific advice, just that you should pursue your dreams, but be realistic about your ambitions. When I graduated, I had no plans of becoming a painter.

The way I saw it, I had better odds winning in Vegas than making it as a studio artist. I was planning on pursuing a career as a designer while chasing a career as an illustrator. Fortunately for me, I was introduced to the Cannibal Flower art shows, became a contributor to the shows, and worked my way up to where I am today.

Not very many artists seem to mention the “LUCK” factor in their careers, but I believe LUCK plays a huge role in whether or not you make it in the creative industries. If you don’t have luck on your side, the chances of you making it become exponentially harder. But all this is something I’ll get into another time.

There’s a saying about how when you do something you love, it’s as though you don’t work a day in your life, and I totally agree with that statement.

Luke Chueh Interview

Who are your heroes?
My heroes are people who are driven by their talents, but maintain a somewhat humble public persona. I look up to a lot of my colleagues like Gary Baseman, Mark Ryden, Camille Rose Garcia, or Takashi Murakami. But I’m also inspired by people that aren’t visual artists. At the moment, I’m fascinated by the social contributions of Stanton Friedman, and Michio Kaku.

There is lots of humour and sadness in your work, are you a serious person?
I think I’m just a normal guy. I have plenty of serious moments, but I also have moments where I just crack jokes and laugh.

Luke ChuehDo you have a favourite piece that you have produced?
I’ve got a couple favourites. My 2009 self portrait My Ball & Chain (left), and my painting, The Alchemist are two of my personal favourites .

Did you cry when you when you watched Watership Down?
LOL. I hate to say it, but I’ve never seen Watership Down. I simply researched it on Wikipedia. I still plan on renting it, and if I do cry, I’ll let you know.

What job would you do if you ran out of ideas?
I guess I would re-pursue a career as a Graphic Designer.

What is on your stereo at the moment?
Since i started working on this interview, I’ve been listening to the ‘Head on the Door‘ album by The Cure, a Grizzly Bear Egg Cafe podcast, and a Radiolab podcast.

Where is the best place to eat dim sum in LA?
I love the pork dumplings at Din Tai Fung. But for dim sum specifically, Elite in Monterey Park is recognized as having some of the best in SoCal. The thing is, they don’t do the push carts.

Rather, you have to order from a menu, and I kind of feel that the menu takes away a lot of the fun from the dim sum experience. Aside for ‘Elite’, I also like Capital Seafood, and NBC Seafood, for ‘classic’ dim sum, both of which are also in Monterey Park.

You can see more of Luke’s fantastic pictures on his site