Artist Luke Chueh’s work is difficult to put into words. The terms “irreverent,” “ironic,” “subversive,” and “haunting” spring to mind. Yet, none of those adjectives (or any combination of them) truly describes his output. This darling of the Los Angeles underground art scene commands hefty prices for his unusual paintings. Horror fans can appreciate their appeal: some of the artwork contains scenes of dismemberment, disfigurement, and animal cannibalism. One painting is a tribute to a master of horrific pictorialization, Francisco Goya. In a riff on Goya’s famous and utterly disturbing “Saturn Devouring His Son,” Chueh employs rabbits rather than humans as the cannibal and his victim. Chueh’s version, humorously titled “Francisco Goya: Saturn Devours His Son (Rabbid Remix)” is one of the many odd delights collected in the book The Art of Luke Chueh. The volume is subtitled Bearing the Unbearable as a reference to the painter’s penchant for cute-yet-unsettling bears as subjects. It is a subtitle that also alludes to Luke’s personal demons. Although darkly funny, there is an underlying sadness in the depictions. A sense of alienation pervades.
To illustrate, here are a few descriptions of Luke’s bizarre and droll purview: “Hare-Cut” in which a rabbit, who has already cut off one of its ears, sits with scissors poised; ready to prune the other protuberance. Returning to cannibalism, there’s “I Asked For Scrambled” where a chicken, seated at a table, looks at a plate of sunny side up eggs. This particular image became so popular that it was bootlegged onto T-shirts in Japan. Not to neglect the aforementioned bears, in “Inside Out” a bear has taken off its head, only to reveal an identical head on its body. Littering the floor are more such heads. Removing a head to expose another is also seen in “Bear In Mind.” In this specific take on the theme, Chueh’s goal was “to feature a realistic bear in contrast to my anthropomorphized bear.” The impression is that menace lurks underneath the whimsy.
Luke Chueh’s artistic style has been compared to Warhol, Kandinsky, and Rothko. Indeed, Chueh cites Mark Rothko as an influence. Ultimately, however, Luke Chueh is extremely unique. His work elicits responses, and has made him a sort of cult figure in the art community. This impressive coffee table book features pictures from 2003-2009. It is an attention grabber; likely to stimulate much conversation.