The Highest Form of Lowbrow: Luke Chueh at Copro Gallery
Teddy bears with bloody claws. Elephants with cleavers. Self-harming bunny rabbits. The paintings of Luke Chueh are instantly recognizable for their murky vistas and cartoonish protagonists caught in tragicomic narratives. It's this inherent humanity and humor that have made Chueh's aesthetic quickly snatched by rabid collectors and sought-after in the commercial art world. Since breaking on the L.A. art scene more than eight years ago, the Philadelphia native has sold out shows, designed his own vinyl toy collection, created album art for Fall Out Boy and has seen fandom rise to the bloody and painful level of Chueh tattoos. His new body of work, “Beginnings/Endings (and Other Worthless Epiphanies),” opens at CoproGallery on Saturday, alongside paintings by Japanese-born illustrative artist Mari Inukai. We caught up with Chueh to ask about his creative process and living and working in L.A.
How did you first start painting characters on these bleak, infinite backgrounds?
My backgrounds were originally nothing more than the product of my limited ability to paint. Without a formal studio art education (I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I earned a B.S. in the graphic design program), I lacked the skills to compose and render like many of my “lowbrow” contemporaries, so I simply developed a solution I could execute with whatever limited abilities I had. Since then, I've been slowly trying to incorporate more developed environments into my paintings.
Speaking of which, what do you think about the term “lowbrow”?
“Lowbrow” is a title a lot of my colleagues and I have fought. But lately I think I've come to terms with it. After all, there's a certain degree of truth in the label.
At what point did painting become your sole income?
I've had the good fortune of successfully being able to sell my paintings regularly while also slowly bringing up their prices. By 2005 I was able to price my work at a level where I was able to support myself completely through the sale of my paintings, prints and other projects.
Has the economy affected the way that you work or create?
I think the recession has forced me to play it a bit safer. For example, this year I was originally planning on unveiling a body of work that was much more “experimental” but I decided to push the show back a year. I wanted to give the economy another year to adjust and recover before pulling a stunt that might possibly turn off my fans and quite possibly alienate and offend them.
How do you feel about fans who tattoo your work onto their bodies: flattered or creeped out?
When it comes to tattoos, I'm mostly flattered. But once in a while, I run into a fan whose tattoo was poorly rendered. It's at this moment when I'm forced to either look or sound impressed, where I end up feeling mostly embarrassed and uncomfortable, especially since I'm a really bad liar.
Does living in L.A. directly influence your work?
With Los Angeles being the epicenter of the “lowbrow”/“pop-surrealist” genres, there is so much going on, and there is so much talent everywhere, an artist can't help but be inspired and stimulated by all the different things going on down here. I couldn't tell you exactly how being down in Los Angeles has influenced me directly, but being down here keeps me on my toes.
Copro Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave, Space T5, Saturday 8-11:30 pm