Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself (i.e. where your general base of operation is, when you started designing, and how you first started out)?
Luke Chueh: Well, my name is Luke Chueh. The last name is pronounced “CHU”, but the actual pronunciation is more like “Chréh”. I was born in Philadelphia, raised in Fresno, California, and attended California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo, where I got a BS from their Art & Design department (Graphic Design Concentration). In March, 2003, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue a career as a graphic designer. However, a job was not to be found. Instead, I was introduced to the Cannibal Flower art show whom gave me my break and included me into their monthly art shows. In 2005, Gallery 1988 invited me to show at their gallery, and the rest is history.
UVD: Would you mind telling us about some of the designs that you came up with when you were first starting out and how designs have progressed over the years?
LC: My first design job was for the Ernie Ball Company. The Ernie Ball Company is a manufacturer of the world famous Music Man guitars and bases, and the even more popular Ernie Ball guitar strings. The best work I did for them was probably the t-shirts I designed early. These designs employed my illustrations (which were somewhat similar to what I’m doing now, just no bears), and work got me published in Communication Arts and Print International Design Annual.
At the same time, I was writing, designing, and publishing a ‘zine called “E.X.P.”. The ‘zine featured music from the “Intelligent Dance Music” and experimental electronic genre’s, and so, I thought it was only fitting that the magazine itself feature an experimental format that complimented the style of music. Basically I was in love with the work of David Carson, the Designers Republic, and Tomato. If I couldn’t find a job payed me to create that kind of design, then I would create my own job to facilitate the desire.
Meanwhile, at Ernie Ball, my employer was versing me in the fine art of advertising design. Specifically, the idea that you essentially have 2.3 seconds to get what you’re selling to your audience. I believe that this concept permeates through my current work. My paintings are really quick read, and I attribute that to the years spent designing full page ads for guitar magazines.
UVD: What are some things that influence you and your work? Is there any artist’s work that inspired you and your style early on in your career? Are there any artists on your radar currently that have amazed you with the product they are putting out?
LC: My most obvious influence is my general life experience. I basically find myself reinterpreting the crap I’ve gone through, I find ways of stringing it together with an idiom or whatever. Also music lyrics always I’m very much influenced by the work of my colleagues. I would start listing artists, but then this interview would end up being one long ass list.
Lately I’ve been impressed by the latest crop of toy customizers. I ALMOST hate doing custom shows now cause I honestly don’t even hold a flame to those guys.
UVD: After looking at a number of your prints, what has been the motivation behind using a rabbit/bear as your main subject?
LC: The bear is definitely a metaphor for myself. Actually, both Rabbit and Bear are metaphors for myself, but the Bear specifically. I think it all started with my friend Jaime. She and I would call each other Jaime Bear, Luke Bear, and it went like that for years. Then, I had girlfriends who, inspired by the novelty of dating an asian guy, would use pet names such as panda (uh. so embarrassing). But when I decided to use an animal character as the vehicle for my narratives, a bear seemed right. I like rabbits because the ears make for a compelling graphic. That, and all the fables attached to rabbits and other animals in Eastern and Western cultures.
Also, when I started, I came to the conclusion that animal characters made for the best vehicle for my story telling. By using animals, I bypass all the sexism, racism, and ageism that is attached to humans characters. Also, growing up in the society we live in, we are raised with plush animals, such as teddy bears, so I believe we have a natural, subconscious empathy to these animals.
UVD: Out of curiosity, why do your figures in the drawings like bleeding or being sad so much?
LC: I believe art is a study in communication and in contrast. Whether it be visual (dark vs light, complementary colors, etc.) or narrative (cute and brute, comedy and tragedy), it when you mix these elements do you create compelling images. So, I take these “cute” almost “innocent” animal characters, characters that you would normally associate with happy fantasy lands, rainbows, flowers, picnics, etc. and I immerse them into the brutality of our world. The contrast is jarring, compelling, and rather than being repulsed, you naturally empathize with the character.
As for the blood and sadness… to tell you the truth, up until recently, I lived a very self destructive lifestyle. I hate to think it, I believe the reason why my paintings work, is because I sadly led a life that was easily more brutal than the ones I illustrate.
Fortunately I’ve been able to make the changes to my life I needed and happily, my future works are a lot more optimistic. Or at least that’s how I see it.
UVD: How was it working with Fall Out Boy on their “Folie à Deux” album cover? Also how was it working with Linkin Park on their Projekt Revolution tour poster in 2008?
LC: It was fun. The Fall Out Boy project was arranged by my friends at Gallery 1988. It was actually the band that suggested some idea, and though I don’t really remember what they had in mind, the image that we ended up using came to my mind when I heard theirs. Also, I thought it would be in my best interest to create characters specifically for the artwork. The final image features a human, dressed as bear, carrying a bear on it’s back. I like to think illustrates ideas of love, fandom, and obsession. Feelings I would guess Fall Out Boy have encountered with their own audience through their popularity.
For the Linkin Park poster, the bands harder sound, coupled with the name of their tour, “Projekt Revolution” warranted a harder, more militant image. Inspired by South American, Russian, Chinese, and Korean Communist propaganda, I wanted to create an image that focused on the idea of violent revolution.
-Fall Out Boy Album cover
UVD: How was working with Kidrobot to produce a 3” and 8” Dunny character? How did that process/relationship start for the figure?
LC: Kid Robot were great to work with. The idea, “Blood and Fuzz” was my attempt at inserting my typical fusion of contrasting elements onto the familiar Dunny form. We juggled around plenty of ideas, such as hitting the blood splatter on the face with a heavy gloss varnish, or keeping the flock off the blood splatter, in order to accentuate the contrast in texture and color. But at the end, we stuck with a completely flocked dunny, with the “blood” pad printed over the flocking. The 8″ version was simply a enlarged version of the of the original. Of course there were issues with the printing since they had to use a combination of pad and mask/spray. For the 8″ we attached an accessory, a decapitated Dunny head. For the past couple years, I’ve made available decapitated versions of major toys I’ve created, and this was simply following that tradition.
UVD: Of all the different drawings/figures you have done for shows, if you had to choose a few, which ones would you say you enjoyed doing the most or are most proud with the way they turned out?
LC: If I had a retrospective show, the paintings I think should be featured would include the 6 “Southpaw Series” paintings. “The Soundtrack (to My Life)“, “The Alchemist“, “Black In White“, “Swarm“, “Poppin Poppies”, “I Asked for Scrambled“, “Nostalgia“, “Monkey’s with Hats” series, “White Wash“, “Saturn Devours His Son“, “Figure with Meat“, “Bitch“, “Spawn“, “The Kiss“, “The Prisoner“, “Possessed“, “Hiding Behind My Smile” series, “Target“, “Inspiration (Bright Ideas from the Hole in My Soul)”, “Disintegration”, “Color Field Series Red”, “Color Field Series Blue”, all three “Label Series” paintings, all my major toy releases (from Munky King, StrangeCo, Kid Robot, and Intheyellow) and I’m sure there’s bunch more, but these are what come to mind.
UVD: How was working with Sanrio for their 50th Anniversary show?
LC: It was fine. Sanrio didn’t really have play a direct role with the work of the artists, so there weren’t any problems. I think that as long as there wasn’t any controversial, sexual, or violent subject matter, there wasn’t a problem.
UVD: Are there any future projects that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?
LC: I’ve got some shows lined up. I’m planning on a two person show with my friend Juan Muniz in February 2012. I’m also planning a show at Rotofugi in September 2012 with my good friend J*Ryu. I won’t be showing back in Los Angeles until 2013 at Corey Helford.
Concerning my toys, I’m working on projects such as my 3rd major release with Munky King, “Target”, and another Omi design
UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?
LC: Get a website.
Go out to shows.
Study what sells, and see what you can do with what you learn (without biting)(cause it is a business after all)
Participate in whatever opportunities you can. Cannibal Flower is a great starting place. It got me, Joe Ledbetter, Lola, Chet Zar, and countless others started.
Use social networking sites like DeviantArt, Facebook, or whatever site is hot at the moment.