Monday 4 June 2012

The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable Review

The cover of the book, featuring Bear in Mind - 2006

Today's review marks the third 'Art of' book that I have reviewed in the past week, following on from The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and The Art of Brave, but this is an entirely different kettle of fish to those two books. The former two are books that accompany the latest animated releases of Pixar and DreamWorks, The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable is a standalone specimen, a compilation of the artwork up until now of Philadelphia born "lowbrow" artist, Luke Chueh. So, obviously this is not animation related, but, as I explained the other day, I feel it is explicitly linked - after all, looking at the gorgeous animation related 'Art of' books, it's evident that the people in employment at Pixar, at DreamWorks, etc., are indeed very talented and capable artists. Also, I feel it's important to challenge yourself, so I wanted to push, slightly, the boundaries of this blog, expanding our outlook somewhat.

So, this won't be a traditional review, I just wanted to offer up some quick thoughts on the book and the artwork it contains.

Available now from Titan Books, The Art of Luke Chueh, features over 200 pieces of art from the collection of Chueh from 2003 to 2009, and has some truly fantastic artwork. Whereas in The Art of Brave and other similar works, the artwork on display was created for the purpose of storytelling, of exploring the world of the animated films that the books accompany, here each piece is designed with an individual purpose. Luke's work is deeply personal and symbolic, evident in his minimalistic commentaries alongside key paintings, the art has a statement, a symbolic point, about society or about Luke's life.

So, Luke Chueh has adopted a very unique, personal style, he juxtaposes together two entirely different scenarios in his work: the cute, and the macabre. Creating visually spectacular pieces that range from funny, to awe-inspiring, to a bit gruesome. Animals are featured prominently in almost all of the artwork presented here, with a bear, as evident by the book's subtitle, usually being Luke's animal of choice. Largely anthropomorphised for symbolic effect, Chueh seems to project the innermost aspects of humanity onto these animals.

I said earlier that some of his pieces are gruesome, and this is true throughout a significant portion of his work. Contrasting the cute bear that has become his de facto mascot with gore or horrific images. It's never just for the sake of it, it always has some deep-rooted symbolic point or message, but the fact is, it is very gruesome, in places sadistic. Personally, I found this a bit off putting, and I have a sneaking suspicion that others of a queasy disposition will too. This 'Art of' book is in an entirely different world to the previous ones I've reviewed and is NOT to be bought for younger audiences; I'm 17-years old and I found it a bit uncomfortable, this is not an acceptable purchase for the younger audience that could get away with reading the animation themed 'Art of' books. Admittedly though, it may also grate with me because (as this blog is evidence of) I like happy, funny and optimistic things, films and images, and this book would be great for an older, more mature audience.

However, it's not fair to focus on the bad; this isn't, after all, a critique of Luke's work (which I'm largely a big fan of), it's a critique of the book, and it is a very well put together book. Over 200 pieces of artwork are featured and they are unquestionably the focus, there is little in the way of text, with just a few key, insightful comments from Luke about important pieces, and introductions to years and sections by people who run galleries that have featured Luke's work, and other key players. It works phenomenally well, allowing you to soak in all of the work, and get an insight into the creative mind of Luke Chueh, and the work emanating from his "Shedio".

For my griping about some of his more gruesome pieces, a lot of Luke's work on display here - the majority in fact - is fantastic. Some of the more light hearted pieces, such as "Nostalgia", "Indecision", and "Gero-Hero/Bat-Bear" are very funny, especially when contrasted to the far darker pieces, they're certain to illicit laughs - I loved the randomness of "Rabbitoise". However, it's on the deeper, more symbolic pieces that this book really shines; the art where it is evident Luke is personally connected with it, with the themes it represents. One such piece is "Bear in Mind", the cover of the book, and the follow up piece "(Gummi) Bear in Mind". A lot of Chueh's work deals with façades, and how we will try and show a different image of ourselves to others, whether this be hiding a ferocious, angry side, or putting up a front of anger to hide our delicate, honest feelings - these Bear in Mind pieces are just the two best examples of this.

Another such piece is "Inside Out", which is deep in symbolism. Luke himself says it best in the book, about "Inside Out": "What about those who are stuck with themselves, and, despite their efforts, are unable to be anything but that thing they are?". It's evident that Chueh clearly and consistently relates to his work, the through-lines of passion and personality are rich in all of his pieces, but it shines best in the thoroughly considered, and clever pieces - and fortunately these dominate the majority of the book.

Fall Out Boy, Folie à Deux album cover - 2008

Deep analysis of symbolism, however, isn't what this blog is about, and flicking through The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable is largely fun and tantalising; this book is a great buy for any fan of art, although certainly best suited to mature ones.


Note, all images and artwork used here are property of Titan Books, Luke Chueh and any other respective owners, and are used here for illustrative purposes only and in accordance with the fair use policy of copyright law.

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