Monday 18 June 2012

Interview: Luke Chueh, Pop Surrealist Artist

A few weeks ago I posted a review of pop surrealist artist Luke Chueh's debut 'art of' book, The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable. I was just recently introduced to Luke and the art movement he represents, and have been enthralled by the startling originality of it. Although some of Luke's work was a little gory for my easily queasy disposition, on large, his work is fantastic! Widely symbolic and using a wide cast of cute, lovable and very clever characters, The Art of Luke Chueh is a great by for fans of art.

So, I was very excited and pleased when I got the chance to ask Luke a few questions via email, about his work, his origins and future, and how that links into animation - including his favourite animated film - and what parts of his work he'd be interested in adapting into animated shorts. Thanks to Lauren Woosey from the Titan Books publicity team for setting it up. Check out the interview after the jump break!

A113Animation: Hi Luke, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Now, I only came across your work recently, but I’m completely enthralled by it. So, for our readers that are unfamiliar with your work and with pop surrealism: can you give us a brief description of pop surrealism art?
Luke Chueh: Pop Surrealism is label that has been created to describe this current resurgence of artworks that incorporate both figurative and narrative styling. As the name suggests, the art draws inspiration from Popular Culture and Surrealist Art. Though I don't necessarily agree with the sound of this, I feel it's a definite improvement of its previous name: Lowbrow.

A113: Okay, now can you give us a brief overview of your work? What is your inspiration for the strange mash-ups of the cute and the macabre, such as the front cover of your book?
LC: As you described, my own work is a mix of cute anthropomorphized animal characters with macabre situations. I guess I've always felt that the most compelling art is one that mixes dark and light elements, in my case, cute empathetical characters slammed into harsh situations. My ideas are simply interpretations of life experiences, and at the same time I like to rework idioms and draw references from popular culture.
The painting from the book cover is called "Bear In Mind". It features one of my cartoonish bears unmasking itself to reveal a grizzly bear. The painting was a challenge for myself to create something that pushed my abilities as an artist. While thematically I wanted to illustrate the fact that bears aren't cute cuddly beings but rather wild animals we should be mindful of.

A113: When did you start this work, and, somewhat more importantly I guess, why? What was your inspiration?
LC: I started painting full time when I moved to Los Angeles in 2003, but I really started working on this kind of art when I was in college (in the early to mid 90's). Inspired by the "Joe Camel / Camel Cigarettes" conspiracy, I thought it would be fun to explore the idea of using cartoonish characters to illustrate adult themes to children. I was going to call the series "Paintings For Children".

A113: There is a fine line between art and animation (which this blog is dedicated to), and many, many animators produce fine, wonderful art also (evident in recent accompanying ‘Art of’ books). Are there any artists at animation studios, like Pixar, Disney or DreamWorks, whose work you particularly admire?
LC: When I think of the possibility of animating my own work, one of the first names that comes to mind is Bill Plympton [watch Bill's excellent opening couch gag for The Simpsons here]. His sketchy and frenetic style coupled with his clever narratives is something I love, and if my work was to be animated, I would like to see it feel similar to that.
As far as animation studios are concerned, I'm definitely fans of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks, but there's also small animation studios that I'm fans of such as Titmouse and Frederator Studios (creator of "Adventure Time"). I'm also a fan of Japanese anime and I usually look forward to cartoons that come from and studios like Production I.G. and Studio Ghibli.

A113: Speaking of ‘Art of’ books, you’ve just released one yourself, featuring a lot of your visually stunning work; what was the thinking behind releasing a book?
LC: I've been painting full time now for over eight years. And throughout those eight years I've been diligently archiving my work in the hopes that one day I might be able to compile my paintings into a retrospective book. My perseverance has paid off, and I feel very lucky to finally have this thing I've been dreaming about.

A113: You also designed the album cover for Fall Out Boy’s Folie √† Deux; this must have been a great experience, it must certainly have been a great showcase for your work. What was it like working on that project?
LC: I think creating artwork for albums is something most artists dream of. And the opportunity to create the Fall Out Boy cover came when my friends at Gallery 1988 asked me if I was interested in taking on the project. It was an opportunity to create and show something that would be reproduced in numbers I could only imagine and be seen around the world. How could I say no?
The project was surprisingly easy. I basically had complete artistic control (within reason) and was also able to layout the type on the cover too. The image was inspired by a meeting I had with Pete Wentz during an event he had at Gallery 1988. What I noticed was a lot of fan boys who imitated his look and style. But the way I perceived it, none of these people really knew who or what they were imitating. Like the painting for the album, these people were coveting someone they couldn't truly understand.

A113: What are your aspirations for the future? More art, more books, something different?
LC: My aspirations definitely include more art, books, toys, etc. But I also hope to explore other venues of creativity such as film, animation, and sculpture. And hopefully, with the help of my fans and a lot of luck, maybe one day my work will have the ability to reach new heights and new audiences.

A113: What avenues of animation are you interested in? A TV series, short films, feature films? Are there any particular pieces or characters you'd like to adapt and any studio you'd like to handle it - or would you handle the animation yourself?
LC: I'm currently working with my good friends at Munky King on animating of a couple paintings. With these animations we've been focusing mostly on the characters I'm known for (bear, rabbit, monkey, etc.). At the moment I'm mostly interested in developing short films, but once I get used to the format I'm definitely interested in exploring feature length projects. As far as studios, I can't think of one particular, but I'd definitely be interested to see what any studios had to offer.

A113: And finally, given the focus of the blog, what’s your favourite animated film?
LC: My favorite animated film is probably "Princess Mononoke" by Hayao Miyazaki. But then again, I'm a big fan of nonsensical animation such as "FLCL" (Production IG), and recently I've been hooked on a series called "Nichijou" or "My Ordinary Life".

Check out my review of The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable here, and be sure to head over to Luke's website to see a huge range of his work.

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