With the Summer 2012 release of the anticipated book The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable (Titan), coffee tables just got a lot more interesting.
I can’t say that I was all that familiar with Chueh himself, but I had seen his work before. I’m pretty sure everyone has seen his work before. He’s been a pop culture staple for years now and his work has been seen gracing album covers, Munny dolls and just about everything else. His work, or perhaps better described as his ‘theme’, of a chicken dining on 2 sunny-side-up eggs aptly titled I Asked For Scrambled, was co-opted by a t-shirt company and mass produced without credit to Chueh himself, as he describes in this book.
And you know when you work resonates enough with a world market that it is legitimately stolen, mass produced and profited from by third parties, you’ve made it! Also, you should get prepared for a lawsuit, but that’s another story.
His first book, The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable, comes out this June and marks an interesting addition to my personal art book collection. Chueh’s work has been described as “pretty on the outside but nice and macabre on the inside”, and certainly it is, but seeing his entire collection, his professional life’s work effectively laid out on the coffee table as we do in this book, one gets a much deeper understanding of the artist himself.
While many of his pieces have inherent humor and satirical elements, this chronological look at the artist through his art is actually quite jarring. The emotional impact is immense, and while graphic images of bunnies with giant clawed and bloodied hands, or illustrated entrails are adorably gross, there is a sadness here, a wanting, and a curiosity brought to life through bunnies ripping their own limbs off and cuddly cute bears mutilating each other. I can hear now, those people who will say that his illustrations are nothing but cartoons and a blank background demonstrating an artists ability to play with semantics, but that’s too easy. Unlike some contemporary artists I’ve seen, this collection of work doesn’t feel ‘art for art’s sake’ but a sort of catharsis for Chueh, well, most of the time at least.
Of course this all only really matters if you actually enjoy this kind of art. It’s certainly not for everyone. It isn’t necessarily challenging, but that shouldn’t detract from it’s value. I guess the nicest part of the book is that we can see en evolution of style and subject maturity along with emotional exploration…and it somehow in this medium it manages to avoid being uptight. It might be an art book, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is expected I suppose from a lowbrow artist.
Chueh is said to reject the low brow/sub pop/pop surrealism title, which is curious in some regards, understandable in others. When trying to make it as an artist, being taken seriously for your work, whatever the medium and subject matter, is of utmost importance. The idea of being laughed at when your soul is laid bare (bear? heh) on a canvas is a horrifying prospect, one which deters most people from actually achieving their true potential in all fields, not just art. So, I guess when you hear your life’s work that you have studied and cultivated diligently is not considered just normal ‘art’ but somehow part of a subset that you hadn’t previously subscribed to can be shitty. The artist loses the ability to define himself and is placed in an easy to title box, whether he wants it or not.
And yet the world of lowbrow is freeing to so many others. It allows artists who create work using humor, illustration, satire, social commentary on pop culture bullshit without having to worry about what the fine art world thinks about it. In fact the freedom of lowbrow is that you really don’t have to give a shit about what anyone thinks of your work because you aren’t making it for people who don’t already give a shit about lowbrow to begin with. This book will appeal to that group, but I think will also broaden Chueh’s reach. Let him break out of that box, so to speak.
To Chueh I say don’t worry about whether or not people want to call you lowbrow, because you’ve got a book. A fancypants, 191 glossy paged book laying out your work along with quotes, praise and anecdotes from your adoring collectors and fans. I’m pretty sure that means people take you seriously. Because, well, who would publish you if they didn’t? For what it’s worth, the book will go up in my cabinet along side Andrew Wyeth, Kazimir Malevich, Lee Bontecou and The Hudson River School exhibition – after I take off your dust sleeve – the actual book cover is much more ‘adult’.