In Luke Chueh's show entitled "Random Acts of Sadness," you see an artist at a crossroads of his career. Chueh is best known for his dark sense of humor communicated through a cast of cartoonish animals representing different facets of his personality. In a single image, Chueh can instantly communicate a range of thoughts or ideas. He has a unique way of saying a lot more in his paintings than many artists in this category. There is a purposeful intention behind each piece of work and it can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
Commentary on the artist by the artist is a central theme of Chueh's work and in a way, he has already reviewed his own work in the show. For instance, in the painting "Even a Monkey," I see Chueh viewing himself as a trained monkey creating the same image over and over again for his audience. In "People Think I'm Easy," Chueh references his bear as Rodin's The Thinker and gives serious thought to what other people think of him and his art. For "Target," Chueh has literally made his alter ego an object for abuse with self- imposed painted target circles for the unseen firing squad. Is he daring people to take aim at him- As an artist, as a business person, and as an individual? "Stabbed in the back," depicts his rabbit character face-down with carrots for daggers impaled on his backside. Is this a commentary on the incentives/carrots that entices an artist to create can come back to haunt you in the end? And with "An arm and a Leg," the viewer is left wondering if it's the painting itself that costs quite a bit, or is it the sacrifice of creating that's costing him a fortune in the figurative sense.
The painting that I felt summed up the show best, is "The Slug and the Salt Shaker." The reason why I love this piece is because of the simplicity and at the same time complexity of what's being communicated. A slug obviously moves quite slowly and can be symbolic of the passage of time. The salt represents death and yet it's also the spice of life. Now, it can he argued that the slug may not know his course of direction. But, at the same time the slug could be intentionally aiming to kill himself if he's seen the salt inside the glass shaker. If this is the case, this slug has the major obstacles of first getting the top off the salt shaker. It's funny in it's absurdity- A slug with a death wish living life on the edge.
When I think about Chueh's work, I do wonder if some of what he's saying in his paintings are reflections on what he's done and what he wants to do in the future as an artist. When looking at many of the paintings in this show, there seems to be a cry for help. Or, at least an admission of artistic frustration on Chueh's part. What makes Chueh's statement so interesting, is that he is able to carry it off without the art suffered. He's posing questions that many of us ask of ourselves while consistently pushing the envelope and making statements many artists shy away from.
I see what he's done over the years as very brave and smart. He communicates clear visual ideas consistently. He never shies away from an image that may be perceived as distasteful. Yet, in this show he does self-censor in one of his paintings. "You are what you eat " is a three-part series. "Tiger Penis" has a tiger seated at a table served with his own private that has been distorted purposefully. But, it still makes you smile and he allows your imagination to fill in the blank. Is Chueh sharing his own credo of not biting off more than you can chew?
"Random Acts of Sadness" runs through September 7th at CHG Circa.
Words by Rick Galiher. Gallery photos by Sam Graham.