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Luke Chueh's first solo exhibition in Chicago opened on Friday at Rotofugi, with "I Am Your Plaything" comprising 16 works that primarily include acrylic and ink panel paintings, though the set also features a set of wooden nesting dolls, a customized wooden Rayola, and even a custom Be@rbrick affixed to a painting. Running through September 30th, the exhibition spotlights myriad common visual elements from the celebrated artist's work, albeit with many works viewed through the lens of toys.
Chueh was in attendance for the opening of the show, which runs concurrently with J★RYU's "The Ghost of You Haunted Me," and I had an opportunity to speak with him about the exhibition, showing in Chicago for the first time, and the differences between Los Angeles and Midwest shows. And if you don't have a chance to hit Rotofugi by the 30th, all of the works are featured and up for purchase on the gallery's website, though most pieces are sold out at this point.
Have you shown in Chicago before?
No, this was actually my first show. I was invited by Rotofugi to do a show about a year ago, and about that time I decided that I wanted to spend at least one year off from Los Angeles, because I'm out in L.A. and all I do is shows in L.A., and I wanted to try and get out there more. Obviously, New York is a place I'd like to get to, but Chicago is a lot further east that anywhere else I'd be able to get!
We're doing this show here at Rotofugi, and Rotofugi has a great reputation. They've worked with a great roster of artists, from Derek Hess to Shag, Jeremy Fish, and Coarse. These guys are amazing, and to be a part of that... on top of a painter, I'm also a toy designer, and it makes sense for me to do a show here at the store. And being that I want to get out of California, we are here in Chicago.
Can you tell me about the exhibition that you're doing here?
The show is called "I Am Your Plaything." Being that this is Rotofugi and it's a toy store and art gallery, I was thinking that it would be fun to take my experiences and understanding and love of toys and incorporate it somehow into the work. I did a postcard piece from a self-portrait series of me as a LEGO, so it was just fun to think about how LEGOs can be dismembered and pulled apart.
Working with that idea, I worked it into other paintings that I did, and it allowed me the opportunity to create the blindbox series of two paintings: Blindbox Tragedy and Blindbox Victory. Anyone who has indulged in the addiction of blindboxes can totally understand what that is like.
Do you have a favorite piece amongst the ones showing here?
The piece that I think I love the most that I created for this show would be a toss-up between The Key, which is a painting of the rabbit with the wind-up key in his back, staring at the ground on his knees, and it's a ground littered with keys around him. Kind of being the narrative that the key controls him, and all he sees are keys. And maybe Rocket Punch – Fail, which is a nod to the Mazinger Z and Shogun Warriors toys, and I think just the way it turned out was really cute and really funny.
How does it feel to get a chance to interact with Chicago and Midwest fans?
They really have been great. We've had people who drove out five hours to come here, and it's both flattering and makes me feel great. In Los Angeles, it'd be like, [mocking voice] "Oh, I live seven miles away, sorry I didn't make it out to your opening." That's how it is in L.A. [mocking voice] "Orange County is only 40 minutes away, but I'm sorry."
So the audience has been great, and staying here with Kirby and Whitney [Kerr of Rotofugi], they've been wonderful hosts, and Chicago – the people are great, and the food is world class. I've been stuffing myself like a pig, and I look forward to two more days of high caloric intake. Also, though the entire designer toy and pop surrealist movement hasn't quite broken in hard in Chicago, it's very much an art town, with all of the public art – like The Bean – and other massive sculptural pieces out here. There's a lot to see out here, and just the architecture… I've got to give credit to the Chicago Fire [of 1871] for making all of these amazing brick buildings.
How does it feel to be showing alongside J★RYU?
The way it worked out is when I was invited to this show and I heard about the big space, I really didn't feel like I would be able to properly fill it. I would probably need at least a solid year's worth of art to show, and at the time I basically had about three or four months to create what I did. Jesse is a friend that I really got to know in December 2010 at Art Basel, and I loved his artwork. So being that he has also evolved from being best known for his custom work at the time, I thought that he would be a great person to work with. Especially since we get along, and we're both Chinese – we have a full Chinese show tonight.
That guy, he hustles like nobody else. He really carries his own weight in the show. I didn't at all think like, "Oh, well I'm a little bit more established, and the reason why he has this show is because of me." Not at all. I feel like Jesse is really an integral part of the sense of this show, so it's been great working with him and having him be a part of it.