Love Letter to Luke Chueh

A cartoon chicken at a table looking forlornly at a plate of sunny-side up eggs. There is an egg-shaped vase on the white table cloth with a small yellow flower. The background is mustard yellow.
Luke Chueh, I Asked for Scrambled (2003)

Coming across a Luke Chueh painting for the first time is like finding a particularly apt coronavirus meme: part of me wants to laugh, the other part questions the impulse to find humor in suffering.

Chueh thrives in this paradoxical state. I Asked for Scrambled (2003), for example, depicts a cartoon chicken at a table looking forlornly at a plate of sunny-side up eggs. The scene is comically absurd, made sinister by its sparse backdrop and message. The subdued, mustard-colored background complements the pair of potential chicks served up on a platter. No punchlines, no levity. Chueh plays with muted primary colors and contrasting black and white to emphasize the dark nature of his content. His use of acrylic and ink lulls my brain into believing I’m looking at a gag strip, but it’s more like a snapshot from the world’s most adorable snuff film.

Chueh regularly evokes mirthful glee in the macabre. Finding joy in the anguish to which he subjects his cuddly characters makes me reflect on my own morbidity; it’s the same feeling that compels me to laugh at a stuntman failing in spectacular fashion on YouTube.

Don’t we all contain evil little monsters who hide our sordid proclivities behind a veneer of docility and social mores? Chueh’s Bear in Mind (2006) encourages me to focus on the often grim reality beneath the kawaii—the Japanese cultural and aesthetic style that prioritizes cute, lovable images—and examine the latent, sometimes adorable sadism within humanity.