Pareidolia, the name given to the way the brain will interpret and find patterns in shapes where there are none. The term presents us with an interesting view into our imagination when looked at through the lens of art & creativity. If these simple instances of mental trickery made in moments of fright or fancy can construct worlds that simply are not there, then what does it mean for our wider engagement with reality? What have we built that does not exist? Or more excitingly… What perhaps, are we missing?
Born in 1971 in Blakenall, Walsall Chu is an artist of multidisciplinary interest whose practice incorporates graffiti, world record-breaking mural attempts, print, installation, video game design and a large role in the digital 3D rendering world. As he puts it, there is a common theme of giving the viewer “more validity…a super-human power” running throughout his work. Whatever medium is executed in there is of paramount interest in breaking down barriers through the introduction of the spectator and immersion of them in any number of different alternate realities.
Having just passed into his 34th year as a graffiti artist and with 20 of those spent organising events, his client base mirrors this lifetime of dedication with such companies as Coca-Cola, Virgin Trains (alongside Jamie Hewlett), Glastonbury Festival (numerous times), Nintendo, Digital Arts Magazine and even Banksy (who hired him as a print and event consultant) all seeking out his talents over the years.
To encounter Chu’s cross-platform work is to have a glimpse into worlds beyond our own, beyond the realm of pure 2D representation and dipped into fantasy. As a self-confessed video game addict and having enjoyed employment with Walsall’s leading games developers early in his career, Chu is well versed in the creation of separate spaces that both mentally and physically engage users in their experience.
For his ‘Cubic Experiment’ project, Chu constructed an enclosed, decorated cube that upon entering would create an all-around artistic experience when viewed from a single point in its centre. Disorientating, even for himself (Chu found it hard to distinguish between wall, floor and ceiling during the process) the piece sought to merge his fascination with the material capabilities of illustration and the immersion of virtual spaces.
Bringing the possibilities of the virtual realm to the street has meant that Chu has explored and experimented (sometimes on a huge scale) with ideas of 3D graffiti for a long time, whereas traditional Wildstyle graffiti feigns affiliation with projection from a surface, its primary focus remains the distortion of letters, not of space. This ultimately means any environment created is understood as being linked to that surface and unfortunately retracts any promise of proper absorption into it. Chu understands something deeper though, that when a graffiti artist builds their name and style, they are building a world – a world that we value outside of technical precision, the ideas graffiti artists (and wider artists as well obviously) communicate through their work. The best artists are the ones that make us see in the world a different, undiscovered place. In the case of Chu, whose work seeks to go beyond simple aesthetic fascination and into that pure meditative, hypnotic state, we find just that.
Whilst the virtual realm is limited to just that, virtual reality, Chu’s work in its use of the confrontational methods of graffiti and mural art, forces us to examine and explore these ideas through sheer accidental exposure alone. These ‘Anamorphic Projections’ whilst meaningless from one view are reconstituted through the use of a specific standpoint or device and are a sublimely powerful act when mixed with the forceful space taking that graffiti employs. The everyday pedestrian can find themselves transported into a different world by simply being in the right place at the right time, they are a launch pad to alternate ways of seeing and just like the term Pareidolia the work their magic suddenly – their form impossible to ignore.
The most illustrative and characterful depiction of these merged interests is given in the record-breaking mural attempt at ‘Hole In The Wall’ in Walsall town centre in which Chu single-handedly painted a 40×95 ft anamorphic projection mural over 42 days. The most precise and stunning experiment with these ideas is his black and white geometric work. Whereas the variation of subject matter (characters, letters, background) in traditional graffiti offer a chance to break up a surface – the consistency of line and colour in these monochromatic works do not give us that chance. Employing these devices of optical illusion for projects such as ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Room K’ in Bristol as well as the simply astounding “largest ever freehand 3D graffiti illusion” for City Of Colours means the possibilities of graffiti and street art have been taken to a new level, especially when they’re painted without projectors, ladders or measuring devices.
In Chu we have a master of alternative realities, a connoisseur of art that can be more than simple posturing. Together with the subtle political humour that creeps through the titles and ideas of much of his work, we are shown an artist adept at getting to the crux of our experience and forcing us to confront how we perceive, engage and construct it. He is an artist that takes us to the edge of our reality and demands we jump.