David Choe (born April 21, 1976) is an American painter, muralist, graffiti artist and graphic novelist of Korean descent.
His figure paintings, which explore themes of desire, degradation, and exaltation, are characterized by a raw, frenetic tone that he has coined "dirty style". In the graffiti world, he is identified with the bucktoothed whale he has been spray-painting on the streets since he was in his teens. David also hosts DVDASA , a lifestyle, relationship and entertainment podcast with co-host Asa Akira.
Choe's work appears in a wide variety of urban culture and entertainment contexts. For example, he provided the cover art for Jay-Z and Linkin Park's multi-platinum album Collision Course, and created artwork to decorate the sets of Juno and The Glass House. In 2005, internet entrepreneur Sean Parker, a longtime fan, asked him to paint graphic sexual murals in the interior of Facebook's first Silicon Valley office, and in 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commissioned him to paint somewhat tamer murals for their next office. Although he thought the Facebook business model was "ridiculous and pointless," Choe, a habitual gambler, chose to receive company stock in lieu of cash payment for the original Facebook murals. His shares were valued at approximately $200 million on the eve of Facebook's 2012 IPO. Those murals were loosely re-created by Choe's friends Rob Sato and Joe To for the set of the film The Social Network. During the 2008 presidential race, Choe painted a portrait of then-Senator Barack Obama for use in a grassroots street art campaign. The original was later displayed in the White House.[
David Choe was born on April 21, 1976. His parents were Korean immigrants and born-again Christians. He spent his childhood in Koreatown, Los Angeles. In his youth, Choe learned to draw images from Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Robotech among others. His own bicycle was stolen in his teenage years, which led to Choe shoplifting and stealing bikes from others. In 1990 he was inspired by L.A. graffiti artists Mear One and Hex, to start painting graffiti himself. His first graffiti message was the Bible verse John 11:35, which reads "Jesus wept." Rather than writing his name, he painted faces and figures, cartoony whales, and philosophical messages. At age 16, he participated in the 1992 Los Angeles riots. During the riot, his parents' real estate business in Koreatown was burned down, which led to financial struggles for his family.
After dropping out of high school, Choe spent two years hitchhiking, and stealing, while traveling across the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He returned to Los Angeles at the age of 21 and decided he needed formal training in order to be a "real" artist. Choe enrolled in the only art school that accepted him, the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland and dropped out two years later. He also stole art supplies, books and food to get by, After spending a week in prison for his graffiti, Choe moved back to his family home in Los Angeles. He began illustrating and writing for magazines including Hustler, Ray Gun and Vice. Around this time, he began his ongoing relationship with the Asian pop culture store-cum-magazine Giant Robot. He also started showing his paintings to art galleries, which exhibited little interest. In defiance, Choe hung his work in an ice cream shop called Double Rainbow which was located on the hipster promenade Melrose Avenue. The impromptu exhibition was so popular that the store continued showing it for two years, with Choe replenishing pieces as they sold.
Choe wanted to be a comic book creator. In a single night in 1996, he wrote a 35-page book of violent sexual obsession which, coupled with drawings and paintings that he created over the next couple of years, eventually became the graphic novel Slow Jams. Choe initially made about 200 copies of Slow Jams on a photocopier and gave them away at Comic-Con in 1998, hoping to interest a publisher. Later that year, he submitted Slow Jams for the Xeric Grant and was awarded $5,000 to self-publish a second, expanded edition of 1,000 which came out in 1999 with a cover price of $4. Over the next decade, Slow Jams became a cult phenomenon, and in recent years, increasingly rare copies of the graphic novel have changed hands via eBay for hundreds of dollars. Choe's best friend Harry Kim began documenting Choe's life, often living with him while videotaping his work and personal life. Over the next 10 years, Kim would capture thousands of hours of Choe's everyday life, and this footage would eventually become the documentary Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe.
In late 2003, Choe arrived in Tokyo. In his first 24 hours he punched an undercover security guard due to a misunderstanding resulting from the language barrier. He was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for violent assault. During that time, he suffered from loneliness, anxiety and a lack of access to art materials. With small pieces of paper and the one pen his cell was allowed, he made over 600 drawings from prison, including portraits of his Japanese cellmates. He also executed a series of erotic paintings using soy sauce, tea, blood and urine for color. After three months, he was released on the condition that he leave Japan immediately and not return.
Returning home to San Jose, he accepted mural commissions from Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and from the founders of Facebook, among others. After holding several solo shows in San Jose and San Francisco, he was offered a solo exhibit at the Santa Rosa Museum of Contemporary Art in 2005. He held his first New York solo exhibit, "Gardeners of Eden," in 2007 at Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, and in 2008, he had his first UK solo exhibition, "Murderous Heart," in both the London and Newcastle locations of Lazarides Gallery, simultaneously.
For a web series called Thumbs Up!, which has so far run for three seasons, Choe and Harry Kim were filmed hitch-hiking and freight-hopping from Los Angeles to Miami and Tijuana to Alaska, and then hitching across China from Beijing to Shenzen and the gambling mecca of Macau. A fourth season, in which Choe and Kim travel from San Francisco to New York, is currently in the works.
- Slow Jams, self-published, 1999
- Bruised Fruit: The Art of David Choe, Drips Inc., 2002
- Cursiv, Giant Robot, 2003
- David Choe, Chronicle Books, 2010. ISBN 0-8118-6953-9
- Thumbs Up! documentary web series, VBS.TV (2007–2010)
- We Are the Strange (voice of the character Rain), independent animated film by M dot Strange (2007)
- Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe, documentary film (2008)
- Vice, "50 Shades of Sasha Grey: How She Got into Porn & More" (appearance as Grey's friend) (2010)
- Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, "Koreatown, Los Angeles," season 1, episode 2 (2013)
- DVDASA podcast web show, starring B-Trivia, David Choe and porn superstar Asa Akira (2013)