artist of the day #44: David Choe

Perhaps I am more optimistic than it is healthy to be, but I am always saying try it. If you have an opportunity to try something, or an idea you have thought about carrying out, go for it. Not that this has brought me massive levels of success, but I like to think it has given me some interesting stories and experiences, and hopefully it will bring some more. Recently I came across a story of someone that this strategy paid off by the millions, to be more precise, by the approximately 200 millions. Graffiti artist David Choe, a man who has spent time in jail, never finished college, and spent a chunk of time homeless, can now boast quite the large bank account. Not so long ago, an up and coming internet business asked him to do some mural work inside of their office. At the time, the company didn’t have money to pay him, so they offered him trades of stock instead. Choe didn’t have much faith in the idea of the company, but he liked to paint, and they had a wall that could use some painting. That company was Facebook, and if you do the math, he might have technically gotten paid higher for a single mural than any artist ever.

This isn’t the first time that taking risks has paid off for Choe. In 1999 he created his own comic book called Slow Jams, made photocopies, and handed them out for free at ComiCon. Slow Jams eventually created a cult following. He was given a grant to produce more copies, and now a single issue can go on Ebay for upwards of $100.

So is Choe just lucky, or is he that talented? I would say it is certainly a little bit of both. Facebook would have never asked him to do the mural if he didn’t do some interesting work. And people wouldn’t pay $100 for one comic book if they didn’t know there was something special about it. I would say for any artist out there it is a simple lesson in getting your work out there. Choe didn’t go into either project with the goal of making a ton of loot, but just understood the idea that failure wasn’t going to kill him. He enjoys working, so he took both projects as an opportunity to do just that, work.

His style is urban, gritty, and often surreal. He does graffiti, mixed media works, oils, and has even made some pretty neat sculptures. Born in Los Angeles, he is the son of Korean immigrants. He studied art for 2 years at the California College of Arts and Crafts, the only school that would accept him. There he became very influenced by one professor, Barron Storey. Choe learned what he could from him, and dropped out. He has spent years hopping freight trains around the world and would steal in order to get by. I think now the question is, how will this success change him as an artist. Some of his most prolific work has been done when he barely had a roof over his head. So will he use this money to just go bigger and bolder? Or was it easier to take risks when he had nothing to lose? I am betting on the former. Based on his history, I don’t see taking it easy as a likely step for him. But if he starts spending more time picking out new cars than buying cans of spray paint, we might have to get worried.