Sunday, January 15, 2012

David Choe: Comics, Prison and Salvation

David Choe started making art in the streets of Los Angeles
-- Photographed by Ken Wood
Written by Lucy Coker

Impulsive and provocative, David Choe is one of the most celebrated graffiti and street artists working in the Los Angeles art scene. His work, which he defines as ‘dirty style,’ is vibrant, shocking and reckless, combined with his fascinating life, every urban art gallery in Los Angeles now seeks after his work.

Slow Jams

Born in Korea town, L.A., David Choe was always surrounded by urban and street art. From an early age Choe’s desire to create just poured out on to whatever medium was at hand. As a child his nose bleeds that dripped onto his sketchpad would be incorporated into his work; the Xerox machine was his first publisher; park benches were a blank canvas for graffiti.

After dropping out of art school, Choe’s work first entered the public sphere through the self-published graphic novel, Slow Jams. Choe hitchhiked across the country scattering copies, giving them to bums on the street and hiding them in public toilets. The only way to get your hands on the work was to find one on the street. The comic’s success saved him from suicide, and opened opportunities in the commercial and graphic design industry. Soon enough Choe had sufficient money to concentrate solely on his own work and began creating murals and paintings.

Tokyo and Dirty Hands

In 2003, Choe travelled to Tokyo and, due to a violent misunderstanding with a security guard, was put in Jail for 3 months. During his time in prison he suffered mentally and with no access to art materials he created over 300 drawings with scraps of paper, a single pen shared with other cellmates, blood, urine and anything else he could get his hands on. (Choe is never allowed back to Tokyo, yet has managed to exhibit through Upper Playground in 2010)

Prison gave Choe a wake up call. On leaving he returned to the Los Angeles art scene a Christian. His art had become a way to release all his ‘dirty’ thoughts as stated in Juxtapoz, “ I feel like my art is disgusting and sick, and I feel like everyone has that evil disgusting creature inside them, I just want to get it out. It’s almost like an exorcism for me.

From here on Choe’s work began to be successful in the Los Angles urban art galleries. In addition, the release of the documentary “Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe,” in 2008, created by his childhood friend, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2008.

Los Angeles Urban Art Gallery

Today David Choe’s work is greatly sought after in the Los Angeles art galleries. A plethora of celebrities frequently fill his urban art gallery in Los Angeles, despite Choe’s frequent absence due to a hectic schedule contributing to urban art. He has now exhibited in art galleries all over the world and he has work on display in both the White House and was commissioned to do a graffiti mural at Facebook Headquarters.

Californian artists at Thumbprint Gallery, a prominent urban and street art gallery in San Diego, have been inspired by the life and work of David Choe. Thumbprint Gallery exhibits work from local urban artists, many of which, like Choe, and have not followed the conventional path to becoming an urban artist.

See more Thumbprint Gallery artists' works available in our online store. Check it out here.


“The Redemption of David Choe” by Matthew Newton published in Juxtapoz