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  • American artist

David Choe – Vice, DVDASA and Cusack Shakur

January 10, 2014

The American graffiti artist, muralist, illustrator, designer and radio show host David Choe is with one hundred percent certainty the most provocative street artist there is (period) David Choe is not only an artist but art himself. Nearly his entire life is documented and with unbelievable gratefulness by the entire planet presented publicly over social-media channels, his podcast radio show DVDASA (Double Vag Double Anal Sensitive Artist) or in the world’s best magazine Vice. Choe and Vice have a long-standing history of superior journalism together. When Choe was a struggling hitchhiker/thief/designer/writer 21-year-old boy in Los Angeles he began his affair with Vice Magazine that lasts until today. The most recent produce is ‘The Cover of Butts’ that adorns the front of this year’s first issue. Needless to say that in David Choe Vice had found the ideal illustrator to transform their ‘New Years Resolution: Butts’ into artistic expression.

David Choe
Horse is a Horse of Course of Course Issue – Cover by David Choe

David Choe – Background

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.

David Choe – A ‘Real’ Artist

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.

Slow Jams

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.

Erotica art
Slow Jams by David Choe

Imprisonment

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.

Prison drawings
Drawing by David Choe

Gardeners of Eden

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.

Urban art
Gardeners of Eden by David Choe at Jonathan Levine

Thumbs Up

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.

DVDASA

Another one of David Choe ingenious partners is the porn star Asa Akira. Choe and Akira started the free online podcast DVDASA, a 90 min radio show that supposedly educates the youth on career anxiety, social problems and drug issues. DVDASA is in fact a fucking entertaining show of Choe, Akira and their guests talking about the most mundane topics in life and turning it into comedy, pornography and philosophy. It’s brilliant! The acclaimed guest list reads: Lisa Ling, John Cusack, Kevin Smith, Aubrey Plaza, Jessie Andrews, Estevan Oriol, Saber, David Chang, Eli Roth, Jim Norton, Andy Milonakis, Everlast, Zach Gilford, David Arquette, Slink Johnson, Joe Rogan, Sasha Grey and Bobby Lee.

Asa Akira
DVDASA podcast show

Cusack Shakur

@cusackshakur is an Instagram account believed to be managed by John Cusack. The account is filled with pictures of various tags, throw-ups, rollers, pieces and sketches of “Cusack”, “Cusack Shakur”, “Metal Face Cusack” and “John Cusack”. There is some speculation that this account is actually ran by SAKE of 5MH who is a graffiti writer from Montreal, Canada. Some of the earlier photos of the Cusack graffiti can be found with hashtags of cities in Canada. Artist and graffiti writer EWOK one (who is also a part of the 5MH crew) has worked with David Choe in the past and might have been the connection to SAKE.

Cusack Shakur
John Cusack graffiti