Chances are you first heard of graffiti artist, illustrator, and multimedia enfant terrible David Choe when Facebook’s IPO made him somewhere in the vicinity of $200 million. But that story (he took equity rather than $60,000 in cash from Sean Parker to draw as many “giant cocks” as he wanted on the nascent social network’s office walls) is the least interesting thing about him.
For one, Choe, who started gambling at age 15, had already made his first million in Las Vegas casinos. He’s also hitchhiked from Beijing to Shenzhen for his Vice show Thumbs Up and tried to track down a dinosaur in the Congo, all the while painting his signature “dirty style” art wherever he damn well pleased. That DGAF streak (and punching a security guard) landed him three months in a Tokyo prison cell, but he lived to tell the tale about the jerk-off technique he perfected during his incarceration to Howard Stern.
Choe’s first art show in about four years, SNOWMAN MONKEY BBQ, opened this week at Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City. Last month, he released a collection of new digital video art for Sedition in London.
The 37-year-old Korean-American artist, who grew up in Koreatown in Los Angeles, hosts a freewheeling, NSFW weekly podcast with porn star Asa Akira. Meanwhile, retired adult film actress Sasha Gray lent her assets to promote his 2010 book “David Choe.”
Besides his lucrative turn as a Facebook’s office decorator, Choe is also known for his portrait of Barack Obama, before he became President, which was at one point displayed at the White House and is said to contain a secret message seen only in blacklight. In 2010, Lazarides Gallery of London, best known for showing artwork by fellow street artist Banksy, sponsored an exhibition of Choe’s work in L.A.
Choe has also been spray-painting an image of a buck-toothed whale in various urban settings for decades. You can see a few iterations of it, as well as a dig at Barbara Walters, who interviewed him about his Facebook windfall here:
I’ve been following Choe’s hedonistic travels, perverse, but humorous artwork, and run-ins with various foodies, tech gods, and assorted celebrities on Instagram for awhile now, where his lengthy, politically incorrect captions often read like dispatches from another, more fun planet. After I accosted him at a Vice screening for their HBO show in April, Choe said he would be open to an interview, as long as he didn’t get edited. So here he is, in his own words:
In the introduction to your book, you close out a story about looting and generally wreaking havoc during the 1992 L.A. riots, which ended up putting your family on welfare after your parents business burned down, by saying, “I spend every waking moment trying to find or incite another riot.” Was it going school with a bunch of rich kids with famous parents in Beverly Hills that made you so eager to embrace that kind of anarchy?
it was about being in an angry teenage korean stage that i still haven't quite grown out of . i overheard my mom say to someone in mexico "his maturity level is that of a 15 year old." so i'll probably grow out of this angry anarchist stage in my late 50's. plus i was born with this. i like to watch things burn to the ground
i learned the phrase "no juzgar" in mexico which mean no judging. porn people are some of the most judged cursed people that walk the planet. yet everyone touches themselves to them. once you show the folds of your buttonhole to the entire universe you really don't have anything to hide behind after that. so i find that the porn stars i hang out (which isn't actually that many , just asa akira and sasha grey) are more open and honest and don't bullshit and i find that comfortable to be around. plus someone once told me i treat regular girls like whores and porn stars like real regular normal people, so everyone wins in the end.
You don’t seem to suffer from any of the hang-ups of being a first-generation Asian kid in America. Is that because your parents are supportive of your work? Or did you grow up in an atypical immigrant household?
i will have you over for dinner one time and you can hang out with the parents, my mom is a bigger wack job than me any day of the week, my parents love me and raised me with all the proper morals and ethics, i even went to manners class, but at the end of the day they don't give a fuck what i do as long as I'm happy, me and my brothers had a great childhood, like wild dogs roaming the streets eating out of trash cans and exploring abandoned buildings, destroying and creating our own views on reality. plus its hard to have hang ups about anything when everyone in my entire family has caught me jerking off at one time or another. at that point you just say fuck it , and go for it. i thought i would die from embarrassment from so many things as a kid but i never died, i kept living . so now I'm immune to things like shame, embarrassment and blackmail. i do not give a fuck. i have no shame. i get shit done.
When we met at the screening for Vice’s HBO show, you were really wary of submitting to an interview. What do you think the press gets wrong about you or doesn’t get across?
when i have sex with a strange girl who blurts out "fuck me you nigger!" that is a strange thing that happened to me that i would like to re-tell on the re-telling i don't say , " i was fucking this chick, and then out of nowhere she blurts out F me you N-word" i just say how it happened, for the faggoty press , especially the korean press they love to take that blurb out of context and run wild with bold fonts and make it the headline. when barbara walters was interviewing me we had the moments where we kept butting heads, because she even told me , the entire time we are talking I'm already editing the story in my head, so basically if i ever said anything that didn't fit into her already edited story she would cut me off , she just needed the juicy soundbites , i talked to her for over an hour and she took only my douchiest moments out of context and made me sound like a douchenozzle. and this is right after i talked to howard stern live unedited uninterrupted for 2 hours . at that moment i decided I'm never gonna do interviews , and in fact i'll start my own news network , and thats what dvdasa.com is. there's really no reason for anyone to interview me ever again, i talk non stop about every boring minutiae of my life for hours every week on my own show, they should actually just put a muzzle on me or tell me to shut up , but I'm really enjoying the interview process , in the last 2 years I've done interviews with howard stern, barbara walters, lisa ling, joe rogan, kevin smith, and a few others and i'm really enjoying myself even in the awkward moments and learning a bunch of new shit on the way and my future ex-wife aubrey plaza always big ups me on talk shows so thats nice too
You've been open about suffering from depression and suicidal ideation. How does that affect your work as an artist?
it makes it awesome.
there's no argument when it comes to " does great art come from suffering? " the answer is a loud resounding fuck yes. can good great art come from well adjusted shiny happy people? yes, but all the GREATEST art, comedy , music, etc. come from the most miserable fucks on the planet.
Is the painting you did of Barack Obama still hanging in the White House? Does it have a secret message only seen in black light?
no I took it back home after a few years, where my mother nailed a christmas angel ornament into it , to protect and watch over it. with glow in the dark paint i painted the outline of the united states starting with his sideburns as the tip of florida, in backlight it looks more like there might be something else i added but at the moment i can't remember
Do you have any new or upcoming projects that I should mention?
this is all upcoming in the next year
THUMBS UP season 4 just finished filming
my third ever stand up comedy act is for a couple thousand chefs in copenhagen (first non-chef thats been asked to speak)
more murals in norway
new host for VICE/HBO series
custom made chocolates and candies of my butthole
possibly buy a football team with some other rich dudes for los angeles
possibly buy an Afghani soccer team
film a sci-fi romantic comedy in Afghanistan
and the first artist to ever collaborate with takashi murakami on an end of the year show.
and DVDASA.COM podcast, new episodes every tuesday and thursday
and some other shit that i can't remember right now.
Update: David Choe has signed off. Thanks for all your questions!