David Choe

Nothing To Declare

Nothing To Declare 2009

41 cm x 31 cm

David Choe is the most confrontational artist in the already aggressive world of urban art. He paints delicate kaleidoscopic pictures, sometimes even in pastel watercolours, that usually revel in aggression and sexual violence. Not only is he one of the first street artists to forgo traditional graffiti writing for narrative murals, he is one of a select band of creatives who spit in the face of political correctness, only to be lauded by the very individuals they so deride. Talent, intelligence and humour can do stuff like that. However, it's not simply an eloquently expressed state of disappointment that gathers David's manifold admirers; it is the corresponding celebration of love and life that runs parallel in his paintings. In our modern world talk is cheaper than ever; outrage and compassion in particular seem to be available on a permanent "buy one, get one free" basis. How refreshing to find these emotions hand-crafted like the finest luxury goods.

Many of David's most identifiable works, including I Like My Waffles Sprinkled with Deep Throat Tears and Nikki: Destroy All Men, feature idealised, goddess-like depictions of vampish women, almost always wearing heavy make-up. Indeed, David hand-painted the make-up onto the editioned print City Girl. Others, such as All The Pain, All Your Fears, All Your Anxiety, All Your Tension is in Your Face Especially Your Right Eye, elude to the fringes of sanity. Fevered abstracts, playful lycanthropes, catharsis and mobile freedom also feature heavily.

Identifying himself as a "Korean gone bad", David's life is as colourful as his artwork. For example, in only the last five years he has discovered both religion and psychedelic drugs. In 2012 he reaped the benefits of murals he'd painted since 2005 in the offices of an initially tiny internet start-up called Facebook. The shares he took in return for the piece were valued at US$200 million when the company floated on the stock market that year, placing him among the world's five richest living artists.

David's early life in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles was characterised by comic books and petty crime. Among his first graffiti pieces were the Bible verse reference John 11:35, which simply reads "Jesus wept", and the repeated homely sperm whale that has become his calling card. During the 1992 LA riots he was a willing participant in the burning and looting, only to return home to discover his parents' business had undergone the same fate. Sharply focussing on his future, he exhibited his early work to enormous success at Melrose Avenue's Double Rainbow store and illustrated for Hustler, Vice plus other fringe publications. Desperate to become a comic book illustrator, in 1998 he distributed his home-produced, xeroxed graphic novel, Slow Jams, at San Diego's Comic Con. It is now considered a classic of the genre; he followed it up with another, Bruised Fruit, in 2002. This activity attracted the attention of commercial clients, with whom David had so much success, he was soon able to concentrate on a career as a fine artist.

But the illegal street work remained, and in 2003 David was arrested in Tokyo for punching a security guard within 24 hours of his arrival in Japan. Three months in a Japanese jail was enough to humble even this particular soul, who emerged professing a new philosophical outlook on life. The Facebook murals (commissioned by long-time fan, Napster founder Sean Parker) and work for infamous Hollywood procuress Heidi Fleiss followed, along with several local shows culminating in a solo exhibition at the Santa Rosa Museum of Contemporary Art during 2005. For the US Presidential election campaign of 2008 David produced Hussein, a portrait of Barack Obama that hung in the White House upon the Democratic candidate's victory. David's first exhibition for Lazarides took place at the end of 2008, in an ambitious show spanning The Outsiders gallery spaces in both London and Newcastle. In April 2010 Lazarides showcased Choe's work in the solo exhibition Nothing to Declare in Los Angeles.

David's biopic, filmed over ten years by his live-in best friend, is the acclaimed Dirty Hands: The Life and Crimes of David Choe. He is currently touring the world, squeezing in some painting such as a mural and other graffiti on the villa formerly occupied by Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar.