If there was a perfect example of someone being a product of their environment, it would be the opportunistic David Choe. Choe is a Korean-American who grew up in Los Angeles. LA in that time was not in the best of states because of how fiery the community was over the Rodney King incident that occurred in 1992. Amidst all the rioting, Choe was trying to help support his parents by stapling advertising posters on the side of the freeway trying to get his mom’s business noticed. Full of angst, Choe gravitated toward the arts and punk music. The early-to-mid 90’s was a formidable time for Choe for the fact that he was really finding his niche in the graffiti community. He ran away from home and train-hopped to find places to create art through graffiti.
Choe attended art school under the tutelage of Bay Area’s Barron Storey, most known for the cover art of the 1980 edition for the novel Lord of the Flies. Choe began to refine his art through showing in galleries in LA, San Jose, and throughout the Bay Area in general. His momentum started to roll when he was getting noticed for his featured paintings. I believe that he hit his stride in the early 2000’s.
Choe’s story began to really take off when he went on a trip to Japan. The fable told is that there was an incident with a security guard who thought he was stealing while he was in a store in Japan. Choe punched the security guard and was imprisoned for three months. There, he would really discover his art and logged journals while locked up. Choe believed that he was imprisoned for so long because of this belief that Koreans were disliked by Japanese people. Back in America, people were rooting for him to come home and were waiting for his arrival. Once Choe returned home, all he wanted to do is paint and create. The popular San Francisco establishment Upper Playground housed him and allowed him to create to no limit.
Fast forward a few years later in 2012 toward the peak of his popularity, Choe was commissioned by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to create art. Choe created murals inside Facebook HQ in exchange for stocks in Facebook which skyrocketed his net worth to to approximately $200 Million. Choe continues to create and release new work.
One reason why I gravitated toward Choe is that he always stayed true to who he was. Even throughout the attention, whether it was praise or criticism, I could still sense that angst LA teenager who is influenced by Marvel Comics. I met Choe a few times (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013), and throughout those meetings, he actually recognized me. Vaguely, but he recognized me. I was able to show some of the original art he gave me and give a quick backstory on it, and he knew exactly where we met. His story of perseverance and my connection to him as this punk rock, comic book, graffiti teenager is one of the strongest bonds I believe to have with an artist.
You can continue to follow Choe’s journey with his Instagram-Exclusive web series “Thumbs Up!” train-hopping and graffiti making. Because his Instagram account is not safe for work (NSFW), I will not be linking it here.