Like the sketches and murals that clutter his brain and blaze through his fingertips, David Choe confounds predictability. The South Bay graffiti artist is celebrated for startling visual intensity crossed with streetwise vision. He paints fast and furious — using aerosol, acrylic and watercolors — able to nimbly capture the slightest emotional serration. His works bridge two worlds and mindsets — the street and the gallery.
As a young man, Choe earned a reputation as a talented, free-spirited, law-flaunting graffiti artist, hustler and world traveler. His self-published award-winning graphic novels, “Bruised Fruit” and “Slow Jams,” have attracted people who were theretofore clueless about museum art and graphic novel genres. David’s talent for illustrating, through words and pictures, minute details of hopelessness, boredom and inner turmoil earned him a cult following. His work also earned equal amounts of criticism and acclaim for its flagrantly explicit and nihilistic nature.
The years passed, and his work matured with subtle depth, dignity, beauty and richness. His paintings commanded higher and higher prices; he produced illustrations for high-profile magazines and mounted dozens of gallery shows. In late 2003, Choe was invited to Tokyo to create a mural and participate in a group art show, and while there, he had a life-changing run-in with the law that resulted in his being curled up in pain in a Japanese jail cell. The charges, “committing violence,” stuck, and he spent three months in prison, the bulk of the time in solitary confinement.
While in jail, the last book he thought he would turn to was the Bible. Too cliché, too predictable, he thought. But like the born-again junkies and fallen rock stars and actors before him, the Bible became his saving grace. In the episode “Up from the Street,” Choe gives Spark his first on-camera interview since returning from jail. He talks about the incarceration, his new motivations and how his artwork may — or may not — change.