Facebook Going Public to Make Graffiti Artist David Choe a Very Rich Man

artwork: David Choe - "Blue Web of White Lies, Trapped Under 108 Degrees of Seperation Anxiety, Under the Purple Umbrella Being Showered With Pink and Orange Lies", 2010 - Mixed media on canvas - 213.5 x 305 cm. -  Courtesy of Lazarides Gallery, London.

Los Angeles.- When Facebook announced its $5 billion public offering on Wednesday February 1st, a great many people became millionaires and billionaires (at least on paper). Some of them are very well known, such as Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder, others are family members or friends, who invested in the company during its early days. However, a Los Angeles graffiti artist, David Choe stands to join the art elite, potentially making more money from the sale than Sotheby’s record-breaking $200.7m (£127m) 2008 sale of a collection of work by Damien Hirst.

In 2005, David Choe was first commissioned by Facebook’s then president, Sean parker. to paint murals for the Facebook head office in Palo Alto. Offered the choice of a fee in the “thousands of dollars” or shares in the company, Choe elected to take the shares. Mark Zuckerberg then later asked Choe to paint art for its second office in 2007. Artworks from the original Palo Alto office building were removed, and can now be seen in Facebook offices around the world, and the company have maintained their relationship with Choe, who is currently painting their new offices in Menlo Park, California.

artwork: "Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California", 2005. David Choe's murals can be seen in the background. Photograph courtesy of © New York Times / Redux /

David Choe (born 1976, Los Angeles, California) is a painter, muralist, graffiti artist and graphic novelist of Korean descent. In 1990, inspired by L.A. graffiti pioneers Mear One and Hex, Choe started venting his teenage anger by scrawling graffiti on bus benches, billboards and back alleys across the city. Immediately after graduating from high school, Choe departed on the first of many adventures, and spent the next two years freight-hopping, hitchhiking, hustling and stealing his way around the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. When he returned to Los Angeles at the age of 21, he decided he needed formal training if he wanted to be a “real” artist, and enrolled in the only art school that accepted him, the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland. There he came under the influence of professor Barron Storey’s raw, intimate, painterly style. A week-long spell in an Oakland jail for graffiti provided an incentive to settle down a bit, he returned to his family home in Los Angeles, and began illustrating and writing for magazines including Hustler, Ray Gun and Vice. Around the same time, he began his ongoing relationship with the Asian pop culture store-cum-magazine Giant Robot, which has continued to be mutually beneficial to this day.

He also started showing his paintings to art galleries, which exhibited little interest. In defiance, Choe hung his work in a local ice cream shop, where the exhibition was so sucessful that it lasted for two years, with Choe replenishing pieces as they sold. Always fascinated by comics, especially the work of Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, Choe initially dreamed of a career as a comic book creator. In a single night in 1996, he wrote a 35-page tale 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 on eBay for hundreds of dollars.

artwork: David Choe - "Striderite", 2008 - Crawing - Courtesy of the artist.

Having caught the attention of the entertainment and advertising industry with Slow Jams and that makeshift art exhibit, Choe soon found himself in great demand for commercial illustration and graphic design. Within a few years, he was successful enough to be able to turn down many offers of commercial work in order to concentrate on his own paintings and murals. Simultaneously, Choe’s best friend Harry Kim began documenting his life, often living with him while videotaping his frenzied art-making, colorful personal life and intimate thoughts. Over the next 10 years, Kim would capture thousands of hours of Choe’s everyday existence as an artist, footage which would eventually become the documentary Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe. All the while, Choe continued his obsessive traveling, from making an expedition to the jungles of the Congo to painting graffiti and murals around the globe alongside the world’s greatest urban artists for the street culture brand Upper Playground.

In late 2003, Choe arrived in Tokyo and was jailed within 24 hours. An undercover security guard had approached him threateningly, and due to the language barrier, he misunderstood the man’s intentions and reacted instinctively, punching him in the face. Choe ended up spending three months behind bars for violent assault, out of contact with his family or friends, and under threat of being imprisoned for two years. After three months, he was released on the condition that he leave Japan immediately and not return. His prison art has been the subject of constant speculation and interest ever since. Returning home to San Jose with a new perspective on life, Choe began the task of rebuilding himself from the ground up, focusing hard on his career and channeling his more self-destructive impulses into somewhat less risky pursuits such as gambling and drumming.

artwork: David Choe - "Falling For Grace", 2008 - Giclee print on Arches paper 24” x 24" Edition of 250. Courtesy the Maxwell Colette Gallery, Chicago.

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. It has often been said that Choe’s greatest artwork is his life, itself. Over the past 15 years, Choe has built a worldwide reputation for his raw, vibrant, frenetic imagery, exhibiting in galleries in Barcelona, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Los Angeles, New York, and many places in between. He says he makes art because he has no other choice. “I don’t know how many times I have to say this—in all honesty and all kidding aside—without art I’d be 110% dead or in jail. I have a murderer’s blood coursing through my veins. I try to be good, but I’m just a bad man who happens to know how to wield a pencil and smear paint in fancy ways.” Visit the artist’s website at … http://www.davidchoe.com/