David Choe’s long anticipated return to Japan definitely includes a wall to mark the occasion. UP founder and curator, Matt Revelli speaks about Choe’s career and his path to success for the occasion of his final return to Tokyo:
“Ever since we exhibited his first gallery show in San Francisco, artist David Choe has been an integral part of the Upper Playground family, traveling the world throughout Asia, Europe and North America, representing Upper Playground’s spirit and core with his own aligned to ours of getting things done when everyone says that it can’t or couldn’t be. Not a slacker or a trustafarian, David has instead imbued and embodied every act of his with a never sleep attitude governed by a respect for time and opportunity, with a direct and genuine gratitude and positivity that is as infectious as it is infamous. Like a preacher whose every canvas is a sermon, he paints and sculpts the gospel of his soul; and through the myriad of different products he creates in stores, streets, schools, and galleries worldwide, David is one of the only artists that understands how to use Upper Playground in the way it’s designed to be used. However, the shadow of history always follows its figure. Eight years ago David travelled to Tokyo to oversee an exhibition and collection created in collaboration with Upper Playground. The pendulum of his person had him switching roles from collaborator to confidant and artist to ally and it was on this trip that everything changed- we got word that David had been arrested for punching a security officer in the face and was going to be imprisoned for 7 years. Banned from visitation, we were forced to get updates through our distributor by phone. It was a roller coaster of emotions, with one day being positive and the next completely devastating. Finally, after 90 days, we got a call saying he was getting out. He returned a humble man, having lost 40-50 lbs., grateful for his experience. He didn’t curse his time or situation like most men would, his feeling was he got his due: he was in prison not for hitting the security officer, but rather, for all the crimes and sins he had committed up until then and had never been caught for. It was a cathartic experience and an opportunity to repent for all the crimes he had been committing daily throughout his entire life. And in true Choe fashion, he turned an overwhelmingly negative experience into a positive one by creating hundreds upon hundreds of prison drawings and sketches, exhibiting the work in New York. From there his paths and roads, though intricate with obstacles, would carry him to greater and higher heights that have him standing where he is today as one of the top artists in the world still spreading the ethos of Upper Playground.People often try to dissect and understand the how’s and why’s to his success. The answer is simple: he looks at failure and success as equal opportunities. “- Matt Revelli
Latest photos from Japan check it out:
The artist hit the ground running with a Book Signing and Print Release at Upper Playground SF last weekend. The renown artist recognized around the world for his signature black and white illustrations, lettering and ink works is currently installing his highly anticipated show opening this Saturday, October 4th at 7PM. We caught up with USUGROW for an exclusive interview with the artist. Interview by Jy-ah Min:
Tell us about the theme of your show “INKFLOW”. Will it have any connections to your last show at Fifty24SF Gallery in 2007?
U: There is no special meaning to “INKFLOW”. I just like the words and feel that they are very fitting for my style at this time, because of their simplicity.
The ‘Skulls’ in your work have a unique style to them. How did you get started in incorporating them into your work, and has it evolved over time?
U: I used to like the way that a person’s mad or scary face looked on their head and realized I was actually seeing their skull behind it. I started to see skulls and skeletons in another dimension and appreciated their beauty and simplicity. Now I focus on the positive side of skeletons instead of the negative.
You explained in the past that your signature use of Black and White was born from economy and restriction. What led you to work primarily in Black and White?
U: I started out working on flyers for the hardcore and underground punk scene, where we used to photocopy flyers in B/W and make screen prints for t-shirts. Black and white is always cheaper than full color which is how I got started. So it started for economic reasons and for simplicity’s sake and I have stayed with it ever since.
You seem to draw many references from other languages than your own. Any significant influences in your calligraphic work?
U: I’ve always had an open mind and strongly dislike being categorized. I use what I want and try not to compartmentalize myself.
What is the conceptual preparation required for your hand inked artworks? Do you go through several drafts in the process?
U: Yes sometimes, when there is a request from the client for commissioned work. For my personal work, I’m making up a story from my imagination and creating from my minds eye. I enjoy working in both ways.
Many people identify your style as having strong references to chicano tattoo cultures born from Southern California. Do you find this to be true?
U: Yes, that is one of my inspirations but just a part.
Your latest print release with Upper Playground is a third edition of the KOKUTEN series titled ‘Shijima’. Could you explain a bit more about your subject matter, Kokuten, the messenger of sun and moon in this series?
U: Kokuten is the messenger from the sun. The sun and the moon are just like yin and yang except in front and behind instead of side by side but still all in one. Kokuten is simply a portrait. There is technology all over the place in our human world, we all need to make time to communicate to the sun and the moon. Kokuten literally means “sun spot” in Japanese, in Japan the icon for the sun spot is the black crow, the messenger of the sun.
And finally, What music is playing in the background while you work in your studio in Tokyo?
U: I play every different kind of music in the background: hardcore, metal, electro, hip-hop and lately I’ve been playing a lot of indigenous/ world music from around the globe all the time. I don’t believe in written down/ textbook history. I learn real history from the indigenous/ world music that has been handed down directly from generation to generation.
Published by Upper Playground, USUGROW: WORKS 2007-2013 captures some of Usugrow‘s best selected works from the past 6 years. Here’s a sneak preview of his book due for release next week exclusively at Upper Playground.
An in store book signing and special print release will follow on Sunday, Sept. 28th, 2014. Then the highly anticipated solo show, INK FLOW will open to the public Oct. 4th, 2014 at Fifty24SF Gallery on Fillmore St. San Francisco. Stay tuned for more info and follow us @upperplayground IG or Facebook for the latest news.
All photos herein are copyright Upper Playground.