David Choe, the art world’s soon-to-be Facebook millionaire


David Choe, who painted murals at Facebook’s headquarters, was paid in stock. (RAMIN TALAIE/BLOOMBERG NEWS)
February 4, 2012

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the Facebook IPO windfall is that of David Choe, the scrappy street artist who was given the choice of cash or stock for the murals he created in the company’s first headquarters.

He wisely chose stock — despite believing that Facebook was “ridiculous,” according to the New York Times — and now, when public trading begins later this year, his stock will be valued at about $200 million.

Choe is 35 and has been involved in LA’s street art scene throughout his colorful past. Here’s what you should know about the art world’s soon-to-be Facebook millionaire.

1. Choe has a bad-boy history. The artist has had several run-ins with the police, and has done time in jail for stealing and cashing a forged check. In his documentary, “Dirty Hands,” he admits to being a shoplifter, and he also claims to have been a looter in the L.A. riots of 1992. He did jail time in Japan for punching a security guard at his own show in 2005. That, he says, was when he changed — he started reading the Bible and moved away from crime. Soon he was showing in the same galleries that represented international street art star Banksy.

2. Choe’s Facebook mural was lewd: Hired by Napster co-founder Sean Parker for the Facebook mural project, Choe was encouraged to be bawdy and sexual in the paintings in the company’s first headquarters (they have since moved to a larger office space). According to Valleywag, Parker encouraged Choe to draw phallic and sexual imagery — which wouldn’t be out of character for the artist.

3. Choe calls his painting style “dirty.” In his documentary, he says his smeared and smudged painting method comes from being left-handed — when he was little, all of his drawings would be smeared. He has also been known to paint with the blood from his own nosebleeds. He told art magazine Fecal Face: “Dirty styles is painting on found object besides a blank piece of paper or blank white wall . . . so even before you start there’s some history, there’s some spills, chills and marks, then you keep creating more history on top of that, spilling, spraying, dripping, creaming, collaging, making a mess. All this ugly dirty [expletive] and hopefully the end product being something that’s tolerable and beautiful . . . something born from that filth. Creating hope from dark beginnings.”

4. Choe painted President Obama’s portrait. It may not have been as famous as the Shepard Fairey poster, but Choe’s poster of President Obama also features the word “Hope,” and has an additional feature: According to the Times, it has a secret message that can be seen only by black light. The poster is said to be hanging in the White House.

5. Choe now has a Facebook page. Despite not believing in the company when he accepted their commission, Choe is active on Facebook, posting images of his work and friends. So far, he has not commented on his newfound riches, but his friends have: “Are you really a gazillionaire now?” asked one friend. “Choe . . . Heard you got PAID,” said another.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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