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David Choe : The Kotori Interview

David Choe’s Scion Roadtrip American Head Trip
by Shana Nys Dambrot

In Spring of 2006, an ad hoc crew of graffiti artists that included David Choe, Kenton Parker, Saber and dvs one boarded one tour bus and the funk band Rhythm Root All-Stars along with Stone’s Throw’s dance hall-inspired soul emcee Aloe Blacc boarded another. Accompanied by writers, photographers and tour managers, the unlikely caravan set out for New Orleans. The occasion was the first Scion Roadtrip, and the idea was for the crew to make their way to the Big Easy in time to hook up with Femi Kuti for a show down there, stopping along desolate highways and at old billboards to paint before the musicians’ nightly gigs. The entire journey was filmed and will be turned into a documentary, but Kotori Magazine’s Shana Nys Dambrot caught up with Choe to get the early scoop fresh off the road.

SND: So David, you are known as an adventurer, traveling to remote and dangerous places around the world to make art and document what you’ve seen. By your own account, growing up in LA was no picnic either. What can you tell me about how this experience compared to your previous enterprises?

DC: It was strange, the idea of visual artists on tour like rock stars. The bus was awesome! We were all like kids, playing PlayStation in the back of the bus, and we had this like Stanley Kubrick Santa Claus driver with this big beard. It worked though. It was like the walls were our stage and our act was this big improv jam. The personalities on the bus, that was interesting. You have us in there with dvs one, who’s this huge legend from the day only now he does children’s books. He’s trying to live a better life, you know, stay on the PG path.

SND: How did the art part work out for everyone?

DC: El Paso was the first gig wall, and no one wanted to go first. The tour manager had set up all these billboards for us to work on but in El Paso when we got there the owner said no! We were all wondering what to do, and the meat market guy across the street says, Sure! Go ahead! So we made him a mural. It’s amazing what four guys stepping out of a bus in a border town can do in a community. In another city, everyone in town drove out to see what we were doing and check out the action at this bike shop. The owner was so happy he gave us all bikes and a unicycle! The Mexican lady next door had this bra and panty shop and she wanted a mural too… at sunset all the street kids came out and there was even this one single mom who wanted advice for her kids on being artists and staying out of trouble. I swear, we could have painted the entire town!

SND: Sounds like an adventure.

DC: When we got to Austin – now that was an adventure. There was this old funeral parlor that had turned into a privately owned graffiti pit. The locals all came and painted with us. The kids went crazy for Saber, and there was this one kid that was like, my biggest fan. Hundreds of kids came out at night to watch, it was pandemonium. One of Saber’s fans beat up one of my fans – but there was this one guy who used to be a clown, I’m not kidding, and he taught us how to ride that unicycle from El Paso!

SND: After Austin where did you go?

DC: The third stop was Avinger, Texas, population 400. We had rented billboards by the train tracks. We all got sunburned and we got attacked by every kind of insect including fire ants. We did this homage to Big John, this huge colorful character just in the middle of nowhere. It was like the Old West, with everyone in town out there eyeing us, this clash of classic rock and country. We made up a name for our fake rock band, the Warm Holes. And of course we had dvs one riding a unicycle in a silver helmet… Traveling is like a drug, every day you wake up in some crazy new place you’ve been transported to in your sleep.

SND: Speaking of which, what was it like getting to New Orleans?

DC: Actually it wasn’t great. It was a little depressing, even demoralizing. I mean, we saw all the things, boats on top of houses, locals lamenting, the situation more and more fucked up, the Lower Ninth smelling like dead people, cars in trees. It was like the end of a war, the end of the world, a zombie movie. I’ve been to Africa, to the Congo and some war-torn areas. New Orleans looks like that, worse actually. It was always sort of dark, but now it’s unbearable. After that no one wanted to paint, so we just went to strip clubs. The Femi Kuti show was insane though, the dancing, the drums, people going crazy. All in all it was an amazing trip, getting our art out there, seeing the power of the internet to draw crowds. All the money went to charity by the way (Tipitina’s Foundation, dedicated to reinvigorating the New Orleans music community). I’d definitely do another trip like that, but from now on I’d like to tie into children’s hospitals and that kind of thing. Let kids participate and leave their mark.

SND: How was working with the Scion folks?

DC: Scion, I swear, they’re like the new NEA. I can’t get grant money but they fund and support my projects. They give money, they take no creative control. It’s symbiosis with a great company. They have given, not just me but a lot of graffiti artists who’ve never been able to make money a chance. They have a lot of integrity; it’s the best situation working with them. The trip was a blast, a real treat. I would’ve done it for free.

David Choe is a Los Angeles-based artist who has won numerous awards and been published in Giant Robot, Vice and a host of other international alt-culture favorites. In 1999 he put out his self-published award winning comic/novella/zine Slow Jams and in 2002 his art/photo/travel journal book Bruised Fruit. His murals can be found on walls from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, the Middle East to Asia and inside museums, galleries and private homes.
For more information on the Scion art projects featuring these and other artists visit www.scion.com. For more information on the man himself, www.davidchoe.com.


©2007 KotoriMag.com 

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