Let's begin with the ugliest man in the world. He makes an appearance in the philosophical novel Thus Spake Zarathustra as the killer of God. He killed God because the almighty was constantly watching him, and being very ugly, this constant watching became unbearable. What Nietzsche, the author of Thus Spake Zarathustra, is trying to explain or express through the figure of the ugliest man and his cosmic murder is this: Man in general had became so aware of his human flaws, his worldly weaknesses, his dirty desires, that he could no longer hope to ever live up to the high moral standards set by the absolute master. God had to go. And His absence, of course, presented a vacuum, and in this vacuum man was thrown into the chaos of self-creation. The story of the ugliest man, and the consequences of his crime, is the story of David Choe.
Street artist David Choe was born in Los Angeles in 1976 to Korean parents who were (and, as far as I know, still are) devoted Christians. Choe rejected not only their faith but also the solid foundations of his culture, and in the clearing of his given religion and culture has become hypercreative—pencil drawing, painting, and spray-painting on any material, wherever and however it appears. Much of it is bad and much of it is good, but what matters most of all is not the outcome, but the condition of being creative, of always making something new. Choe is about the purity of production, a life that does nothing but produce art and trouble. He's known for trashing his body, and the energy from a consumed hot dog or nachos is converted into trouble (robbing, stealing, defacing, fighting) or into art objects. Sometimes the object is a wall, sometimes it's a wheel-less skateboard, sometimes it's cardboard. While spending three months in a Tokyo jail for assaulting an undercover cop, it was rough paper.
The solo exhibition of Choe's work at BLVD Gallery, !Come Me!, contains graphite drawings of the popular modes of transportation in contemporary urban Vietnam—cyclos, motorbikes, minibuses. There are also buzzing, blurred, melting, mixed-media visions of American inner- and edge cities peopled by Amazonian women and elephant men. In one picture we find the ugliest man walking through a hood with his arms and big hands around a buxom Latino woman (the ugliest man in the world is very happy). And then there is the whale, the mammal at the center of Choe's imagination. I love his single-toothed whales, and one of the two in the gallery has a sex-ready naked Asian woman on its mind, a party hat just above its spout, and a speech bubble which, rising from its open, single-toothed mouth, indicates that it's talking about a blowjob.
"The whales are a mouthpiece to everyone that feels like they're a whale from a beautiful sea," he said in interview with Jaime Wright. "[W]ashed up on the streets; they speak from their tiny sonar brains, leaking pathetic haikus on the human condition that end up having much more deeper meaning, because it's the mammal on earth delivering the message."
The purity of Choe's production is fueled physically by food and spiritually by his obsession with sex. As the eyes of God were once on the body of the ugliest man, the body of a woman is always on the mind of the ugliest man. (And perhaps she, likewise, will have to get rid of him.) In his drawings and paintings, women are just about to have sex or have just had sex. And it's raw, rude, blunt sex. Choe is not erotic, his is not the polite realm of the floating world, but the flatness, the blankness of porno—fucking in his art has no other goal than fucking itself.
Choe has been around the world, he claims to be homeless, and even if this were not the case, in a metaphysical sense he is certainly rootless, deracinated. At the gallery, he could not be pinned down for a planned interview. He kept moving; he was behind me, then gone, then leaving, then arriving. I never talked to him.
The space of his work is world space: the heat of Africa, European surrealism, the violence of the Middle East, West Coast skateboard culture, Asian pop junk, L.A. porn, the ghetto pulse of hiphop, postmodern boredom, late-capital exhaustion, postindustrial nihilism—all of these forces meet and, at a furious pace, are (when the art is weak) remade and (when the art is good) regenerated. Without God we are left with nothing else but the din of human creativity.