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Reviews-Artist Documentaries


Most of the world first heard about David Choe when it was revealed that the artist made an estimated $200 million from his stock in Facebook. During the early days of Facebook, Sean Parker hired the artist to paint the first Facebook headquarters. Parker offered to pay Choe either $60,000 or with Facebook stock. Choe chose the stock, even though he could’ve used the money at the time.

Many people still don’t know that Choe was a successful artist before his Facebook stock was worth anything. Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe follows Choe from 2000 to 2007. From his early days as a street artist, to his show in London that would sell $2.5 million dollars of his art.

“I make my art for people who don’t give a fuck about art…”

Choe is a Los Angeles graffiti artist who never expected to make money from his work. He’s the artist who would Xerox art at Kinkos late at night, and then wheat paste his work across the city. His murals are usually unplanned masses of paint and spray paint that eventually come together to form surreal imagery.

This is not a typical art documentary. The film actually opens with Choe in front of dancing nude women in the Congo. During a sponsored expedition to find the last dinosaur.

Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe is a very personal experience produced by Choe’s close friend, Harry Kim. Kim didn’t know how this film would end, but he obviously recognized that Choe was talented and that he would be successful one day. It’s a wild adventure following an artist who lives by his own rules. An architect of his own life who’s paid to be himself.

“I have basically no responsibilities. I’m a man boy.”

Kim combines interviews with Choe and personal footage so the viewer is a part of Choe’s world. The film follows Choe’s most serious romantic relationship and introduces you to his Christian Korean family.

Kim also interviewed other individuals who have crossed paths with the artist. The most recognizable names are Shepard Fairy and Choe’s mentor, Barren Storey. Fairy is commonly known for his Obama “HOPE” poster. Storey is an accomplished illustrator and art teacher. His cover art for the 1980 edition of the Lord of the Flies novel is most likely his most recognizable piece of work.

We’re able to follow the rise of an artist with this film. Choe discusses how he got his first breaks and there is actual footage of the shows and events to accompany his stories. Animated sequences also help fill in gaps throughout the film.

Throughout the film Choe demonstrates techniques that he uses to create art. Blood is a medium that you usually don’t see other artists using, but Choe wets his brush with his own blood to create faces and other imagery. The best footage of his process is for his mural work though. One mural materializes in front of the viewer from start to finish. Created without any preliminary sketching on the wall, most people have to appreciate what he can do with a large blank wall.

There is even footage of Choe working on the art for Facebook and Parker’s first impressions of the art. It’s an unexpected glimpse into a company that changed the world.

One of the most memorable moments in the film is the footage about Choe’s three month experience in a Japanese prison. A period where he tried to embrace Christianity, but he was drawing in his opinion the most sickest and demented images that he ever created. His prison diaries reveal to the viewer an illustrated daily food diary among a lot of sexual perverse imagery. This period in his life would change him forever and unexpectedly fuel a vast amount of opportunities.

For a film that was shot over a seven year period without a real film crew, I’m impressed by the finished product. You can’t expect this film to be like a PBS documentary or most documentaries with a budget. My biggest complaint is that the footage with Choe’s parents aren’t sub-titled. Choe’s Father is interviewed briefly and he chose to speak Korean throughout the interview. There are other moments where you catch the family speaking Korean as well; the viewer must actually have to turn-on the subtitles for these scenes to be translated. This is a production mistake that isn’t acceptable. I would suggest to anyone who’s interested in the film to purchase a physical copy and turn on the sub-titles. The sub-titles don’t take anything away from the film.

Viewing the film was a unique experience for me. I’ve been following Choe’s work since his first spot illustrations for Giant Robot magazine. Right before his prison experience. I continue to follow his work currently and to listen to his podcasts. I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who isn’t close-minded. Nudity and some obscene art are present and Choe is not your typical artist. I usually force all my art friends to watch the film at least once. Choe is one of the few artists who doesn’t have to answer to anyone. He creates whatever he wants and he has profited from his work. Even if you don’t like his work, you have to admire the fact that he can basically do whatever he wants. Most artists and creative individuals dream of such situations.

Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe was originally released by Upper Playground. You can purchase the film from iTunes and Amazon for instant viewing. The actual dvd can now be purchased from

Devon Lawrence

Devon Photo

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