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(Credit: Alamy)

Art

The graffiti artist that got rich from Facebook

David Choe is either going to be a name you know outright or one that has hitherto eluded your conscious knowledge. You may have seen Choe on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, where he often hangs out with Bourdain and fellow chef David Chang, mainly in Los Angeles.

Choe is an artist whose work primarily consists of figurative paintings that explore themes of trauma, desire, desolation and celebration and are characterised by a messy, frantic composition that Choe has defined as ‘dirty style’.

Choe was born in Los Angeles to Korean immigrant parents and grew up spray painting graffiti in his hometown. After a quick stint at the California College of Art, he began his career as an artist by publishing some graphic novels that he gave away at Comic-Con. 

Subsequent projects included mural commissions from Heidi Fleiss and an online video series for Vice magazine called Thumbs Up! in which he hitchhiked across North America. However, Choe’s fame and fortune came in 2005, when his work caught the eye of Sean Parker, formerly of Napster, then president of the soon-to-be monolithic social media website Facebook.

Parker asked Choe to paint some sexually explicit murals in the original Silicon Valley Facebook offices. Choe has claimed that he despised social media and its early versions, such as MySpace and Friendster. He called Facebook a “ridiculous and pointless” venture but was offered $60,000 from Parker to paint the murals of the office’s interior.

Choe said, “My prices had been going higher and higher, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I mean, if you want me to paint the entire building, it’s going to be 60, you know, 60 grand.’”

Upon completing the murals, Parker offered Choe either $60,000 in cash or the equivalent in Facebook stocks. Of course, no one knew at the time whether or not Facebook would succeed, but Parker suggested that Choe take the stocks, which he did.

When the Facebook stocks went public in 2012 at $38 a share, Choe’s stocks were worth $200 million. He’d become a multi-millionaire just from a 60 grand job. Of course, Choe felt that Facebook was a joke; he detested social media, but the return on his mural work was so astronomical that he couldn’t have thought it was a joke for much longer.

Choe’s newfound wealth led him to spend it in various ways. Choe is well known for his gambling addiction, but he also once gave away $100,000 in a scavenger hunt that saw the winner board a flight to Los Angeles so Choe could personally hand over the cash along with a custom painting.