Flowstate /North Brooklyn Artists


Dave Choi

Ralf Jean-Pierre visits emerging artist Dave Choi in his Bushwick studio, a punk-infused wonderland of art. Choi’s upcoming show was canceled due to the pandemic, but that didn’t deter him from making his zany and spontaneous flavor of art.

AIRED: March 01, 2021 | 0:12:57

(upbeat music)

(waves crashing)

(ominous music)

- [Ralf] Heat wave!

It is hot.

You can fry an egg on a Brooklyn street today.

As if 2020 needed to turn up even more.

This summer was ranked

as one of the top 10 hottest summers ever on record.

(upbeat music)

(cars driving in distance)

I am in the industrial section of Bushwick,

here to pay a surprise visit to up and coming artist,

Dave Choi.

We're bringing the party to your door, David Choi.ú

- [Dave] Thank you.

- [Ralf] Yeah. (laughs)

How you doing?

Let's get the elbow thing, yeah. Good.

- [Dave] Worst time to meet people, right?

- [Ralf] Yeah, this is how we're meeting right here.

- [Dave] All right, so-

- [Ralf] You've got the wolf in your chest, you ready.

- [Dave] Yeah, you want to come in?

- [Ralf] Yes, absolutely.

- [Dave] How's everything?

(Ralf grunts)

- [Ralf] This is good. It's an exciting day.

But I'm super excited to meet you, man.

- [Dave] Okay, this is the studio where

It goes all the way back down

people actually live back there.

- [Ralf] Whoa! Okay.

Come on, man. That's-


(upbeat punk rock music)

This is a Wonderland in here.

David, talk to me about this, this Wonderland.

Is this the, is this like a bunch of years of work?

Is this a current project?

- [Dave] I had a solo show

and I was due in late April.

- [Ralf] Mmmh.

- [Dave] And of course it got canceled.

So what you're seeing right in this area right here

was a preparation for it.

- [Ralf] But what is supposed to be the unifying theme

of this particular April show?

- [Dave] That's funny because the unifying

is inconsistency.

(Ralf laughs)

- [Ralf] Yes.

- [Dave] There really isn't a one theme.

(upbeat punk music)

- [Ralf] This is like pure imagination station.

I just, I like the idea of talking to you

while these guys are looking at me.

(Ralf chuckles)

And it feels like, it's like,

it's like, if you could drink a Slurpee

but then like look at it.

(sips loudly)

(Both laugh) You know what I mean?

- [Dave] These are the things that I've been working

on during the pandemic.

- [Ralf] Oh, I'm super interested in that.

- [Dave] I've been doing this,

which is, I've been trying to put

these little matchsticks.

I don't know if you guys can get that.

- [Ralf] Those are gorgeous, yeah.

The colors are beautiful.

- [Dave] I sand it down.

And I really got into like pieces like this.

And then this one, I just recently started playing with

because I never, I rarely like use paint.

I don't paint my sculptures,

but I don't know, the pandemic can make you do weird things.

(Ralf laughs)

I started doing this and playing with it

and I just loved it.

I just love having a good time with paint.

- [Ralf] It's like The Thinker

but like The Thinker made of fruity pebbles.

- [Dave] Exactly.

You know, a good friend of mine,

I was in a band with them,

so he had cancer.

They had to shoot him with radiation.

So, in that process,

you have to get this thing made for you

that shapes like your face,

and they lock you down.

So you can't move an inch.

It has to be very precise.

So after he got this done,

they were just going to give it to him.

And he just offered it to me

knowing that I'm a sculptor, man.

He said, "Can you use this?"

And I'm like, "Maybe."

And I just like kept it around in my studio

for several months and then I got an idea.

So, I put a lot of plastic through it.

This is all monofilament.

- [Ralf] There's some sort of element

of like punk rock or rock and roll that's happening here.

With like, your use of color plus you're like,

"I'm just going to carve into this

and make something with it."

- [Dave] I think so,

'cause I've been in a lot of punk bands in my past.

- [Ralf] Nice. - [Dave] So I think like,

you know, I figured the idiosyncrasies

of like being in that kind of like,

I guess like, time, you know.

'Cause like punk rock is very raw

and there's no like defining sense of like refining things.

Like, I don't want to make an object,

I just want it more expressive.

So in my work, I think,

the process is more important than the actual outcome.

You know. 'Cause you know like punk rock is very cathartic.

- [Ralf] Mhmm.

- [Dave] Getting like your angst out,

so I think a lot of that comes from it.

But you don't really, like, know

what you're going going to do

but I just love the fact in like kind of almost,

like surprising myself.

- [Ralf] Mhmm. - [Dave] You know.

(upbeat rock music)

- [Ralf] How did the pandemic surprise you?

Did you, 'cause you said this is the stuff

that you ended up making during the pandemic,

use paint when you hadn't planned to.

- [Dave] Right.

- [Ralf] And like,

how do you think it's affecting your work?

- [Dave] I mean, honestly, like I was very fortunate.

So, my job, I work at MoMA

and they paid,

I'm still getting paid to this day.

- [Ralf] Mhmm.

- [Dave] They were very, you know, good about it,

very supportive.

It was very nice.

It was like, like a residency almost.

And I got a lot of work done.

And I was like, that was very fortunate.

- [Ralf] Maybe you can relate to this.

Okay, I'm kind of like,

"Well, if everyone's having such a hard time,

how dare I not get up and work

and do the things I love, at least."

- [Dave] Exactly, if you're able to.

- [Ralf] Has it been helpful to have like the community

of people who are, who are living here?

- [Dave] No. Even, I mean, there's three people

that live back there but we've been keeping our distance.

Just talking through the walls and things like that.

- [Ralf] Wow. - [Dave] Yeah.

It's really frustrating.

The pandemic got you down.

The I-mask will help.

- [Ralf] When I first saw your Instagram,

what struck me was just like how much fun

you seem to be having.

- [Dave] I mean, I think there's definitely a part of you

in your work, you know.

That's just inevitable, right?

You're making something

then you're creating something that has no purpose

but to release something.

So, yeah.

A lot of your work is going to reflect on who you are.

(gum pops)

- [Ralf] So the Instagram videos,

is that like a part of your practice?

Like, are you just making 'em whenever you feel like?

- [Dave] At Rutgers, it's a very interdisciplinary,

you know school.

- Mhmm.

- [Dave] They don't make you pick if you're a painter,

a sculptor or whatever.

So I did a lot of like performance,

a lot of video and all that stuff.

Instagram is just so easy.

And all the tools that are out there, like on your phone,

you can make anything with your phone.

(screams sharply)

Don't think about it and just make whatever you want.

- [Ralf] To me, that feels like so contrary,

not only to like the idea of a serious painter

but I just left an artist today

who was like all about discipline.

And they're a wonderful artist

but they were, "Discipline, discipline."

- There's a great joke when like you meet a painter.

They're like, "I'm a painter."

And you look at them and go, "Oh, I'm an artist."

And they get really mad.

(Dave laughs)

(drums beat)

- [Ralf] I feel like I really love and enjoy...

You seem to have, and it's so apparent in your work,

this like very optimistic attitude of like,

"The tools are right here. They're so easy for me to use.

Why don't I just use them?"

- [Dave] Yeah. - [Ralf] And like-

- [Ralf] There's no reason not to make art.

- [Ralf] Can I ask about where are you from originally?

- [Dave] I was born in Seoul, Korea.

- [Ralf] Okay.

- [Dave] Came here when I was a baby.

- [Ralf] Oh, wow.

- [Dave] Lived in Virginia and then moved my way

up to New York.

- [Ralf] How early did you know, sort of,

this was your path?

Did you stumble across it

or were you like, at seven, I was like,

"Okay, I know, I know this is it."

- [Dave] Well, you know, coming from like an immigrant

background, you know, art wasn't encouraged.

So I've always liked making art

and I would do it in the house when I was a kid

but I never ever took an art class in high school

'cause it just wasn't encouraged.

It was just, "You're going to go to college

to be a whatever, moneymaker."

- [Ralf] And then when you told your folks,

what was that like?

- [Dave] It wasn't good.

(Ralf laughs)

It wasn't good.

(Ralf laughs)

'Cause parents really don't want their kids to be an artist.

Parents want you to be like safe

and make money and things like that.

So, it's understandable but you just got to,

you have to fight it sometimes.

- [Ralf] Can your parents look at any of your work

and like enjoy it?

- [Dave] Well, my dad past (indistinct).

I'm glad that he passed after he saw my show

I had years ago.

- [Ralf] Mhmm.

- [Dave] And he was really getting it, you know.

My mom totally understands now.

(upbeat rock music)

What do you feel it is about,

this spot in this area?

Like why here of all the places you could go?

You've been through Virginia, been to New Jersey

and there's so many other places you could go.

Why in this spot, have you been?

- [Dave] Bushwick, I came here when I was like,

it was like 2002.

- [Ralf] Oh wow.

And this is like where people came

because there was nothing here.

- [Ralf] Mhmm.

- [Dave] And I mean, not even a store.

So meaning that the rent was cheap.

So I think all the artists, like, came over here

'cause you know it's a trend.

Artists go, to like, back in the seventies,

they moved to SoHo.

What happened to SoHo, you know.

Yeah, like developers, like, follow artists.

They really do.

They look for an artists' town

and then they take them all out.

- When I left art school, I came into, I came to Brooklyn.

I came back to Brooklyn, I'm from here and I realized,

"Oh, I'd never left art school."

It was like, just this like Fantasia.

It was like, you know, Banksy

and Space Invader pieces everywhere.

And you know, Bedford open studios.

And it was just like this art Mecca

and like

and then started like changing into something else.

- [Dave] Back in the day when I first moved here,

because it was more sparse and not enough,

not that many people settled here.

One little tag would emphasize the whole city.

So you could actually see it growing, you know?

But when I first got here,

there were no tags or graffiti for a while.

It was like very low key.

But there was like, no stores.

Like the Jefferson stop was just, like, nothing.

It wasn't even like residential

because this is a strange area

where there's no one used to live here.

It was just an industry, you know.

So after like 6:00 PM, it's just nothing.

(skateboard rakes on tarmac)

And after that, I would have to get my beer in Williamsburg,

ride the train and then get off on Jefferson.

And then I would like skateboard, like,

home like really fast.

(Ralf laughs)

- [Ralf] Because it was, because you were,

there was nothing.

- You don't see people but if you see someone,

that doesn't look good, you know.

So you just want to be out of there.

You don't want to be hanging out outside.

- [Ralf] Are there images from either your childhood

or from your adulthood,

like certain artists or certain influences

that flash in your brain a lot

or that you come back to or that you hold in your heart

or that, you know,

you can remember giving you this feeling?

- I really can't think of a favorite artist.

- [Ralf] Okay.

Or even I was thinking even if there was like cartoons?

- Oh, Woody Woodpecker.

- Talk about it, please.

- Woody Woodpecker, man. - Talk about it.

- In my work, I love the sense of mischief.

- [Ralf] Mhmm.

Woody Woodpecker was the guy

that really, that I just loved as a kid.

And the coyote also.

He never gave up.

Woody would always hurt himself

but he made that most incredible sculptures

with all that stuff from Acme.

(Ralf agrees)


So I think, yeah, you're right.

I like the coyote.

(Dave laughs)

- [Ralf] Yeah. I can see and feel that.

All this-

- You can see a lot of failures here, huh?

(Both laugh)

So I'm always like making it.

Until I catch that road runner.

(upbeat punk music)

- [Ralf] I really love that Dave can have fun

and be playful and still take his work very seriously.

(rock beats in background)

I love artists who are mischievous.

That feels very Brooklyn to me.

I also love that Dave is not jaded

and that he's grateful to have a good job

that supports his work.

And he's grateful for another chance every day

to skate down these Bushwick streets

and chase that road runner one more time.

He'll catch him.

(waltz music plays)

(indistinct chatting)

(driller whirs)

(waltz music plays)

(upbeat punk music)

(waltz music)


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