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Quote of the Week: David Choe on Simplifying

The issue of the street-art magazine Juxtapoz that just fell off newsstands was unusual. Instead of the magazine’s regular mix of artist news, profiles, and portfolios, it was dedicated to one individual, the Los Angeles native David Choe, who graduated from Xeric grants (he won in 1999, the same year as Carrie Golus, Leela Corman, and Jason Shiga) to galleries to major commercial commissions.

The issue is packed, front to back, with his art, which mixes a variety of styles, ranging from ornate spray paint to elegant watercolors to rough sketches, and many of the individual pieces are accompanied by images of his source materials (model photos, found objects), as well as candid shots and pictures of him at work. There are also brief commentaries submitted by colleagues and by Choe himself, including this. The painting he’s talking about appears up top:

When I was younger, shyer, and more insecure, I would rock that layered look to hide everything inside. I’d wear layers over layers of clothing, sweaters over sweaters over ripped jean jacket over a trench coat and tie all together with rubberbands and bandanas. Now I just wear blank t-shirts and no pants. I used to do the same thing with my art. I was so insecure about my skill, technique, and ideas that would just layer every medium over every medium, acrylic over watercolor over spray paint over oil, and then fill every nook and cranny with microscopic rapidograph doodles. But I’m older now and more confident, my acne cleared up last year, I got some stink on my dick. I’m more secure with my tools, and the next few pages are pure and simple idea paintings I did using only one medium, either oil or watercolor. They are alive. I love acrylic and spray paint, but it’s just not the same. Painting with water and oil is almost like alchemy or magic. The painting I did on this page is called Silent Dance. I painted it using oil right after I got out of jail while I was living out of my cousin’s garage. It’s maybe one of my most favorite paintings I’ve ever done if you stare at it long enough, you can find God in it. Literally, not joking.

While Choe is talking about visual art, his lessons, his experience, in regard to the benefits of simplification will be familiar to musicians. In Les Paul’s between-song banter at the Iridium in Manhattan, the late inventor-guitarist would talk about how, with age, he’d come to play more slowly, and just how much more difficult it was to do so — not to limit himself, so much as to produce music at a slower speed of which he was proud, music he that he felt certain could make an impression on an audience presumably entranced by flash and firepower.

Among the many interesting things in the rise of ambient music as a widely practiced art is that musicians are, at a young age, producing pieces that are gossamer thin, rather than, as Choe puts it, layering on as many instruments and effects as possible to be ensure an impression. In time, of course, some of these musicians, in a roundabout manner, attempt something harder and heavier — consider fragile turntablist Kid Koala’s experiments with the Slew, or Robin Rimbaud, who after a decade of introspective electronic music branched out into post-punk pop as a member of the band Githead.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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