Crawl Artist David T. Cho on Resuscitating Portraiture and the Affordability of Art

You sure can’t put David T. Cho in a corner! The Emily Carr grad creates mostly large-scale oil paintings out of his 1000 Parker Street studio in East Van. His subject matter ranges wildly from mountainous landscapes to wrestling ring stars, depending on Cho’s various whims and personal interests. You definitely won’t want to miss a visit to his studio when he opens it up to the public for the Eastside Culture Crawl (November 16-19).

How did you get involved in the Eastside Culture Crawl? As soon as I graduated in 2008, I needed to promote myself to make a living. I had a dog then and painted him often. So I decided to paint custom pet portraits through the Eastside Culture Crawl.

Where did you grow up? I was born in Korea and moved to Vancouver when I was 16.

What neighbourhood do you currently live in and what makes it home? I live in downtown Vancouver by False Creek. I have never lived in one place for this long. I have lived in this place for 11 years. There are a lot of memories here and it makes it home.

Why Vancouver? It wasn’t my decision to come to Canada back then but I think it was a fortune to come here with my family.

Spookiest place you’ve ever been? Gabriola House on Davie Street. I had a chance to go inside. It was spooky.

Your favourite thing about East Van? Beer and coffee.

Your least favourite thing about East Van? Ridiculous real estate.

Something that you’d like to see change about Vancouver? Vancouver is close to perfect. Maybe more glaciers and warmer water.

If you could have one of your paintings hanging anywhere in the world, where would it be? MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

A portrait of a living person that you’d like to have commissioned? Mike Tyson. I want to do a live painting, sincerely hoping he’d like the painting.

If you were to have your own portrait commissioned, who would be your ideal artist? Wow…Francis Bacon, if only he were still here. I just imagined him painting me sitting in front of his easel — that would be awesome.

A fictional character you’d like to have a conversation with? Macho Man with a microphone on the WWE stage. I probably wouldn’t understand his words though.

How do you choose your subjects? I choose subjects based on my personal interests. I started my career with painting dogs then wrestlers and fighters. Now I’m also painting mountains and water, and I just started painting classic TV series like Baywatch. It all represents myself. I never get to finish a piece if it is other than my interest.

A current obsession? My chubby baby girl. She is four months old now.

A lifelong obsession? Sailing with my favourite people.

Why painting? I like the analog process. It’s slow and spontaneous.

Worst thing about working with paint? The smell of the oil paint. I love the smell for the first few minutes though.

Best thing about working with paint? I love to come back to the studio to see the painting next day. Often it is different than what I remembered.

Tell me about your creative process. With portraiture, I watch fights or post-fight press repeatedly and try to capture moments I want to paint. Then I imagine the painting process in my head over and over. But as I like to work spontaneously, it often does not turn out as planned. For landscapes, I usually go see the scenery in person, but I also enjoy using images from Google Maps.

How has your process changed over the years? I have secretly started doing some abstract paintings. I’m working on combining the new idea with my previous style.

How long does it take for you to complete a painting? It depends. Sometimes I paint three small pieces a day. Some paintings took five months.

Painting and portraiture are fairly traditional forms of art. What appeals to you about your medium? Some people believe that painting, especially portraiture, is dead after Post-Modernism…because artists and viewers are constantly looking for new forms of art and they have always wanted to move on to next ‘ism’. I believe there are many areas left for developing portraiture. Let me find out in a few years.

    Collecting art (especially painting) is typically an expensive/exclusive privilege. How important to you is art accessibility and affordability? Collecting ‘original’ art is expensive. Even art students’ paintings are often expensive. But owning an original work of art is special. I had a couple who came back after two years of saving money to buy a small painting. They were not rich but wanted to own an original piece and I truly appreciated it. If purely enjoying art is what you desire then you can visit galleries or buy prints of your favourite artists. That’s what I personally do and I love doing it.

    What will it take to get young, non-wealthy people into art appreciation and collection? There was someone who asked for a monthly installment plan. I thought it was quite a good idea. Collecting more affordable pieces is a way too. I have collected limited edition ceramics by Jeff Koons from the Broad a few years back and I lovedf it. It was quite affordable.

    The piece of art that made the biggest impact on you? Reverse by Jenny Saville. I found her just before graduation and I regret not knowing her earlier. I tried to adapt her style in the beginning. Now I’m trying to get away from it.

    The first piece of art that you bought? A print by Kyu Hwang.

    The piece of art or art experience that made you want to be an artist? A self portrait of my mom. She was an artist and as a child I thought it was very cool to have your own painting.

    Favourite Vancouver artist (not including yourself)? Attila Richard Lukacs.

    Favourite artist of all time (living or dead)? Vincent Van Gogh. I even bought a huge print from Amazon. My wife hated it.

    Your top 3 BC galleries? Will Aballe Art Projects, Monte Clark Gallery, Equinox Gallery.

    What was the last thing that inspired you? Spending time with my baby girl.

    Is portraiture a dying art? It’s on CPR. Just kidding. Any form of art would never die as long as there’s an artist pursuing it.

    If you had to work in another medium, what would it be? Sculpture. I have always wanted to do sculpture. I might be taking a class at Emily Carr.

    Advice to young artists? Just do it.

    #studio #mess #andapuppy

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