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Happy Hour w/ David Heo

Words by Danielle Dewar (founder of Tchotchke Gallery)

David Heo in his studio in Chicago, image taken by Kristie Kahns (@kristiekahns)

David Heo is the definitive embodiment of booked and busy. A visual artist and all-around cool guy based in Chicago, David is likely painting at this very moment and putting finishing touches on a new body of work for his upcoming solo with Tchotchke Gallery entitled David Heo: Demon Time. 

Inspiration behind the forthcoming exhibition lies within one’s urge to fulfill intimacy and connection during a moment in time when both are likely accomplished exclusively through a screen. The title of the exhibition is a nod to the cultural term to describe the private livestream of women earning direct payment and tips for anonymously stripping on camera from the safety of their own homes during quarantine. Though David’s new body of work is not a direct response to sex work or the colloquial term, Demon Time speaks to the dynamics of fantasy, wishing, and intimacy that is missed or coveted, whether romantic or platonic in what seems to be, a failing societal system.

A selection of David’s paintings in Demon Time also serve as a departure from typical painting techniques employed by the artist. When planning the show, our goal was for David to explore the idiosyncrasies in his practice as much as desired. Through this, David found inspiration in the paintings by Angel Otero, Rauschenberg’s assemblages, and Japanese rolled ice cream. “I wanted to apply all these fascinating concepts into one. So I decided to create a combination of acrylics mixed in various shades, each one dried over the course of several days to create a pool of vibrant, textural skin” David recalls. Once the paint-like skins have fully settled, he cuts out the pieces needed, marks over each cut-out layer with more paint or a wide range of drawing mediums, and adheres them to the canvas. With such a large part of the artworld existing in the digital sphere at the moment, these techniques lend to a more three-dimensional viewing experience where texture and depth is often lost.

Recently, David took a break from working to kick it with me on Instagram Live. Our conversation gives a small glimpse into his practice, what inspires him, what he finds overrated, and the various cultural critiques that help shape him into who is today, not only as an artist but as an adult navigating the modern landscape.

DD: So you’ve been in our first two shows: When Life Doesn’t Give You Lemons and Bull in a China Shop. And we are currently working on a solo that’s set to open on January 26th, called Demon Time. Obviously I know a lot about you and your practice but if you want to tell everyone else your spiel, that would be great.
DH: Long story short, I am a visual artist based in Chicago. I generally make paintings and works on paper. I like to dabble in design and all around I just like to be multi-hyphenated and not only just a gallery artist. I really, really enjoy just seeing where my work can live. But aside from that, I don’t really have any personal details if that makes sense.

DD: I’m going to jump into a little icebreaker where I give you a phrase or a word and you’re going to tell me if you think it’s overrated or underrated and why or why not. The first one is art school. Overrated or underrated?

DH: See I have mixed opinions about this. I wanna say it’s just rated. I guess, neutral. I really think undergrad should not exist for art school, at all. I think it’s too much pressure to be like, “Oh hey, fresh 18-year-old. It’s time to go make work that’s important to you.” But I do think art school is amazing at an MFA level but the only problem is it’s just fucking expensive. If I could go back in time and tell myself “hey, don’t go to art school for undergrad. Go to a normal school and have a full life experience and come out of it with more information to make art about.” 

DD: Understandable. Next up is airbrush artists–overrated or underrated?
DH: This is something I’m also going to put as rated. I really, really admire any artist who can master an airbrush but I’m not really into the artists who use it solely for the gimmicks. I really like Trey Abdella.

DD: @mystickfishstick!
DH: Yeah dude, his paintings are fucking killer but I haven’t seen them in person. But objectively me scrolling through my phone and seeing it, I’m like “whoa, this dude is sick.” I would love to see his work in person.  

DD: Same. Jeff Koons, underrated or overrated?
DH: Overrated. Just fucking overrated. It’s cool and I appreciate what he’s done, I guess; but, I’m a little selfish and I love making my work. 

DD: I like that answer. Underrated or overrated, astrology?
DH: Overrated, sorry. Whoever fucks with it, fucks with it. But I saw a really funny screenshot of a tweet that was like, ‘can a sad girl with bangs tell me what star is responsible for me being sad?’ People subscribe to their beliefs but I just don’t think it’s a tell all. 

David Heo in his studio in Chicago, image taken by Kristie Kahns (@kristiekahns)

DD: Agreed. Soundcloud rappers, underrated or overrated?
DH: Oh god, dude. Overrated. It’s fucking garbage, sorry. That’s just my opinion. I’m sorry if people like Soundcloud rappers, I just can’t.

DD: I mean, did you not like Lil Peep?
DH: Nope. I know it’s surprising. But no, I can’t. It’s like not even musically, it’s just visually. Like visually, they look like human scabs. I can’t do it, dude.

DD: I grew up listening to Brand New and rap so I feel like Soundcloud rappers almost blend those two together. Now I get my music intel mostly from Twitter or Reddit.
DH: I can see that but I can only have one form of social media so I have Instagram. I could never do Snapchat and Twitter seems like too much. I just like having one distraction in my life. I think it would be so hard to have so many fucking social media things. Like, what do you do?

DD: I mean, I’m not active on them. I just lurk. 
DH: Yeah, I mean I love Instagram and I hope it doesn’t go away. I love the idea of static imagery. Instagram is a beautiful marriage of how to integrate the artworld. Painting, specifically, is two-dimensional-based and you have a platform that shows two-dimensional-based work and highlights it. It’s more of a global thing so it’s cool to see what artists internationally are doing. I couldn’t have done that 10 years ago. That’s why I appreciate it.

DD: Random, but did you have MySpace growing up?
DH: I did.

DD: Are you friends with any of your top 8?
DH: I don’t think so, unfortunately. It sucks. I’m one of those people where if I don’t physically see you, I have a really hard time maintaining friendships.

DD: I don’t know if you experienced this also growing up in the South but a lot of the people that I was friends with at that point in my life when social issues weren’t on our forefront as they are now, I’m no longer friends with. And I now have such different opinions than them, as in my “top 8” or my best friends at that point, that I don’t even talk to them anymore.

DH: I think that’s totally fair. Just because you happen to have childhood friends, you’re only friends because of proximity. It’s up to each person if they want to maintain those friendships. But at some point y’all are going to be different people. Funny story–growing up in the South, my ignorant ass self didn’t know what the rebel flag meant. Like what the confederate flag actually meant. 

DD: Were you brainwashed into thinking it was something positive and patriotic?

DH: Yeah, like ‘this is heritage.’ But the older I got, I was like, “fuck no it’s not. That’s a hate symbol.” Of course I want to distance myself away from the things that I was brought up with that were really, really problematic. I think it’s up to every single person to be better than the society they grew up in. 

DD: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So, who is your favorite artist at the moment?
DH: That’s tough. Robert Nava, for sure. I’ve loved this man’s work for forever and he continues to keep making extremely interesting work. And it’s not even me being biased, but I do really like Katelyn Ledford’s work. 

DD: She’s great.
DH: Yeah and I think it’s so interesting to see this influx of millennial artists as they get older and what we were exposed to growing up and how that is regurgitated in our work. But definitely Katelyn Ledford and Robert Nava. 

DD: Those are good ones. So, what is your favorite part of the artmaking process?
DH: Lately, I really like pushing my brain to figure out what mediums and materials I can use and in what capacity. I love painting and the act of painting. Pushing paint with a stick of hairs is really fun. But, I also enjoy being like “what happens when I do this or do that?” So I think material exploration is my favorite part. I’m actually trying a few experiments for the paintings for the upcoming show. I’m really excited about them.

David Heo, Kindle, 2020, Crayon, colored pencil, acrylic spray, gouache, and painted paper cutouts on paper, 12 x 9 inches, Courtesy the artist and Tchotchke Gallery

David Heo: Demon Time on view digitally January 26th, 2021 at 12:00 pm through March 30, 2021.