It happens almost every time. A person will walk up to Dave Choate‘s usual spot on Bedford Avenue, check out his paintings, flip through his stack of prints, and then ask, “Are you the artist?”
The question is somewhat understandable. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound former college football player doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a typical painter. But while people may not recognize Choate, chances are they’ve seen his work. Alicia Keys showed off his Grace Jones portrait during a CBS interview with Lara Logan. Keys’ husband Swizz Beatz owns several Choate originals and dubbed him one of his Top 10 favorite things about New York City. Choate also has an admirer in Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony and recently sold a painting to George Lopez over Twitter.
Those interactions have made the Connecticut native a tiny bit more recognizable these days. “Maybe once every other weekend someone will ask, ‘Hey, are you Dave Choate?'” he says. “And I’m like, Do I owe you money? Are you my daughter and you finally found me? No, they’re like, ‘I follow you on Instagram‘, ‘I follow you on Twitter‘, or ‘I was at Swizz and Alicia’s studio and saw your work’.'”
With a dry sense of humor and crafty social media skills, Choate has built quite a network of celebrity fans. In part one of his YACK interview, he shares the backstories of how he connected with Swizz, Alicia, and Melo.
YACK: How did you meet Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys?
Choate: I was selling my paintings on West Broadway and I was talking to this beautiful woman. We were talking about the Jets and Rex Ryan. She was totally hot. I thought maybe it might be going somewhere. We were talking for 10 minutes and then Swizz and Alicia started walking over and taking a look at the paintings. And this girl I was talking to just started freaking out. She was yelling “Oh my God!” in a high-pitched voice.
Swizz and Alica were very receptive and I thought, Oh wow, they’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Small world, what are the odds? I’m a pretty low-key guy, and I thought, I wouldn’t get that excited about seeing someone unless I had thought they were dead. That was her reaction.
And then Swizz broke away and I was talking to him for about 10 minutes. He was looking at my Mike Tyson painting, and I was like, this guy knows what he’s doing — this could be a sale. He says, “You know who would like this Tyson painting? Melo.” And I thought, uh, that’s nice, but I don’t have access to Carmelo Anthony.
YACK: You didn’t recognize Swizz at all?
Choate: No. It wasn’t until he was leaving that he said something along the lines of “It was really nice meeting you, you’re a great artist’, and I’m thinking, He’s not going to buy anything. And he says, “My name is Swizz.” I was startled and said, “You’re in the music business, right?” and he says, “Yeah, I’m a producer and sometimes I rap.” He points to Alicia, who’s standing behind him, and says, “But she’s the real talent.” I look at Alicia and think, pretty girl, marketable. I don’t know if she has talent but she’ll sell records on her looks alone, so good for her, good for him.
YACK: Alicia didn’t say anything this whole time?
Choate: She would come out with compliments, like ‘Oh, I love your work”, and I was just thinking, you better buy something because that hot girl I was talking to is gone and she’s never coming back and this is going to ruin my day. So anyway, they walked away and I was like, “I’ll catch you on Twitter” and Swizz said, ‘I’ll catch you right back.” And then one of my artist buddies who was set up next to me came over and said, ‘Wow, Alicia Keys really liked your work, huh?” and I was like, “Did she walk by?” He said, “You were talking to her for 10 minutes!” I had no idea.
YACK: How did you get back in touch with Swizz?
Choate: We started talking on Twitter. I did a painting of him and contacted him and said, “If you’re in the neighborhood, you have to stop down and autograph this so I can sell it, because no one’s buying my work. It’s the only chance I have.” And he laughed. He wrote back saying he loved it and then tweeted out to his followers later that night: “Check out Dave Choate, street artist. I support street artists when I can. If you buy this painting, I’ll autograph it.” I got a lot of new followers out of that and he has continued to share my work with what is now close to two million followers.
YACK: When did this happen?
Choate: July 2011. With that, I started getting exposure and then I met Carmelo Anthony. Swizz had tweeted something like, “I’m on the Adriatic Sea on a yacht. Look who I’m hanging out with” and it’s him with Melo. I did a little Google research and saw that they were buddies. He had mentioned that Melo would love my Tyson painting — I wondered if he mentioned my name to him.
About a month went by. After West Broadway I went to the Meatpacking District where there seemed to be a lot of money — whether or not they were just “car rich” and had six roommates, I don’t know — but one day I brought my 36 x 48 Mike Tyson painting out there to show people, hand out cards, maybe get a commission, maybe a sale. I saw a crowd gathering around this couple walking toward a sports car — it was Melo and his wife LaLa.
YACK: What did you do?
Choate: I thought, I have the Tyson painting with me, there’s Melo, this might be my only chance, because I don’t know if Swizz has mentioned my name or not. So he’s about to get to his car and there’s this big crowd, maybe 40 people, following. I stand in front of the car and hold the painting up over my head. I can’t really see him at this point — my vision is blocked because of the canvas. It’s like the movie Say Anything where John Cusack is holding up the boombox with Peter Gabriel playing. I’m doing one of those.
And then Melo goes, “A-oh, I know that painting. Tyson. Yeah, you’re Swizz’s boy, the painter.” And I was like, “Yeah, Dave Choate” and LaLa says, “Swizz has been talking you up. We know all about you, Dave.” Melo is in the car and reaches across the passenger’s seat, big smile, shakes my hand, “Great to meet you, we’ve been talking about you, we love your work, we’ve been looking at it.” It was just a great emotional high. I was like, I’m on my way.