*All photos courtesy of the artist*
GN: As an Angelino what are your favorite parts of the city?
JL: Funny, I’m drawn to areas that I experienced as a child. From Thailand, we immigrated to the Normandie/Wilshire area. So Koreatown is always a dynamic place for food, Pollo a la Brisa Western and burgeoning art galleries with Commonwealth & Council. I went to Otis during the last years at MacArthur Park. I loved the rhythm and pace of the area, everyone was on his and her toes and it reflected in the work. I’ll always remember coming out of class while people where “cracking” it up across the street. The Traction/Little Tokyo area was also wild back in then, Al’s Bar and loft parties were tons of hedonistic fun. Now my son gets his hipster haircuts down the street and we love Marukai Market food court, family fun!
GN: When did you realize your passion and love for art making?
JL: I remember religiously watching Style with Elsa Klensch every weekend, this was a half hour arts and culture journal on CNN. I was introduced to the likes of Emerson Woelffer, Tadeo Ando and Rifat Özbek among others. In reflection, the magazine format became a template for a way of thinking and processing information.
One artistic discipline was butted next without a sense of hierarchy. So this, coupled with exhibitions from Ad Rienhardt at MOCA and Hannah Höch at LACMA really peaked my interest at the time and eventually became the building blocks to my practice.
GN: This is similar to my experience growing up with Project Runway and starting to blog about fashion when I was younger.
Yeah, the format still exists and is the most attractive thing about the Internet for me. It’s interesting as I teach design through collage; I look at the magazines and realize that I might be teaching this differently in a few years. The tactile nature of cut and paste might be lost, as it is in the Industry.
GN: What does your studio practice entail?
JL: Well, it always starts of with collaging usually from tear sheets. It’s congruent to the way I think. I love its immediacy and it challenges my intuitive, by creating improvisational relationships between images, shapes, color, etc. The magazine shows up again, in my case conceptualizing visual puns, poetry, and/or abstractions rather than telling a story. As I cut out these collages, there are strains that become evident.
The human bust started to recur, maybe residue from my past life as fashion photo “retoucher”. This takes on form through painting with oil, soot and wax, the dull surface, larger scale and muted colors remove it from the original, glossy source. I am interested in the face and the upper torso as terrain for abstraction, which I invent. Hence, identity is reformed and reshaped creating a sense of ambiguity rather than something fixed. These are a “slower burn”, due to the paint application and how it functions in our mind. Another strain in development harkens back to simple ink and brush. I paint foliage in a cursive manner, almost scribe-like and juxtapose it with various shapes, creating a quasi-geometric patterning. These are loose and feel very natural, kind of a cross between the two previous ways of working.
GN: What next?
I like the simmering and developing these bodies of work. The allowance to see things through creates a space for nuance, and this is where it becomes interesting. I guess maturing is a positive thing, it feels good to have some patience and faith that things are going to be revealed through the work.
I’m also thinking about a limited run magazine as a way of re-contextualizing the work. Since a lot of this was originally taken from magazines, it would be interesting to go back and make it source material again. I always loved the format of Warhol’s “Interview Magazine”. Just heard that Ingrid Sischy passed away. What a loss, she was such a seminal figure in culture, writing about a gamut of things including fashion and art.
GN: You mentioned teaching, what would you impart to budding artists?
I always try to convey to my students to experience as much as they can. Whether they choose art making or not, it’s a part of problem solving process which is applicable in any field. If they are bent on becoming an artist and it’s coming from a deep place, finding like-minded people is important. Identifying community makes it much easier as these peers will understand, empathize and share your experiences. Mentors are also invaluable, I always thought of myself as “hard-headed” and not a good listener, but I find myself often reflecting upon what someone said or did, as a lot of this revolves around ideas and the resourcefulness to see it come to fruition.
See more at www.josephleeartist.com.