Written by Arden Cho

We got to #spendtime with Joseph Lee

December 12 2018

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Joe and I first became friends in 2011. He'd just finished college and moved to Los Angeles from West Lafayette Indiana and was on the audition grind just as I was. (You may recognize him from the movie 'Searching'.) What I admired about him most was that he never limited his creativity. He was an actor, but he was also a painter. Only a few years after moving to the west coast, he got his own studio. I remember how brand new it was -- full of potential. Getting to go back to the space this week to interview him, I saw how much he'd breathed life into the spaces with his work. The potential became a reality and he continues to create art that inspires anyone that lays eyes on his paintings.


How did you get into painting?

While I was pursuing acting, I discovered a love of painting by meeting artists, going to galleries and seeing street art. From there it just became a world where I became obsessed over this craft and now I’m in a place in my life where I’m able to balance both passions and its brought me to this studio in Downtown LA.

What do you want to share?

I want to share with the world the things that I enjoy the most. My creative expression, individuality, sense of pride for the community - whether it’s cultural pride or creative community.

A lot of your work is faces, how did that happen?

I've always had this insatiable curiosity for people. I’m a people watcher. I’m that guy in every room who sits in the corner and just observes the crowd. That same curiosity led to studying acting and painting portraits.

What keeps you going?

I have an insane chip on my shoulder, I never feel like I’m good enough and its fueled by a Korean mother who is just never content with anything. She keeps her head down, keeps moving forward, that single parent hustle - that’s all I’ve ever known.

My advice for young actors/artists is to not take in too much advice. It’s not to say you shouldn’t keep an open mind, but as an artist, YOUR instincts matter more than what anybody else tells you. All we have is our creative point-of-view. Work hard to find that and you’ll be happier than most people on this earth.

How do you spend your time?

I enjoy being by myself. I like to paint. I like to walk around with my camera around the neighborhood meeting locals, taking photos. Going to the movies. I feel like, I need a counter balance from the acting side where so much is collaborative and selling yourself. I need to be able to decompress by myself and refuel.

How would you have told young Joe to spend his time?

To be more present. It's so easy to check out and kind of hibernate in my own mental space. It disconnects from the people closest to me. I’m at a place in my life where I’m trying to balance that out a little bit more. I’d tell that young Joe, just to stay present.

What would you consider your style?

I easily absorb into my environment so whether it's my studio or the streets of LA, I’m consumed by what I see or what's around me. For me right now, I’m in the fashion district surrounded by many tones and textures. 

Colors I see from fabric stores, come into my work and tend to be what I wear and what I create. I enjoy adapting to other placeslearning and becoming one with where I am.

Do you like to Accessorize?

I love watches, I’m not into jewelry but my father used to always tell me that a mans most important things are his belt and his watch. So I grew up with the idea that this is the added spice every man needs in his life.

Wise words from your father! Do you have a favorite Leonard & Church watch?

Yes, the Sullivan (which I'm wearing today) & the Crosby. 

Where can we see your work?

I just finished the Scope Art Show but I will be exhibiting work at the LA Art Show January 23-27, 2019. I have some murals coming out and one will be at Chapman Plaza, in the heart of Koreatown. You can also find my work through a few galleries (Art Unified, Mirus Gallery). For direct sales & custom commissions, contact info@josephleeart.com

If you had to choose, acting or painting?

Both sides counterbalance my life. I need both. In acting, I value the collaborative effort it takes to put together any project. There is humility in recognizing that you are a small piece to this grand puzzle. In painting, I am completely selfish and narcissistic. I have every liberty to paint what I want at any given time. Both professions represent these very basic human qualities for me, and that keeps me mentally balanced. With that said, I would rather die with a paint brush in-hand than in the middle of a scene.

Thank you Joe for spending time with Leonard & Church and I can't wait to see more of your artwork and films. 

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Photos by Luke Rieke

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