- Hanna Lee
Josh Singleton Encourages Artists: Be uniquely you
My eyes trace the swirling vines of tiny white leaves—the imagery sharp against the dark tan color of the clay vase that Josh slowly turns in his hands. The next piece he picks up is a jewelry box. Its flawless execution of shape and craftsmanship is enough to make you hold your breath as he turns it downward. This reveals the intricate micro-design twirling to life in a garden of pale leaves bending around flower blossoms. He explains to me that in Korean culture, flowers can represent meanings, such as “prosperity” or “longevity.”
For example, he uses the plum blossom, “that blooms in the winter, [which] means this kind of prosperity because it’s blooming despite winter conditions.”
Josh uses ceramics as a way to connect to his history and culture. Being raised as an Army brat meant moving… A LOT! He told me that moving every other year during his childhood, and living in six or seven different states, really made it hard for him to find a community. As the son of a Korean mother and a white father, he struggles with his identity.
Although his mother exposed him to the Korean language, history, and culture at a young age, he was conflicted by the expectations of his father to be “American.” Growing up, Josh rejected his Asian side and searched for belonging by trying to “fit in.” He found challenges, however, due to his appearance. Being the only person in school and public environments that looked like him, he struggled to validate his place of belonging among the Asian community, and is just recently reclaiming his identity at the age of 29.
“I’m not Asian enough to be Asian, but I’m not American enough to be American,” he states.
While we both agree that visibility for Asians like him is improving, he explains that there’s still a lot of objectifications of Asian Americans on both sides. Josh brought up the incredible book, "Crying in H Mart" by Michelle Zauner, as an example. Its pages contain a story about a person of mixed Korean and white identities that so many others can relate to as many are similarly searching to connect, or reconnect, to their Asian roots.
Through his work, Josh has found it therapeutic to find ways to connect to his culture and history. He’s found that it makes him face issues he’s suppressed and, in many ways, didn’t know that he had—such as his insecurities about being Asian. He also admits that his work often conjures up memories of his mother and his family’s expectations of him to go into medicine. However, his need to create and express himself through this outlet is ultimately how he chooses to honor himself and reclaim his identity.
Josh began this journey in 2015, when he was shown Korean ceramics during his time in art school. So much of his inspiration is taken from forms and silhouettes that are historically inspired, with his own ceramic twist to it.
Josh finds inspiration in the works of artists like Steven Lee and Sam Chung. He explains to me how they use their pieces to express contemporary thoughts and he compliments their technical skills. He continues on to describe the beauty he finds in another artist’s masterpieces that she creates on skin. Sion Kwak, whose medium is tattooing, reveals complex flowing lines that create beautiful traditional Korean knots. Red and bursting open like a lotus flower as the tail flows, appearing to lay over the body rather than an image embedded in the flesh. Her imagery, which is created as though printed onto delicate fans, can only be described as something you could find hand-painted on ancient East Asian porcelain plates and tea pots—so soft and intricate, the beauty of her art is undeniable.
It’s easy to see how Josh is drawn to these artists. His detail and designs captivate the eye and evoke a deep connection to his Korean heritage. When showing me the lid of a jewelry box, he explains that it is inspired by historic cosmetic boxes. He hand-carves out wedges from the lid and fills the space with a white-colored clay, creating a beautiful inlay pattern around the lip. “This technique was invented by Koreans,” he explains to me as he slowly turns the piece over in his fingers.
One of the most endearing traits I find Josh to have is that he isn’t afraid to put in the muscle and get down and dirty for his work. He makes all of his raw materials himself; stirring up large batches of clay that start as a powder similar to concrete. He said it took him two years to master his craft. And, while he may work six to seven active hours on a single piece, the entire process can take up to four weeks from start to finish.
In the future, Josh hopes to continue to network and participate in more online art shows. His hope is to keep creating until he makes his break into the ceramic and art world. As the conversation winds down, I ask him if there’s any advice he could give other artists or anyone out there trying to achieve what he has with his work.
His response is as genuine and as chill as he is: “Nothing anyone else will make will ever be exactly the way you’re making it, with all your different influences. It’s going to be uniquely you. No one else is going to be you. You have the right to your own identity, whatever that may be. There’s never a perfect time. Even if I’m not having the perfect day, I’m still working on it, I’m still trying.”
To view and purchase Josh’s work go to: joshsingletonceramic.Etsy.com.
Follow him on Instagram: @joshsingletonceramic