Interview with Joseph Lee



Joseph Lee is a self-taught artist based out of Los Angeles. His portraits channel various observations ranging from pop culture references to the daily people he encounters on the street. His "faces" capture an external likeness while evoking the complexities of the human emotion beneath. At 27, Joseph continues to explore his never-ending fascination of true and primal emotions behind societal "masks".






Hey Joseph, today you will talk with MoW about five of your artworks that were inspired by music. 

Can you start by telling MoW why you chose to create artworks inspired by music?

Most of these paintings were commissioned pieces, but I generally enjoy painting portraits regardless of who they are. I like to listen to the artists’ music when I’m painting them. I don’t think it makes any significant impact on the work, but it helps me to focus a bit more on the person I’m trying to create.

Can you tell MoW the story behind each artwork? 

The stories are similar. I either saw a reference photo that I really liked or heard one of their songs. Or I got paid.

Mama's Boy


Do you have a favorite piece between the ones presented today?

I would say ‘Mama’s Boy’ (see on the right). Growing up in the Midwest, Kanye West albums were like theme songs to me. I was 17 years old and could finally start processing music. This guy was rapping ‘Me and my mama hopped in that U-Haul van.’ That was my life at the time summed up in one bar.    

Can you tell Mow more about your techniques and how long does it takes you to make an artwork?

I enjoy working with all mediums, but I primarily work with oils and acrylics. I use a lot of palette knives.  I really can’t say how long an average painting takes. They’re all different. I’ve finished paintings in 5 hours and obsessed over others for months.

Why is music important to you, in your life and in your art? 

Music elevates whatever mood I’m in. I can’t paint without it.

Artworks are times capsules. One day I will be dead and my future grandchildren can see a glimpse of who and what was relevant during my lifetime.

Do you have plans on creating new artworks inspired by music/musicians ?

Sure. In a way, all of my work is inspired by music.




Do you listen to music when you're working? 

Currently, I’m listening to a lot of ratchet hip-hop. It’s the best. I used to listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but that’s when I was high in college and had all the time in the world to analyze songs. Now, I just need something to physically shake me up.

What is the song you liked the most lately? 

                                          Dave East “Diddy Grind”                                                                                                               ASAP Mob “Crazy Brazy”

What album? 

The last solid album that I listened to straight through was Justin Bieber’s album. Anyone that says different is insecure and lying.

What was the last gig you went to ?

The last concert I went to was Kanye’s TLOP show in Los Angeles.

Are you a musician ? 

I wish but I can only envy my musician friends. For me, painting is punk rock.  It’s feeling over technique.  There are no rules. It’s a giant ‘fuck you’ to all the other aspects of my life that I have no control over. My mother raised me to be a gentleman, but inside is Sid Vicious carving “GIMME A FIX” on his chest. Without the heroin.