Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Jocelyn Leo

Note: Be advised there is potential triggering imagery in this piece.

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Jocelyn (Joce) Leo (they/she).

Joce is a multi-media artist and survivor navigating being human. Joce works a lot with self portraiture as well as collages. They often combine visual and textual art to better tell a story and elevate their pieces. Due to the personal and serious nature of the concepts covered, Joce lists all of their work under a content warning.

Joce did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

i tend to make work with whatever media or style that i enjoy working with at that moment in time, and this changes a lot. i tend to always come back to intertwining photo, sculpture, collage, and text-based media together in my work, and i enjoy working with negative space, black-and-white or muted color schemes, short bursts of text, self-portraiture, and body-focused art. for me, the theme and subject matter tends to inform the style that i employ. i want my work to be hard to view at times, but i also want to balance that with care and compassion for who is viewing my work. 

How do you approach your photographic pieces?

photography meets me where i’m at. most of my photographic pieces have been shot on days that i’m having a hard time. focusing on composing an image (specifically self-portraiture) allows me to express myself with my body in a way that is not through utilizing my eating disorder. i am often thinking about how to talk about pain and suffering through body-focused self-portraiture because my eating disorder serves that same purpose. in terms of how i logistically take photos, i shoot against a blank wall so that i have space to project words and other elements (because this has lately been an important tool for me), and i set up a tripod. i also tend to think about how to compose a self-portrait that is less about ME, and more about the theme of the work. my hope is that my photographic pieces are less to do with me and more to do with shared experience, a way of entering into an experience that i share with many, many other people. 

Jocelyn Leo, Systemic Girl. Digital photography with analog collage elements. 2022.

What is it like working with models for your art? Do you act as a director? 

much of my work lately has been self-portraiture, so i tend to direct myself. this can be really awkward to know how to position my body, almost at times more awkward than it is to work with models. working with models is something that i absolutely love! i don’t necessarily act as a director because i tend to like to photograph people when they are engaging with themselves in a natural way. sometimes, i’ll give people a general direction like, “can you look at the camera?” or “turn your body X way.” i think a part of what i enjoy about working with other people in photos is letting people find their own comfortability and authenticity in front of the camera and allowing them to know that they have autonomy. there are also so many times that i want to photograph people in my life but don’t know how to broach it because i worry people will change how they present when a camera is pulled out! 

How does inspiration usually strike you?

injustice is where much of the inspiration for my work stems from. absolute rage towards the systems that are supposed to help us (and don’t), absolute sadness for our inner children and teenagers who were never heard or believed or listened to, absolute terror towards what our society is headed towards, and absolute frustration that there are so many people who engage in some level of being complicit with a greater harmful system despite having good intentions (including, in the past, myself). inspiration comes from my need to enter the advocacy scene while also knowing that i don’t want to fall into the category of “inspiration porn,” because my artwork (and no one’s artwork) is more important when a person is “fully healed” (if there is such a thing). inspiration also strikes me when i spend time with the people that i love. the genuine, loving platonic intimacy that i witness on a daily basis with my friends, classmates, mentors, clients, and even sometimes strangers inspires me to create art because they remind me that making art is a powerful tool against losing our gentleness. 

You combine textual with visual art. How do you determine if a certain piece needs text?

i actually see my visual art and textual art as very separate while i’m creating them, but then when i create an image, i see the overlaps in themes in my poetry and textual work. then, i choose to combine them through projection or through editing software. i tend to add text where i think the image does not tell enough of the story and needs to be more “literal.” i tend to be very literal in my artwork in an attempt to not shy away from difficult conversations — we do enough of that as humans. text is very important in most of my visual art! 

You also work with light and projection. How do you determine appropriate lighting?

lately, i’ve been very interested in how to capture shadow with lighting. using a projector has been perfect in terms of allowing me to incorporate text or another image into one image, but also to create dramatic shadows. finding the proper sources for lighting is something i struggle with and something that i’m still learning about!

Jocelyn Leo, untitled. Digital photography. 2022.

With your collages, how do you determine mediums and the composition of what you put where?

what i enjoy most about making collages is their physical tactility; the actual act of cutting out photography found objects, magazines, poetry, etc. and gluing it to a surface. i don’t usually pre-plan my collages in terms of mediums or compositions. throughout my days, i will find objects, found materials, magazines, etc and save them for future collages. i will also print my photography, poetry, drawings, scanned objects, images of sculpture work, etc and save those. i like to not think too much when i place bits and pieces down. sometimes, i’ll choose to not even glue everything down and just place elements directly on a scanner. i like that i can move elements around and create an entirely different composition out of the same elements and artwork. 

Thanks for sharing, Joce! If you would like to see more of Joce’s work, you can reach out to them – @lynlightstheirway – on Instagram.