Ceramics capture the imagination of local artist Skoby Joe

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For Joseph Skoby, his art career started when he was 14 — a freshman in high school in Orange County — when he took a class in ceramic arts because it was the cool thing to do. Little did he know, Skoby said that the class would lead him down a creative path to become an internationally recognized ceramics artist.

"Skoby Joe," as he's known now, creates his often imperfect, but always striking, pieces in an intimate studio at his home in Bird Rock, usually with his two young daughters and wife nearby. His wife is also his marketing guru. Each vessel that Skoby Joe makes is one-of-a-kind.

In this interview, he talks about his art, his family, his love for surfing, and working as night manager at El Pescador Fish Market.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

After that high school class, me and a friend of mine, Nick, were just super into it and we found this studio where you could go after school a couple of days a week. And we would just hang, put on good music, and we just totally dug being in the studio and making stuff.

Since surfing is one of your other passions, does it play into your art?

There's an element of flow to surfing, as well as to ceramics. You have to be really in tune with it. There were a lot of times when I doubted it as a medium. But there's something profound about taking earth and sculpting it into a form that's considered beautiful. To me, there's something there that touches deep into a part of being a human being.

Do you know what you're going to make when you sit down at the wheel?

I don't know what I'm going to make. I just like the process of being there and doing it. It's such a fluid motion; I like to let it just kind of come. You don't know what the clay's going to do and sometimes you're throwing a piece and there's a little wobble in it. It doesn't seem to go right, so you kind of react to that. I kind of treat it like a wave, like, 'oh, let's see what this wave's going to do,' and act accordingly.

How did you come to embrace imperfection in your pieces?

It happens naturally sometimes, like some pieces cracking, which happens in the kiln ... or pieces falling over because it's too thin ... and then, just seeing the beauty in it and going with it, and realizing those are some of the best pieces. It's kind of a cool ethos — letting it go and finding the beauty in all of it and realizing, when you try less, it actually comes out better.

Japanese ceramic work is the coolest. They always embraced imperfection and a lot of their tradition and history comes from that. But it took me a while to get to that point. I used to try to make perfect pieces. Peter Voulkos (an American artist known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures) talked about that moment of forgetting about trying to be perfect and stop caring about it — that's when real creativity can happen.

It's one thing being an artist and another thing to market yourself. How did you join the two?

I work as a night manager at El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla, and that's where I originally got the idea of selling pieces through the fish market. I was half-joking with Sean (the owner) about putting them on the counter and selling them and he said, 'Yeah, do it.' So I put them up there and they started selling.

Then I met my wife, Cristiana, and she said,'This is what you should be doing!' She was a huge part of pushing me more toward a professional career as an artist. She suggested making a website. I didn't think it was necessary but, of course, it was. I needed to make those big steps for my art to grow into what it is now, because I wasn't able to do that on my own.

What's it like when you sit down at the wheel?

Being centered is when the best work comes. You kind of have to be, or you can't do it — it ends up just failing you. The work is really meditative and contemplative, and most of the time, I'm listening to music. It's just quiet and focused and everything else blends and fades away a little bit, and you're just in the moment.

Skoby Joe's artwork is sold at Amy Meier Design in Rancho Santa Fe, as well as stores in Los Angeles and Tokyo.

ON THE WEB: View Skoby Joe's full gallery of his ceramics at skobyjoe.com

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