Cool Friends: Jocelyn Miller 

August 26, 2022

Meet Jocelyn, the creative talent behind Soft Skills, a studio project dedicated to sharing art and design imprinted with the social and emotional intelligences of the body. We love Jocelyn’s sculptural and everyday ceramics so we caught up with her to hear how she got her start.

How did you start your career as a ceramicist?

I’ve always made things intuitively, with a special interest in the power of objects and their ability to transmit the presence of those who shaped them. I started my career as an arts worker, a good fit for someone not quite sure they could swing making art full-time, but who liked looking at and thinking critically about art almost as much. After spending nearly a decade working as a curator at PS1 in Queens—where I learned gratefully and deeply working alongside fellow artists—my own studio exerted a stronger and stronger pull. I was feeling institutional spaces losing their luster, inspired most by independent, artist-run settings. I tested this instinct through some foundational artist residencies, first at Haystack in Maine, and then at Pocoapoco in Oaxaca. After a few years of laying financial groundwork, I was able to grow into a full-time studio practice. In the process, I’ve discovered so many different art worlds, expanding my sense of community and possibility in the arts. I count myself lucky that my work as an art historian grounds my work as an artist.

What's your favorite part about the New York creative community?

New York feels particularly alive and juicy right now, even if you have to work like a demon to live here (luckily I love what I do!) Productive friction is inevitable, even useful. An architect friend was telling me about desire paths, unplanned trails that naturally emerge over time from the erosion of people’s footsteps venturing beyond paved routes to forge new pathways. New York is riddled with explosive constellations of these paths that bring us into contact with special humans.

Among the nodes in my own mapping are local studios like BKLYN Clay, Artshack, and Gasworks; Simone Bodmer-Turner, who generously welcomed me into a workshop; and some of the first places to sell my work: the ever-energetic Hester Street Fair, my neighbor in Bedstuy, Ayo Balogun, at his hyper-sweet gathering spot, The Council, and Friends of Form and Kallmeyer, both of whom included soft skills in early community sales.

Being here has led to so many rich relationships where I’ve felt extremely supported.  I’m so thankful that some of my favorite local shops, galleries, and studios have shared my work with their communities, including Atelier LK, Mociun, Of The Cloth, and Raini Home. Working with these partners laid the groundwork for soft skills to expand production for collaborations like our forthcoming drop with SSENSE, allowing my work to grow in ambition, and exist between retail and gallery spaces.

Especially now, when savoring shared space feels especially important, I’m happy to be based in a community where art is present in everything. Places like Tione Trice’s project space Of The Cloth, featuring his thoughtful collecting and spatial orchestration alongside music or florals or other community programming, or O Studio, where chef residencies combine with ceramic studios to produce vessels for table-making, are inspiring hybrids that invite everyone in to participate in artistic collaboration.

What's inspiring you right now?

Right now I’m excited about bringing elements of chance into my work. Because most of my forms tend towards the minimal and precise, my new kink is letting go. I’ve been studying kiln-building and “atmospheric” firing methods outside the traditional electric kilns one finds in most studios. These often look like humble bonfires or smoking metal trash cans in which smoke clouds and fire scorches act as natural paintbrushes. This balance between control and riffing feels a little like cooking; you can throw some sawdust or dried seaweed on the fire, and experience unexpected fireworks.

I’m always looking to other artists and communities pushing creative conversations forward. I’m so impressed by The People’s Pottery Project, a collectively-owned ceramics business empowering formerly incarcerated women, trans and non-binary makers. It was cool to see vintage furniture hive, Lichen, hosting a handbuilding workshop recently. Hannah Levy’s High Line commission, a sculpted steel and Carrara marble bench in the shape of an orthodontic retainer, blew my mind. DIY spaces like micro-cinema UnionDocs refill my cup after a long day in the studio. I’m also a sucker for a delightfully conceived space. My new neighborhood bar Singers opened with a piglet-petting tea party, and my friend described their decor perfectly as Italian-restaurant-by-way-of-David Lynch. They have these spindly, anthropomorphic star-shaped throw pillows that I can’t stop thinking about.

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Made in Brooklyn, NY