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Joseph Evan Ostraff
(Santa Monica, California, 1957 - )
Joseph Ostraff, a native of Southern California, has been a resident of Utah since 1986. After graduating from Laguna Beach High School in California, Joseph attended Brigham Young University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in painting. After his BYU experience Joseph married Melinda Weston and moved to Seattle, where he attended graduate school at the University of Washington, receiving a Master of Fine Arts Degree in painting. Since then he has done everything from lumberjacking in Idaho, sweeping floors in a department store, selling his paintings on the streets of Seattle for gas money, and building a house on the Kitsap Peninsula- to traveling the South Pacific on funds collected from art commissions, exhibiting nationally and internationally, and most recently making a documentary film on the traditional art of Tapa cloth-making in Tonga. Joseph has also taught in the public school system for seven years and is currently an assistant professor of art at Brigham Young University.
Joseph's mother has been quoted as saying, " What happened to my boy? He used to be so good at art." Allan Fern, curator at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC and juror for the 1993 Utah Arts Council Fellowship Competition, is quoted as saying, upon his selection of Joseph to be one of the fellowship recipients, " Joseph seems to have some pent up anger and uses nature as a metaphor to address social concerns." Joseph's response to these two statements is, "When you're doing something you feel is really important many people and especially your mother may not understand you." Secondly, "I consider myself to be a friendly, easy-going artist, but my work does express a frustration towards the way we treat nature and each other. Hopefully the things I do as an artist will have some positive impact on the people within my community."
Joseph is best known for his paintings of fish, birds, and other animals taken out of context from their natural environment. You find his animals swimming down a street or passing through a window or door . Along with the uncanny placement of nature and man-made architectural forms you may find other objects such as I-beams, pop cans, springs, and children's toys scattered around. All these are put together in his paintings in an effort to suggest alternative ways for us to look at the world. Albino Trout is a painting about natural selection. Within nature, albino traits are carried upon mutated genes that occur randomly within a species. Many animals that have this genetic trait are singled out by predators and have great difficulty surviving. Joseph says, " It fascinates me that we would take this trait and use it to develop albino trout in our fish hatcheries so that people who fish for sport can catch these mutant trout in our rivers, lakes, and streams." Albino Trout, the painting, questions humanity's constant reversal of natural laws and the motives for such actions.
"The fact that our culture has a word like nature implies some sort of separation between ourselves, our culture, and our view of nature. As I peer from my comfortable position of security out towards this wilderness, I see a multitude of complex patterns and ordering systems that are intriguing to me. I see a world that is perplexing and unpredictable."
"Painting is my way of developing a personal sense of pattern and order in response to what I see. The repeated act of painting solidifies my place in nature, while decreasing my need to manipulate, possess, or control nature."