Josh Ostraff – North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Thin Walls: Same spot on the wall Medium: Acrylic, wood panel Size: 4’ x 6’ Date: 2010

Thin Walls: Same spot on the wall Medium: Acrylic, wood panel Size: 4’ x 6’ Date: 2010

Briefly describe the work that you do.

I am interested in shared living experiences and the stories that derive from them. The stories I know best are my own, so I tend to explore my own connection to those shared living experiences through painting and drawing.

At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?

I grew up with a dad who is an artist and educator. Watching him I saw firsthand the interesting people he met and with whom he worked, the places that his art opened up to visiting, and the fun that was possible. It looked pretty good and has led me to where I am now.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

My family is a big influence on me. Having kids has helped shaped how I work. When I get home from work I want to spend time with them. They often spend time with me in the studio working on projects along side me. I also schedule time to work alone at key times during my week. I have learned to make those scheduled times count. I work hard and get a lot done and in the end I find a nice balance.

Thin Walls: They Stopped Medium: Acrylic, Wood Panel Size: 8’ x 14’ Date: 2012

Thin Walls: They Stopped Medium: Acrylic, Wood Panel Size: 8’ x 14’ Date: 2012

What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?

I had this experience a few years ago that helped set up the conceptual thinking involved in my Thin Walls series. I had woken one morning and had gone into my bathroom to brush my teeth and while I was doing that I began to hear other teeth brushing sounds. It hit me; my neighbor and I were staring at the same spot on the wall due to apartment plumbing. This started a series ofinvestigative works that responded through painting, drawing, and film to sounds thin walls are unable to contain.

This experience started my thinking about the human figure and living spaces in a shared enviornment. As I began to make paintings, I found I was practicing a reductive aesthetic bychoosing to simpfly and at times eliminate lines, compositionalstructures, and layers of paint, leaving just enough information to define certain boundaries. I liked the idea that saying less was saying more. Artists like Hopper, Sanchez, Katz, Kuitco, and Hockney found a vocabulary in emphasizing color, form, and line through removing or flattening elements. The key to not allowing this reductive aesthetic to go too far has been to find a ”rightness”. 

Robert Marshall, my BFA advisor, wrote and told me “Painting has been and will always be a delicate exercise in equilibrium—a juggling game of relative amounts—a search for appropriate relationships and intentions. The painter adds to the image only to later subtract what has just been painstakingly included. The ‘rightness’ of the painting evolves as artists realize that they are only facilitators; that the painting itself demands various adjustments and that the painter imposes a specific direction upon the painting only as the painting sustains that direction.”

The vital role of making choices leads to the facilitation of the “rightness” of a work. This is a skill that can only be developed through experience. I worked through a whole series of paintings, drawings, even film, changing and developing the work along the way. In this way, the end product represents more than what can be seen, just as the decisions that go into a painting are usually unrecognized by the viewer without some background information. The choices and work that I have made throughout my life and specifically in this work have allowed me to develop the experience of knowing what I feel is that “rightness.”

Thin Walls: Sudden Silence Medium: Acrylic, Wood Panel Size: 8’ x 14’ Date: 2012

Thin Walls: Sudden Silence Medium: Acrylic, Wood Panel Size: 8’ x 14’ Date: 2012

We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?

Teaching has been a great motivator. I hate the idea of being a hypocrite, telling my students to work harder, only to not work hard myself. I also want to be a better teacher and artist. I have seen that when I push myself in my studio practice I progress at both of those things.

What artists living or non-living influence your work?

There are too many artists to list that have influenced me. That said, my dad Joseph Ostraff has been one of the artists that has impacted my life the most. I consider him one of my best friends. We talk about and share ideas, we have worked on projects together, and we both teach. I have a lot of reasons to want to be influenced by him. For me most important has been his desire to see me grow, improve, while recognizing what is special about me. I am grateful for his presence in my life. 

IMG_4069When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in? 

I love hiking, fishing, camping, I guess exploring the outdoors in general. Traveling is nice when I can afford it, which is not often. I like reading, especially about the organic and local movements. I like to spend time with my wife and kids doing things that interest them. Being involved in helping them be successful or engaged is pretty amazing and satisfying. I also find myself drawing little house plans with the hope someday I will be able to find a place and the money to build one of them.


The Studio


All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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