Utah Artists Project Logo

Joseph E. Ostraff

Joseph Evan Ostraff was born in Santa Monica, California in 1957. He is an artist best known for his paintings of fish, birds, and other animals taken out of their normal environments. He lives in Alpine, Utah.

Ostraff earned a BFA in painting and drawing from Brigham Young University in 1982. He later earned an MFA in painting from the University of Washington, Seattle in 1984. He taught art in public schools before joining the faculty of BYU as an assistant professor of art.

Ostraff's work has been exhibited at the spring salons of Springville Museum of Art in 2003 and 2004. His One Square/One Cube, an encaustic/oilwork work, was part of the juried Mixed Media & Works on Paper sponsored by the Utah Arts Council. Albino Trout (1989) is part of the Springville Museum of Art permanent collection.

Biography adapted from Artists of Utah and material supplied by the artist.

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 B.Y.U. 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 lumber jacking 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 national 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 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 openings. Along with the uncommon 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 this is 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 based upon mutant 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.“

Contact email at: joseph_ostraff@byu.edu

Biography courtesy of artist.

Newspaper Articles

"2001 Mixed Media's Worth Trip." The Deseret News, September 16, 2001.

"Art Canvass." The Deseret News, October 9, 1994.

"Art Within Proximity." The Deseret News, December 14, 2003.

"Coming Up: Visual Arts." The Salt Lake Tribune, July 10, 1994.

"Expo 16, B. J. Spoke Gallery." New York Times, March 16, 1997.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, June 22, 1997.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, October 23, 1994.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, March 10, 1996.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, April 26, 1998.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, August 11, 1991.

"Galleries." The Deseret News, March 5, 1995.

"Inclusions, A Collaborative Exhibition." The Deseret News, February 22, 1995.

"Paint by Numbers at Art Access Gallery." The Salt Lake Tribune, October 10, 1999.

"The Reunion Exhibit Features Work of '35." The Deseret News, September 29, 1996.

"Second Nature." Salt Lake City Weekly, September, 2004.

"Showing At Local Galleries." The Deseret News, November 2, 2003.

"Showing At Local Galleries." The Deseret News, June 30, 2002.

"Showing At Local Galleries." The Deseret News, June 3, 2001.

"Showing At Local Galleries." The Deseret News, November 7, 1999.

"Snow Canyon: The Place and the Art." Salt Lake Magazine, February 2000.

"South Pass: An Installation." L.D.S. Church News, December 6, 1997.

"Utah Islanders Learn to Merge Two Cultures." The Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 1998.

"Visual Jazz Implies Rhythm for the Eyes." The Deseret News, October 12, 1996.


Olpin, Robert S., William C. Seifrit, and Vern G. Swanson. Artists of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1999.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, Donna Poulton and Janie L. Rogers. 150 Year Survey Utah Art & Artists. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2002.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publishing Co, 1991.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Painting and Sculpture. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1997.


15 Bytes. "Utah 2001: The Abstracting influence of paper" 15 Bytes. Artistsorutah.org, November 2001.

15 Bytes. "300 Plates The First Annual Art Access Fundraiser & Exhibition." 15 Bytes. Artistsofutah.org, May 2003.

Backdraft Magazine. "Firefighters and Art Galleries, Why Not?" Backdraft Magazine, Fall Issue, 2003.

Catalyst Magazine. "Partners Exhibition." Catalyst Magazine, June 1996.

Catalyst magazine. "Shelters Exhibition." Catalyst Magazine, March 1996.

Durham, Laura. "Making Waves in New Zealand." Artists of Utah, June 2004.

Durham, Laura. "The Art Must Stand Alone: Utah Arts Council's Utah 2002." 15 Bytes. Artistsofutah.org. December, 2002.

Eastern New Mexico University. "Scene Unseen 1993." Eastern New Mexico University, 1993.

Springville Museum of Art. "65th, 67 th, 68 th, 70 th Utah Spring Salon." Springville Museum of Art, 1989-1994.

Utah Arts Council. "A View of Nine." Utah Arts Council, 1993-1994.

Utah Arts Council. "VAC Visual Art Fellowship." Utah Arts Council. Repertoire, Second Quarter, 1993.

Utah Museum of Art. "Utah '90, '92, & '94, Painting & Sculpture Exhibition." Utah Museum of Art, 1990-1994.

Utah Special Educator. "Inclusions." Utah Special Educator, Vol 15 No. 7, May 1996.

Open Chat
 Last Modified 5/25/23