Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Memories, nostalgia, personal pasts and shared experiences—all of these elements have helped shape Daniel Ostrov’s glass art and kept him connected to his native Madison.

While he now lives and works in Philadelphia, Ostrov got his start in art growing up on Madison’s west side. He credits Geof Herman, a teacher who leads the ceramics program at James Madison Memorial High School, with getting him interested in three-dimensional art. He recalls spending time after school in Herman’s studio throwing pottery.

And although Ostrov had a love of art—not to mention a natural talent for it—he didn’t plan to pursue it when he entered Tulane University in New Orleans. He wasn’t sure exactly what field he wanted to go into, but he began taking glass classes as electives. And he kept taking them. “I was in the art room a lot,” he says.

Once again he found inspiration in a teacher, this time Gene Koss, head of the glass program. “He’s a pretty intense guy,” Ostrov says. “It’s funny because he’s actually from Wisconsin.”

It was at Tulane that Ostrov began creating large-scale works—something Koss and graduates of the program are known for, and that had long intrigued Ostrov. “I’ve always been interested in making things that were of human scale,” he says. “I’m not really into dainty work.”

But in order to make large glass pieces, Ostrov had to master the medium, not an easy task given its physical and mental demands. “It’s a very intense working process, almost like playing a sport,” he says. “You have to be very focused for a set amount of time. You’re totally focused and totally there. I really like that about glass.”

The medium soon led him to Tyler College of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, from which he earned an MFA in sculpting earlier this year. However, it was anything but an easy journey. The program was demanding and the critiques brutal. “Tyler really broke down a lot of the ways I’d been making work,” Ostrov says.

A benefit was a new way of creating glass art. He wanted to make work that viewers could move through, finding different spaces and vantage points along the way. “It was not easy but I was really going for an idea of making art that was not just observed but experienced,” he says. “I wanted there to be an element of discovery,” he says.

Ostrov also gravitated toward ideas of memories and nostalgia, particularly the longing—but impossibility—of returning to the past. “I became really fascinated with the idea of nostalgia,” he says. “I think of it as longing for the past, longing for homeland—a lot of the ways I think of Madison.”

But in his second year at Tyler, he took on a broader view of nostalgia. In his artist’s statement he writes, “One of the essential human dilemmas is the yearning for, but inability to return to, the past. I see this desire manifest in two ways: the nostalgia for a lived past, as in specific memories from childhood, and the universal longing for a lost age of civilization. I am specifically interested in this longing for ‘the lost era’ because it is a memory shared by many that none actually physically experienced.”

In incorporating these ideas into his artwork, Ostrov turned to nautical imagery. Old wooden boats and waterways reminded him of how people used to travel and trade. This led to thinking about shipwreck imagery, a notion he’s still exploring in his work.

This Friday, November 7 through November 29, Ostrov—along with painter Dennis Nechvatal and needlepoint artist Mary Bero—will showcase work at Grace Chosy Gallery (and a percentage of proceeds will be donated to American Children’s Hospital to buy art for the surgical waiting area). Some work comes from his MFA thesis show at Tyler.

And while Ostrov won’t be at the show’s opening on Friday from 6–8 p.m.—he will be in North Carolina for another exhibition of his work at the Craven Arts Council and Gallery—he will unveil a new piece incorporating glass forms and a steel box. “This one I see as a bit more abstract,” he says. “It doesn’t delve into those themes as much as my thesis show.”

Ostrov has a show going up at the end of January in Brooklyn, New York, and another in Philadelphia in June.

But here’s hoping he creates more memories to share with his hometown.

Images are courtesy of Daniel Ostrov.

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