Josh Keyes was born in 1969 in Tacoma, WA. Keyes earned a bachelor’s degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s degree in painting and printmaking from Yale University, and now resides in Portland, OR. In growing up in the lush Northwestern region, you can definitely see it reflected in the subject matter of his work. From commonly using North American wildlife (deer, wolves, orcas ext.) to his apparent views on the humans relationship with our environment. His work is described as “a satirical look at the impact urban sprawl has on the environment and surmises, with the aid of scientific slices and core samples, what could happen if we continue to infiltrate and encroach on our rural surroundings.” I see a direct correlation of this mindset to growing up in the more liberal and environmentally conscious Northwest area. His work has developed over the past years into an iconic and complex personal vocabulary of imagery that creates a mysterious and sometimes unsettling contrast between the natural world and the man made landscape. Keyes is drawn to the clinical and often cold vocabulary of scientific textbook illustrations, which express the empirical “truth” of the world and natural phenomena.
I personally follow his work by how quietly disturbing it is. It’s meant to read like a laboratory – where animals, ecosystems, and even humans, are reduced to simple objects. These amazingly choreographed vignettes set the viewer into a (very possible) post-apacolypic setting where nature and humans are put back on to the same playing field. I also can appreciate the amount of research that goes into his work. It’s obvious that all of his forms and characters are rendered realistically, but to see them all perfectly lit the same and with an awesome composition is just mind blowing. He infuses into a rational stage many references to contemporary events along with images and themes from his personal mythology and experience. These elements come together in an unsettling vision, one that speaks to the challenges of our time.
Josh Keyes’ work is a hybrid of eco-surrealism and dystopian folktales that express a concern for our time and the Earth’s future, and I for one, will continue paying attention to him, his message, and his work.