James Ostrer: ” They can expect to see deeply honest and vulnerable artworks that act as totems of emotional energy both good and bad.”

We managed to catch artist James Ostrer in an airport on his way to bombay beach biennale in Los Angeles.
We were able to grab a few minutes to talk about his awesome new exhibition Finding Me Through You.
Which is on at FELD + HAUS in Frankfurt till the end of March

James Ostrer_Finding Me Through You_Installshot #10

1 Why Valentine’s Day?
Because it was the most perfect day to do a performance where I kill my negative self and also open a show that starts to interrogate the foundational factors of how I relate to love.

2 Why Frankfurt?
My really good friend and great artist Greg Haberny introduced me to Anna Lattman, the Director and owner of Feld+Haus Gallery. His exact words were, “Anna will make you feel safe, loved and cherished. She will nurture you and you will make your best work”. I am in complete gratitude to this promise as it is entirely true and she is an amazing woman.

3 What can people expect to see?
They can expect to see deeply honest and vulnerable artworks that act as totems of emotional energy both good and bad. To launch the opening, I performed a mythologised suicidal hanging of myself wearing a suit of armour made out of mine and my sister’s childhood toys. Some other works are very simple, small figurative ink line drawings. One for example named, “The first person I ever fell in Love with” is a portrait of a currently imprisoned paedophile that was my headmaster at school as a child.

James Ostrer, Fuck A Duck, 2019, 50.8 x 40 x 9 cm
James Ostrer, Fuck A Duck, 2019, 50.8 x 40 x 9 cm

4 Why are you doing a show about you now?
I am often described as a political artist and I honestly think one of the most political acts you can do is change your own negative behaviour and thinking towards yourself and the way you relate to others. Creating conflict on whatever level is based on what you are in reaction too. This show is me exorcising my internal conflicts and discomforts to help me find a freer happier path. The works are from my core and produced without fear of the unknown and I know that honesty can be felt.

5 Have you grown up at last?
LOL……I am definitely growing up as an artist. I started this show by simply and meticulously hand painting squiggles on mini-canvases which required me to strip back everything I have built upon. The idea was that I wanted to engage in a daily practice and meditation through my art that allowed me to feel calm and very much in the moment. I did this for weeks and to feel this grounded really allowed me to access little by little the most emotionally complex aspects to myself without fear or anxiety. I then channelled this pure energy back into the rest of the show.

6 Is it a Love/Hate thing?
It is probably more of a self-hate turning into a self-love thing.

7 How long has it taken to put this show together?
I have been working for months literally non-stop. The only day I took off was to spend Christmas eve/day with my mum which isn’t our usual routine. We spent 24 hours together chilling in her bed watching TV, chatting and resting. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.

James Ostrer_I Am Going To Win The Turner Prize When I Make My Sculpture_Detailshot#1
James Ostrer I Am Going To Win The Turner Prize When I Make My Sculpture Detail shot#1

8 You have used an amazing collection of materials for the work – why?
My mum is essentially an informal archivist that keeps what I would describe as emotion time capsules. There is absolutely no concern for outside opinion as to what she upholds as having sentimentality or a design aesthetic worth keeping. She also has a wicked and funny sense of humour. I decided to include various elements from her collections within the works. Whether that is her cigarette packets and smoked butts “darling these are for you and your sister to make my grave stone from” or my child hood toys and her old fur coats. “Of course you can have them, only wankers would wear these publicly”.

9 So are there any secrets left?
I am not really sure there are. I seriously think that is why I have given up going to therapy. There doesn’t seem to be any more stones that haven’t been unturned. I know who I am and why I behave the way I do. I just need to change this through better choices, discipline, different kinds of support and looking forward not backward.

10 You must be exhausted?
Not at all. I feel fucking energised like I never have before. The day the crates left my studio I went straight back in and started working on new pieces. I have also never felt more emotionally free from my darkness and am loving it.

James Ostrer, Me And Mum In Her Bed 2, 2018, Digital archival print, permanent marker on canvas, 46,5 × 69 cm (framed 73,5 × 97 × 6 cm), Edition of 3 + 1 AP, unique frame
James Ostrer, Me And Mum In Her Bed 2, 2018, Digital archival print, permanent marker on canvas, 46,5 × 69 cm (framed 73,5 × 97 × 6 cm), Edition of 3 + 1 AP, unique frame

James Ostrer, Finding Me Through You through to March 30th at feld-haus.com

You can read James talk to Azu Nwagbogu, Director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art Cape Town, talk about cultural conditioning and appropriation in issue 1 of Art of Conversation avaliable here

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper' AofC - Issue 1 Autumn 2018