James Ostrer is currently exhibiting ‘The Ego System’ in Hong Kong, a body of work that challenges the concept of fame and the process of celebrity worship
We love celebrities. Seemingly, even if we hate them. Despite invoking endless torrents of “I fucking hate her!” each time she appears on a website, Kim Kardashian was the most Google-searched person in 2015 across 26 countries and heavily clicked on. Similarly, Donald Trump might make mind-blowingly awful, heavily criticised remarks on a daily basis, but he’s by far and away the most searched for US presidential candidate. Like it or not, we’re hooked.
In his latest body of work The Ego System, artist James Ostrer is seeking to challenge the idea that our modern icons and the very concept of celebrity isn’t what it seems to be. “I am responding to the vast divide between what we are being sold and what we are actually getting. I’ve labelled them “Emotional Downloads” as in the process of making them I am trying to remove the information in my head that I realise won't represent value systems that will lead towards my own happiness.”
On his grotesque artwork of Donald Trump (pictured above), Ostrer says, “I am responding to the vast divide between what we are being sold and what we are actually getting. Trump is a self-proclaimed success story of delusion. This right-wing Middle American madness spearheads the complete lack of care for the rest of the world and its population. Donald Trump professes to be a hugely successful businessman capable of leading America into economic success, yet in reality he is a maniacal narcissistic billionaire that inherited his wealth and lost more than he has gained through failed business choices. At the same time he is using his current media platform to drive further racial divide in humanity.”
Ostrer does not resent the individuals but rather the system that creates them. Discussing what he describes as “Factory Faming”, he says, “I see increasing parallels between the hyper-productivity of factory farming and what I regard as the Factory Faming of talent and celebrity, with the primary focus being vast profit over everything else.”
See the rest of his portraits below, accompanied by his context for the work.
“Damien’s shark piece came out during my first year of art school and it blew my mind. He instantly became an art hero and I love and defend him every time people dismiss what he produces now as a load of bollocks for the rich to trade amongst themselves. When the artwork A Thousand Years first came out 17 years ago, Lucian Freud said that he felt sorry for Damien as he had made the best piece of work he ever could so early on in his career. This is as much a portrait about Hirst as it is about me and the second album syndrome fear I had after the success of my last show.”
“Cara famously has MADE IN ENGLAND tattooed on the sole of one of her feet and says it’s all about her modelling career. She is quoted as saying “you’re looked through, you’re not looked at, you are treated as a kind of mannequin...you kind of feel that you need to have no soul really, to do that job’. This work is more like a totem of the realities of the business she works in rather than about her as an individual. This piece is about the relationship between the icons that are positioned by brands to endorse what they have to sell but ultimately just become disregarded pawns in the corporate machine to drive greater consumption.”
“When I walk through the airport and see a huge billboard of a shamed golf star selling watches, I start to think I actually need an expensive watch. Walking through the airport and seeing a big shiny watch and a huge smile on a famous golfer as I excitedly prepare myself for a flight to a show in a different continent makes me feel OK about myself. It’s a really funny balance as on the one hand I want to be a social activist saying we want to focus on saving the planet but at the same time I think I would love to buy that watch and be able to afford to upgrade my flight.”
“I once met a guy at a party who had recently retired from the largest commodities trading company in the world and he actively expressed his personal worth of around £400 million. In conversation he said to me, ‘when I watched the first bombs drop on Baghdad it was like watching fireworks at New Year’s Eve – I knew how much money I was going to make’. The thing that struck me was this weedy nerdy guy who said he was bullied at school and whose parents never knew how they were going to pay their next bill was now using exceptional wealth as his emotional armour to heal the wounds from his past. What was clear to me was that he had now bullied the world back and turned his internal unhappiness into the unhappiness of entire nations. When you look into the horse’s eyes they change from dominating the viewer to you then seeing the sadness and tears in them.”