Donald Trump, Harry Styles and Miley Cyrus together at a Mayfair Gallery

PUBLISHED: 08:00 24 October 2016

Donald Trump by James Oster

Donald Trump by James Oster


Guru Jimmy’s ‘honesty portaits’ that make political points about celebrity are created using food

Miley Cyrus by James OsterMiley Cyrus by James Oster

By fashioning “effigies” of Miley Cyrus and Donald Trump out of meat, and interviewing Uber drivers about the Presidential candidate James Ostrer is exploring the celebrity-crazed age we live in.

In the run up the November 8 U.S election, the Hampstead artist is in LA doing interviews for his series of mini-films Uberlife conducted by his alter ego Guru Jimmy,

Meanwhile at Mayfair’s Gazelli Art House gallery he’s showing The Ego System which “challenges the worship of corporate-contrived icons” with grotesque sculptures made from food.

“The role of an artist is to make work that reflects what’s going on during our time and give a voice to people not being represented in the media,” he tells me over the phone.

Ostrer travelled to America shortly after the surprise Brexit vote, in shock at a divided nation.

“I came out here thinking I wanted to make more left wing art. It was post Brexit and I was so shocked by what had happened and disturbed by looking at the map. There were so few Londoners wanting to leave and it made me reflect on how blessed my life is.

As an artist living in Hampstead my life is easy. But look at the rest of the country, I understand why people are distressed and wanted something to change and make a protest vote even if it doesn’t actually help them.”

The 37-year-old says that same protest is being mirrored in the support for Donald Trump.

That’s why he’s chosen to interview cab drivers about their views of the billionnaire.

“Taxi driving is one of those jobs done by a medley of different people from around the world. I’ve extended it beyond drivers now so I can speak to more people. You don’t have that many women driving Ubers and it tends to be the 19-45 age group. There isn’t someone I haven’t found interesting.”

The bearded artist dresses in orange robes to record the interviews which he calls “emotionally life changing.”

He says the guru sprang from his mother’s comment when he was a teenager suffering extreme panic attacks and depression.

“She said oh darling you have to go to a guru in India. I didn’t because I was housebound with agoraphobia but five years ago I turned up at my mum’s house dressed as Guru Jimmy and we had an amazing morning.”

After developing the persona he was invited to the 2015 Venice Biennale where Jimmy “tried to sell material wealth to rich people in the art world which involved bits of material with wealth written on them. He is a bit naughty.”

It all follows on from the success of Ostrer’s 2014 show Wotsit All About? Which explored his addiction to junk food and the ethics of advertising to children by smearing his subjects with sugary cream cheese, icing and sweets.

Food recurs in The Ego System which draws on John Updike’s comment that “celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.”

Alongside Trump fashioned from a pig’s snout, sheep eyes, raw fish, crude oil and a half eaten croissant, is Tiger Woods, Harry Styles, Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus (made from pig-skin, ox tongue arms nose and legs, cowhoof horns and a fur coat with latex breasts)

Cyrus and Styles he says epitomise young stars turned into commodities on a compassionless conveyor belt of fame “the factory farming of celebrity with the focus on vast profit.”

His subjects, chosen according to the number of Google searches they’ve generated, are “totems of the dysfunctionality of celebrities. They are not just about the endless diatribe that fills up Facebook feeds, they lead us towards detatching from our emotional landscape.

“TV shows like the Kardashians prevent us from acknowledging what’s really going on around us.

“With these honesty portraits I am responding to the vast divide between what we are being sold and what we are getting. Debunking false promises of success beauty and glamour.”

The portraits he says, represent reality “as if an algorithm had been embedded into our emotional hard drives to corrupt the messages from the corporate world”.

As for Trump, speaking the day after the second presidential debate Oster muses that: “With all that has come out I consider him even more repulsive than when I made the piece, but the more I am embedded here in LA but the more I have a huge amount of empathy for Trump and those who vote for him.

“He is an incredibly self loathing narcissitic megalomanic who didn’t get the love he deserved from his parents. Emasculated by never being as successful as his father he is trying to get the attention he never got.”

Until November 12.

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