James J. Ostrander

MFA | Painting & Drawing


I identify as a Frankenstein’s subject – the monstrous aggregate of ill-fitting cultural forms, stitched together with cognitive dissonance, and haunted by the accumulated sins of millennia of bad actors, well-intentioned though some may have been. In absurd vignettes, I parody my struggles as a navel-gazing self-portrait artist, caught between an inheritance of impossible ideals and embodied realities. Working in traditional modes of oil painting, I engage the Western art historical canon through emulation and caricature, playfully interrogating the sublime landscapes of the Romantics, the titillating pastorals of Rococo, and the dreamlike and nightmarish oddities of surrealism. In the resulting scenes, grotesque humanoids struggle through would-be Edenic suburban landscapes, laid low by a stubbornly unyielding cast of flora, fauna, and environmental waste.


Dear Viewer,

Now I ask myself: What will be my legacy?
Am I the philosopher king?
The Occidental hegemon?
The Romantic hero?
Am I the rightful heir to the West?

And if I am, then what shall be my kingdom?
Shall I inherit the wildfire forest?
The oil spill ocean?
The plastic island?
The fallout zone?

I am landfill gentry.
I warm my feet beside the tire fire.
I feast upon the monocrop.
I sate my thirst with crude-filled chalice.
And when I lay down to sleep beneath the smog-choked sky,
I dream of Friedrich’s Wanderer – that strong back, posed against the sea of fog.
I dream of pastorals, of Bacchanalia, and Tahiti – those foolish dreams of escape.
I dream of starry nights and water lilies – of a transcendent peace beyond this world.
I dream of Sisyphus at the peak. I dream that he smiles.

When I wake, I return to my boulder. I sow the landfill. I take up my brush.
Look on my works, dear Viewer,
And despair! 



Meatsack Sisyphus

Oil on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | 2021-22

Landfill Gentry: The Soiler

Oil on canvas | 84 x 60 inches | 2022

The Trappings of Man: A Thesis

Oil on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | 2021-22

Expulsion from the Garden Center

Oil on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | 2022

Drainage Ditch Narcissus

Oil on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | 2021-22

We ♥ You Bubble Boy

Oil-painted stoneware, oil on canvas, Hanes® briefs, carpet | 2021-22

White-Knuckled Cartesian

Oil on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | 2022