Art AND: Corynne Ostermann

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Bishme Cromartie on Project Runway

Corynne Ostermann is busy. Raised by Midwestern Evangelicals, the artist/ musician/ florist/ muralist/ event decorator describes herself as “a walking cartoon.” Out of her Station North studio, Ostermann is constantly churning full-time on her creative projects, oscillating between making music videos for Natural Velvet, the Baltimore band for which she plays bass and sings, and making large art installations that combine elements like thrifted silk flowers with her oil paintings.

Ostermann’s visual art functions as a commentary on and celebration of celebrity culture and so-called feminine touches like roses and lipstick. Her paintings often mash up imagery of specific objects, like Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring, with stand-ins for fertility and farce, like sliced oranges and raspberry marshmallow fluff.

To the untrained eye, Ostermann’s frenetic energy might seem unpredictable or random, but after spending an hour with her, it’s clear to me she knows exactly what she is doing—and she’s doing a lot.

SUBJECT: Corynne Ostermann, 28

WEARING: A “very messed-up pair of Timbs” / Stuyedeyed Brooklyn band tee / “One of fifteen leather jackets” / red lipstick

PLACE: Station North, Baltimore, MD

Suzy Kopf: What is the most important art-related text you’ve read?

Corynne Ostermann: Chromaphobia by David Batchelor; the Amy Sillman essay in 2011 summer issue of Artforum, “AbEx and Disco Balls”; and a Tony Peake biography on the filmmaker Derek Jarman which talks about how Jarman takes his training as a painter and applies it to anything.

Wow, you had those ready to go, this is going to be a snap! Moving on, what was the worst career or life advice you’ve ever received?

I had a lot of very bad career and life advice given to me in college. God bless the MICA painting department, I did learn a lot, but there was also a lot of machismo that I had to trip over, working there. By the time senior year had rolled around, I was already in Natural Velvet, we were already playing shows. I was working on a critical theory essay for my minor there and I was being pulled in a million different directions similar to the way I am now. I had a professor come in and he said that abstraction cannot be political and that my work was juvenile and I needed to specialize and focus on my work. And I, in so many words, told him to go fuck himself. I really didn’t care, whatever dude, he can suck my dick.

The best life advice I got for being an artist was to be in a band as a painter. It’s hilarious looking back now because it’s kind of a roundabout-ass way of doing things. I would argue that being multidisciplinary is a good thing to be. There are people whose vision is singular, and I am incredibly jealous of them. But for those of us who need to leave the studio now and then and feel the need to perform in public, or create artist texts or whatever, it was always treated in school as this kind of quaint thing, because painting is the end-all-be-all when it comes to art in general. We’ve got a bit of a god complex as painters. A lot of people are like, why are you even bothering to do that? It’s a way of taking an idea and attacking it from multiple angles, which is ultimately what I want to do as a painter in the first place is take the idea and render it into a language in some way or another. And sometimes that language is a visual language and sometimes that language is literal English language and sometimes that language is also sonic language.

This is a question I ask because we’re contemporaries and I have a theory: Did you have an American girl doll as a child? Which one did you want?

I did, I had two of them. My first one was a “look like me” doll. This is interesting because I was a kid and the doll had blue eyes and she is also blonde. I am not. I don’t know what happened to that doll. The one that I wanted that I got was the Kit Kittredge one, she was the one with the short hair and the Amelia Earheart shit, a ‘30s girl. Oh my god. Everything she was wearing was green and lavender, she was the most fabulous one there. I had a couple of the outfits but it was so expensive for the set pieces I would dress them in a knock-off, and I would build my own shit for the most part. But I think I got it and within a couple years was like, I’m good. I was much more of Barbie girl. I’m still much more of a Barbie girl.

What is the art supply/business-related material you should buy stock in because you use it so much?

Decent latex paint from Sherwin Williams. Probably, like, Gamblin’s new Neo Megilp, maybe. I use that and linseed oil and that’s all I need, it does the trick.

Whose career do you aspire to? Why?

Patti Smith. Also Derek Jarman. I like the model that Louise Bourgeois pioneered in terms of her work ethic. I have a feeling I’ll die in my studio, so that feels pretty correct. There’s not a ton of musicians that do the rock and roll thing and also paint. I know Adrian Brody the actor is also a painter.

What was your first phone and what did it mean to you?

I had a Razr2 and I was not allowed to have it until I was 17 years old.

Whoa, that’s late.

My parents were evangelical. At that point they realized I wasn’t a virgin and there was nothing to save me from, so that’s why I got the phone. Bonus!

Complete this sentence: My parents _____________________.

My parents are both artists. My father is classically trained on French horn and an audio engineer for a living. My mother is a ceramicist. I’m from the Midwest; there is a specific kind of brand of artists out there that are very “use your talents for God.” I had been more or less trained from the get-go to do what I do now. That said, it’s been completely secularized.

Do you have what might be described as an unusual hobby? What is it? How did you get into that?

It is boring as all hell because every hobby I’ve ever had has turned into a career for me. My actual hobby is a very fabulous bedtime. I am very into skincare. I like Korean face masks. I like doing sheet masks and drinking tea with my cat. I read books but all of the book reading I do is nonfiction research for my work; I haven’t picked up a fiction book in a year.

Whose artwork would you want in your home?

I love Joan Mitchell, the painter, more than anything on the planet. I would happily live with a Rosenquist, I mean, obviously. Hernan Bas, I would want to live with his flamingo screens that he has been making. He made a series of room dividers and I was like “YES BITCH!” Anything by Amy Sillman. Katherine Bernhart’s Garfield series—I just need the wall space for her stuff.

What is your favorite place within 30 miles of Baltimore?

I go to the museums super regularly, like once every two weeks. We’re so spoiled, living in Baltimore, when it comes to free admission to the BMA or anywhere else. I am very spoiled in that I’ve gotten to tour around most of the US and Canada and I’ve gone to most museums as a result of that. Also the roller skating rink in Dundalk, Skateland, that place is legit. I have a secret Goodwill out in the county, that’s where all of my shit comes from. It’s significantly more lit than all the other Goodwills.

If you had unlimited funding and the time and space to make it, describe the piece or series you would make.

I have two; these will eventually get done. I want to do a faux garden of what a garden would look like when environmental collapse eventually happens. I budgeted it out, it’s going to cost me about $5,000 in terms of supplies. I need $5,000 worth of ficuses, which does require some space. I’d make large corresponding garden paintings and add real flowers as well. Given my work as a florist I would know how to do that. The other one I want to do is similar to the screens of Hernan Bas. I want to do room dividers, double-sided panels on stilts. On them would be all the engagement ring diamonds of the Kardashian family. It’s so deliberate, I love that. It’s like they’re living branding of this internet shit that actually happens in real life, it’s nuts. If I had $10K those would be built tomorrow. I could keep myself afloat for about a year. We could chill on the K beauty for a minute.

What are the last three emojis you used?

A cake, the one with all the candles, the evil devil guy with the smile, and the Pinocchio with the extended nose.

Does your astrological sign match your personality?

God help us, yes. Unfortunately for everyone, I’m a Scorpio with an Aries rising. I went to get my chart done and he took one look at my chart and was like “Oh my god, you’re a trainwreck.”

What would your teenage self think of you today?

She’d think I am a bitch. But that’s alright. Depends on where at my teenage self; let’s assume me at my most square and most religious at 15-16. I was late to that game. I think about this pretty frequently at night when I am doing my little skincare rituals: You know what, the life I lead is pretty much what I visualized. I remember thinking, oh it can be done. Now that I live it, I honestly think “How the fuck does this boat stay afloat?” People are very flexible with me, thank god for that. I think she’d think I’m pretty cool. She’d be shocked as to why I’m not married right now. Listen, baby Corynne, things change and men suck and you’re going to have way more fun with paint and guitars than you would ever have with any dude.

Art AND is a new bi-monthly interview series from BmoreArt. Organized by Suzy Kopf, the series is a personal perspective into the lives of creative people that goes beyond “tell us about your work.” Designed to provide an in-depth look into creative makers’ and thinkers’ industry as well as their personality, experience, background, tastes, and opinions, Art AND moves away from the myth of maker-as-genius and focuses on the very human aspect of being an artist.

Upcoming: Corynne Ostermann will transform the raw industrial space of the historic Hoen Lithograph Building for “Get on Up!,” Strong City Baltimore’s 1969-themed 50th-anniversary party. Her large, plexiglass ceiling installation will make it appear that attendees are inside of a lava lamp, and her Pop Art-themed photobooth backdrop and hand-painted wood panels will add to the overall effect. Get On Up! will feature food tastings from local restaurants, complimentary drinks, DJ sets, live music and a costume contest with $500 prize.

All photos by Suzy Kopf

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