Photography Jeff Riedel
Although much of conceptual artist Mike Osterhout’s work bares a tongue-in-cheek sentiment, his blog “Hunting With Super Models” is to be taken quite literally. “A friend, French Victoria Secret model Morgane Dubled, was visiting one fall and expressed interest in going hunting. So one freezing cold day, my brother and I took her deer hunting in the woods. The next day, the blog was born,” said Osterhout over coffee in his home, a live/work space in Glen Wild, NY.
The 73-year-old artist tends to infuse irony in all he creates and takes his work very seriously—“even when others don’t,” he says wryly. His approach is relentless and driven by a sense of urgency. It is apparent that Osterhout answers to no one and possesses an eternal need to contextualize all of his zany inventiveness.
Osterhout grew up in Montgomery, NY, not too far away from the home he lives in now, next to the Church of the Little Green Man, his infamous community gathering space that stands tall in all its antiquated glory. About five years ago, Osterhout once again felt compelled to show his work. He started displaying it in his own front yard, which has slowly become a full-blown outdoor gallery space. “The way I do it is influenced by yards with blow-up Santas, a chainsaw bear next to a Virgin Mary next to three wheelbarrows and a couple broken bicycles—which describes so many properties in Sullivan County,” says Osterhout. “I find a sort of chaotic beauty in that.”
Throughout his lifetime, Osterhout spent 10 years heavily involved in the art scene in San Francisco, 10 years in pre-gentrified East Village and the remainder of time in Glen Wild, where he finds the most creative freedom—literally and spatially. “When I moved here 20 years ago, the Catskills were really at a low, but I loved it. It was tumbledown fences and falling down bungalows, and it still is to a big degree. But it’s always one step away from what most people in this county see as success, and that very much informs my work.”
“The way I do it is influenced by yards with blow-up Santas, a chainsaw bear next to a Virgin Mary next to three wheelbarrows and a couple broken bicycles—which describes so many properties in Sullivan County. I find a sort of chaotic beauty in that.”
His comeback was marked by a series of subversive billboards, written in Hebrew and English, proclaiming “God loves Fags” and “God loves Dykes.” They are a strong provocation given the demographic of the area, which is “home to a big Hasidic community and a big hillbilly one,” according to Osterhout.
Raising hell is what the conceptual artist does best. He institutes the chaos, maintains it and then makes sure it’s up to par. After some Hasidic kids broke one of the signs in half, Osterhout put it back up and has had no other problems since. His main concern with the billboard series was to make sure the language was correct. “I have an Israeli friend who does the translation and she assures me it’s good. So I asked a Hasidic man if it offended him—not the theological aspect but the literal spelling—and he assured me it was good, too.”
His acute sense of awareness extends to his present day fascination and preferred art form—hunting. “I spend a gigantic amount of time bow hunting. It informs my art and at the same time can be incredibly depressing and debilitating when you miss the shot or wound the animal—and the parallels with being a working artist, kind of on the fringes, it’s right there.”
As far as the guilt from shooting a living, breathing thing, Osterhout feels all of the contradictory emotions one would expect. “You feel the elation and regret almost simultaneously. And then you resolve that very quickly. By realizing that this is the completion of the act. You honor the animal now by field dressing it, dragging it out of the woods, butchering it and eating it. And that’s more the honoring of it than making any kind of trophy head. As opposed to traditional taxidermy, I’m more into pulling bloodprints from the butchered meat and deconstructing and salting the skeletal forms. And of course the taxidermy too, but they become the more problematic pieces. They’re more the cliché.”
“If I wanted to move to an area that all of a sudden was going to have a Starbucks on every corner and hipsters everywhere, I’d stay in Williamsburg or the East Village. Growth is good but not too much growth. Broke is also good but not too broke.”
Osterhout’s recent visibility comes during a time when the region itself is spotlighted as an area perpetually on the brink of something big—though he hopes, nothing too big. “If I wanted to move to an area that all of a sudden was going to have a Starbucks on every corner and hipsters everywhere, I’d stay in Williamsburg or the East Village. Growth is good but not too much growth. Broke is also good but not too broke.”
As for his future in Glen Wild, Osterhout will continue doing his elaborate “yard work,” while prepping for a Memorial Day Weekend church service, expected to attract the usual models, pig farmers and local musicians. When asked if anyone can join in on the festivities, Osterhout replied, “Sure. All you have to do is burn a dollar and you’re a member for life.”