Nightmares Really Are Made Of Junk Food

Donut ears, cupcake eyes, Cheeto hair: a sugar-addicted artist explores the obesity epidemic with portraits of junk food-covered people.

British artist James Ostrer became addicted to junk food as a child, after his parents divorced. Whenever his father picked him up from his mother’s house, they’d take a trip to McDonald’s. Soon, the Golden Arches came to seem like a gateway to refuge, and eating greasy food became Ostrer’s coping mechanism whenever he felt distressed.


In his photo series, “Wotsit All About,” Ostrer has turned his sugar-and-grease-gorging habit into art, making the adage “you are what you eat” grotesquely literal. Exhibited at London’s Gazelli Art Gallery, Ostrer turned himself and his friends into human sculptures made of junk food, smearing bodies with neon-dyed cream cheese and decorating them with greasy grub: there are ears made from donuts, tongues of candy rolls, horns of ice cream cones, tears of ketchup, hamburger shoulder pads. The images turn food-as-inner-demon into real, physical demons.

Featuring more than $8,000 worth of junk food Ostrer purchased over two years, the photographs make a darkly comic comment on the obesity epidemic–1/3 of adults in America are considered obese–and the reality of sugar addiction, which doctors are recognizing as biologically similar to drug addiction. While making these works, Ostrer said, “I’ve had dreams where these caricatures are telling me how I should live. To me they look like…this sounds a bit harsh, but if someone had poured acid over Tony the Tiger. It’s like they’re melting.”

Ostrer hoped the visual exploration would help him kick his own junk food habit, referring to the creative process as a form of therapy and likened sitting costumed in cream cheese and sugar to meditation. It didn’t entirely work as a cure, as he still found himself eating some of his sugary art supplies, but as he told the Guardian, he’s now “definitely ready to give it up.” One subject said he’d “never felt so in touch with himself, because when you’re covered–your eyes, your ears–you’re there in the moment, you feel how you feel, you have to connect with yourself”–the opposite of what those who use food to numb feelings are doing.

[H/T the Guardian]


About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.