2023 Awardees: LINDA MICKENS and

Linda Mickens

Hamden artist Linda Mickens reveals that she started creating “in some form” when very young. She eventually became a sculptor — mostly self-taught — who created in clay, then produced final products in bronze. She focused on the rich history of African American culture, influenced, she says, by “the sounds of black folk and my Southern roots. The blues, jazz, gospel – the familiar sound of cloth scraping across a washing board, and Grandma’s laughter.”

Linda Mickens with sculpture
The Artist Standing with Her Sculpture: Mother as First Teacher

After a hiatus devoted to family and to a Neonatal ICU nursing career, she returned to sculpting in 2020. As she delved into the “rich tapestry of African American history, traditions and experiences,” she also revealed, through her powerful and moving images, the contemporary challenges of Covid, LGBTQ prejudice and police brutality, and the struggles and triumphs in the continuous African American fight for equality and justice. Mickens became an activist, collaborating with other individuals and organizations to host exhibitions, workshops, and dialogues on these issues. She was an artist and an activist committed to social justice.

Mickens is now moving from emotionally weighty subjects to joyful ones. With her Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists grant, she will create a group of life-size, mixed-media dancing figures who are, as the project’s title indicates: “Celebrating the Contributions of African Americans Through Dance – The Joy of the Second Line.”

God Bless Their Soles
God Bless Their Soles *


The artist will explore the rich cultural heritage of the “second line”, a popular tradition in New Orleans parades. The first line consists of the parade’s sponsoring organization accompanied by the iconic music of a dynamic brass band. The second line consists of lively revelers who dance to the music and engage with the community, spreading joy.

*The name of both a series of sculptures and a collaborative business between Linda and her daughter Karimah Mickens Webber to focus on love and on making a difference through art.

Jeff Ostergren

Jeff Ostergren

Photo by Monique Atherton

Jeff Ostergren describes his work as focusing on “the intertwined histories of pharmaceuticals and color.” He notes that the origin of the Greek word “pharmakon” meant simultaneously “cure, poison and paint,” and that in the late 19th century, companies such as Bayer produced both pharmaceuticals and colors from the same chemical processes. Ostergren, who has worked in painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and video, has explored these interconnections for almost two decades.

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (After Claude Monet)
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (After Claude Monet) +

Ostergren became an artist rather late in life. After graduating from college, he worked for years in museums, then earned an MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His decision to pursue the complex issues of drugs grew out of a gag gift he received while there — a Zoloft (an antidepressant) promotional clock — which he later incorporated in to a larger sculpture he exhibited.

It was then that he realized the complexity and power of prescription drugs. For some, they are lifesaving, for others, addiction, and even death. For everyone, they are ubiquitous.

In Ostergren’s recent paintings he has used his innovative “pharmaceutical pointillist” style, building images with layers of meticulously rendered pill-shaped dots corresponding with a drug’s shape and size. And unique to him, he also infuses the pigment with actual crushed pharmaceuticals and chemicals. He often bases his compositions on Impressionist paintings or commercial advertising, both genres specializing in scenes of nature and leisure activities. The end results are colorful, vibrant, mesmerizing scenes of pleasure.

Lady With A Parasol
Proposal for an Advertisement for the Abortion Pill (Woman With Parasol)++

With this grant, the New Haven artist will take his explorations in a new direction. Titled “Reverse Engineering the Un-Advertised,” the project will focus on the ugly reality of the misogyny and transphobia in our culture and reflected in advertising – “a world in which Viagra is marketed with abandon and covered by most insurance” but other drugs, like abortion pills and hormones for gender therapy, are not.

Ostergren will collaborate with a graphic designer who will design “fake” pharmaceutical ads for the un-advertised products, which he will use as templates and transform in his usual pointillist way. He will ultimately exhibit them side by side, enhancing awareness of the political reality.

+ Addyi, Estrogen, Mifepristone, Misoprostol, Plan B (Levonorgestrel), Testosterone, Viagra, and acrylic on polyester canvas over PVC stretcher.

++ Albuterol, Aricept, Aspirin, Benadryl, Benzonatate, Cardizem, Cefuroxime Axetil, Cephalex, Ciprofloxacin, Claritin, Cyclobenzaprine, Darvocet, Digoxin, Eliquis, Fludrocortisone Acetate, Gabapentin, Imodium, Jolessa, Lamisil, Lamotrigine, Levotabs, Lunesta, Luvox, Meclizine Hydrochloride, Minoxidil, Mirapex, Naproxen Sodium, Oxycontin, Pantoprazole, Saphris, Strattera, Sudafed, Tofranil, Toprol, Tramadol, Viagra, Valsartan, Xanax, Zoloft, and acrylic on poly- ester canvas stretched over custom PVC strainer.

Congratulations to these gifted artists. The Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists is honored to recognize your talents. We look forward to your projects and wish you continued success.