2010 Houston Chronicle, June 11, 2010
By ANDREW DANSBY
Anthony Ausgang's work for MGMT shows bond between art, music
Even before MGMT's Congratulations was released in April the album was drawing buzz, good and bad, for leaked songs and its colorful artwork.
The cover looks like something from a video game, with a hedgehog-like creature on a surfboard about to be swallowed by a wave shaped like a cat. It captured the sense of threat and folly that engulfed the art-pop band after success came quickly two years ago.
The image was created by Anthony Ausgang, a Houston-raised artist who is celebrated in what has been tagged as the Low Brow movement.
MGMT and Ausgang were introduced by musician Sonic Boom, the album's producer. Though separated by a generation, the artist and the band share a colorful sensibility, touched with surreal humor.
Ausgang sent a few pieces of existing art to the band but none seemed to fit, so he created an original piece informed, in part, by MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden's affinity for surfing.
“Fortunately, it didn't degenerate into a sort of mutual admiration society,” he says. “We got to know each other on a personal level, and it was a great thing. I felt honored to do it. The various pains on this weren't bad at all. Because I will turn down work if I can tell it's going to be a pain in the (butt).”
Ausgang speaks admiringly of the band's new video for Flash Delirium, which he says includes choreography lifted from the 1973 film The Wicker Man.
“It's interesting to me that the kids these days are more tolerant of the art and culture of previous generations,” Ausgang says. “Whereas I didn't give a (expletive) about what people did before me.”
Ausgang was born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago but moved to Spring Branch when he was a year old. As a child, he was entranced by hot-rod culture, which informs much of his work today. He attended the University of Texas before heading in 1980 to California, where he's worked since. There he met Robert Williams, an artist whose psychedelic-influenced work is considered pioneering in an underground movement that became known as Low Brow, a vibrant and far-flung style that represented numerous subcultures. He points out that the rise of graffiti art has turned the Low Brown term into more of a generational indicator.
But both forms have enjoyed legitimacy. Ausgang points to the celebration of Shepard Fairey, whose Andre the Giant stickers earned him renown before his Barack Obama Hope image made him a star.
“Shep discovered a whole new media in a way, putting stickers on lampposts,” Ausgang says. “It was an alternative information network. It's kind of stupid no one realized its potential before, except for lunatics posting ‘Jesus Is Coming' posters. Lunatics seem to find these things before artists do.”
Ausgang was early to adapt to doing computer-generated art, using a Macintosh Quadra — “They won't even take those in thrift stores anymore,” he says — to make art as early as 1995.
The medium was met with resistance. But, Ausgang says, “Personally, I think computer graphics programs are as important an innovation in art as oil paint. ... I had friends ask, ‘What the (expletive) are you doing? You're a painter.”
Ausgang still paints. In fact his website (www.ausgangart.com) includes a page where one can order a customized painting based on some of his recurring themes: “hot rods, drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll, gunplay and all manner of scandalous anarchy.”
“A tenet of Low Brow art is accessibility,” Ausgang says. “It's not as elitist as the fine arts.”
There's little that's snooty about Ausgang's piece for MGMT's album, with its bright pinks and blues. “That's what I try to do,” Ausgang says, “use bright colors and get across ideas that are slightly dark.