this: cartoon characters from our Saturday morning collective unconscious converge
with, materialize into, and begin acting out the absurd realities of life as
we know it. Mimicking what they see on the evening news and city streets, come
characters commit acts of senseless violence, while others just run around wildly.
Thanks to Anthony Ausgang, these precious moments are forever captured, personalized
and communicated on canvas- the visual ramblings of an artist who has had a
pop-culture overload, or maybe one who's just having a good time for himself.
Ausgang, a 34 year old L.A. based painter is currently in what has to be the coolest group exhibition ever to be organized: Kustom Kulture, which has traveled from the Laguna Art Museum to the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, and will go on to the Center of Contemporary Art in Seattle (April 8 through June 4). He has shown alone at the Julie Rico Gallery in Santa Monica, the Bess Cutler Gallery during its West Coast days, and Zero One Gallery in Hollywood.
Born in Trinidad, West Indies, Ausgang moved to Texas when he was a young'un. Over the years, his family traveled around the world, so he was exposed to a wide range of cultural experiences. He lived in Europe and Asia at different points during his youth, and claims that this made quite and impression on him, especially where art was concerned. These experiences afforded him the opportunity to see the masterpieces of western art in the same light as the folk art he came across in exotic places like Bali- distinctions between high and low art became blurred at an early age.
As a kid, Ausgang liked to draw. In fact, the cartoon influence reared its head in tracings he would do of Playboy girls whose smiling faces would be replaced by those of Archie Comics' Betty and Veronica! Destiny has set its course.
He went to art school for a stint in Texas, then moved to L.A., got involved in the punk scene and began frequenting comic conventions and collecting thinks like Felix the Cat. During this time he started making collages using comic book images which eventually evolved, mutated and found their way onto live canvases.
As for the characters that inhabit his painted dystopia, Ausgang says that he was tired of using the human figure in art, and prefers the flexibility that imaginary animals can afford him. Graphically, anything can be done. There are no limits to what a cartoon can do! The quirky critters are given human qualities, although not always the most admirable traits of our species. These brightly colored, superficially cheery creatures have a nasty side to them- so look out!
There's a familiarity about the works that may come from the characters that populate them. Many could be distant relatives of Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera characters. The resemblance is certainly uncanny, but there's something else about them that goes beyond modification and appropriation. Unlike the Saturday morning cartoons, the paintings are ambiguous; the narratives are left open-ended for the viewer's interpretation. A cute lil' hot pink cat points a gun in the air, and an orange cat (with a couple of bandaged boo-boos here and there) lies in the grass, obviously uninterested in the potential danger or the yummy pie that sits undisturbed on a windowsill. What gives?
The universe he has created lies somewhere between fantasy and the harsh realities that are a part off our culture. These spunky guys inhabit a world littered with signs and symptoms of urban and social decay- firearms, bombs, graffiti, abandoned cars, desolate settings and a hell of a lot of attitude. On the other hand these paintings seem joyful and celebratory, reveling in the artist's obsessions to boot- like various references to nostalgia, car culture and the motifs that surround those phenomena. Besides that, the characters all seem pretty psyched no matter what they're doing, and I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder.
And think of all the thrift store paintings Ausgang has salvaged over the years! He claims that these landscapes deserved some action, so now a tranquil natural habitat is the setting for a friendly game of bomb toss between a pink and blue finned fish and an orange cat with a blue mohawk. Then there are the animals cruising around in little boats, defiantly cutting through placid water and interrupting what may have been a very peaceful day. In a way, the found paintings serve as a background for imaginary action, just like an animation cel. Bob Ross would flip his wig over the violation of the "happy, little, magical trees and clouds."
I'm sure you'll be seeing more of Ausgang's work in the future, and he's in good company, with artists like Robert Williams and the rest of the gang who say it's okay to make art that's way out there and fun to look at. Art Alternatives is running an interview with him in their latest issue, so be on the lookout.