have been at the center of Ausgang's world for well over 30 years. From early
brushes with Charles Addams and the subtle humor of the New Yorker, to the Technicolor
surrealism of Tex Avery and Ubu Roi, this serio comic art form has the artist
in a spin. The obsession appropriately manifests itself in his garishly-colored
paintings of cats and dogs in all-too-human situations, which serve as single
panel comments on the foibles of our race.
Raised in Trinidad, where his father worked in the oil industry, Ausgang's early artistic endeavors - slicing up and reconfiguring Rat Fink toys and Hot Wheels - were met with support from his folks. Ausgang pursued his artistic vision at the University of Texas at Austin and at Otis Parsons, eventually ditching the idea, however, because, as he puts it, "The higher echelon of art education consists of being taught what fine art is-it had nothing to do with garage aesthetics. Like John Cage vs a garage band-they're both making music, but with a totally different approach."
Which is not to say he thumbs his nose at the concept of formalized education entirely. "School taught me the necessary discipline..as much as you'd like to believe art is something you just do- fuck all night, drink wine, get up in the morning, take whatever drug, sit down and make a painting.. it's not that way." It was during those lean years that the seeds of Ausgang's artistic philosophy were planted. "In art school I cam e to the stoned conclusion that some of the ancient Egyptian gods had modern counterparts in popular cartoons. So, basically, the Sphinx is an ancestor of Top Cat and Furball, the only difference being that modern cats get their tribute at shopping malls. If the ancients used animals in the form of deities to express concerns with the natural world, then why can't I attack contemporary issues with the same ammunition?"
Armed with practical experience gained working as a production artist matching color swatches, and his own work consisting of collages assembled from '40's advertisements, Ausgang made the trip west to California and collided with car culture (later, quite literally; Ausgang survived a life-threatening head-on collision which wholeheartedly changed the nature of his work) and its chronicler, one Robert Williams. Of this fortunate meeting in 1981 he says, "It was Robert who turned me on to the possibility of the car being a loaded image..he was using them in his vocabulary of images, and I liked what he was saying. We were speaking the same language, and these were words I wasn't using."
Ever the champion of fresh ideas, though, Ausgang didn't simply paint images of cars- he embellished real ones with his cartoon graphics. Most notably a '36 Plymouth coupe, the doors of which were included in the Laguna Art Museum's Kustom Kulture exhibit (an entire painted '70 Mercury Cougar was also on view at the recent Zero show).
Ensconced in his East Hollywood lair in a neighborhood that's seen better days, Ausgang has called a stretch of storefronts turned artist's studios home for the past 11 years. Its sole other occupant is a fastidiously white cat named Clean, and a neat little collection of work, mostly paintings of unknown authorship: well executed thrift store painting's, big-eyed Wallace Berrie figurines, antiques, Hot Wheels and Roth models, stretch canvases, and Chollo art. Tall, lanky, and plain-speaking, Ausgang's life and work are imbued with a simple, pioneering air, and Western DIY spirit of an iconoclast ne'er-do-well who's let the (art) world catch up to him rather than change. His egalitarian, non-prescious approach seeks to de-romanticize the creative act- why does original artwork cost so much? Why is it that ordinary folks cannot generally afford to own original art? "Artists are court jesters expected to bring dick-in-the-dirt deadbeat humor to high rolling art collectors, then leave," Ausgang explains.
Recent attempts to address these concerns have resulted in he genius ATM show at a local cafe: just hit $40 on your cash machine and you, too, can take home an original Ausgang. As a result of this phenomenally successful exhibit of 40 works which sold out in a day, original paintings were introduced to people's homes whose only previous art collection consisted of a signed picture of Roy Orbison and the sculpture of beer cans on the floor. "It was a reaction against this twisted concept that a Van Gogh painting is worth 20 million. What's the worth of a human life? Getty once balked at paying two million for one of his kidnapped grandsons, but he's pay two million for a painting. I wanted to make art that was easy for people to own."
Then, of course, sometimes he just gives it away. His experiments with altering thrift-store paintings by injecting a little extra narrative into mundane landscapes led him to taking pictures down from hotel room walls in planes like the PST Aegis Hotel in Seattle and the Carillon Arms in New York when was bored, painting on them, and re-hanging them. A little something extra for sharp-eyed travelers.
Now, in an embrace of new media, the 36 year old artist is more apt to use a computer to reconfigure his pencil drawings prior to transference to canvas, an idea which appeals to the artist's sense of the unknown. Flying in the face of his previous painted surfaces and shapes, Anthony Ausgang has discovered the round canvas. "As much as (a computer) seems to follow a very logical system, when I scan my ideas and decide I am going to put this degree of 'spin' into this filter, I have no idea what it's going to look like, so that's like the chaos factor directions I didn't know I was going in."
The struggle of the artist primarily remains that of the individual striving to be more than just a cog in society's lowest common denominator machine -to fuck shit up. Hot Rodders who take stock cars and reconfigure them know what this is about. Ausgang's round paintings, like giant rear-view mirrors, reflect the world through cartoon-colored glasses.