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Recycle and Revision: Ausgang's Thrift Store Paintings

We inhabit a visually compromised world, navigating an image glut in which pictures have proliferated beyond super-saturated satiation to physically subsume our senses. In a realm of growing redundancy and manifest manufacture, it seems inevitable that among this great slew of contemporary artists and ever-expanding art history some sort of radical recycling solution would ultimately have to be devised. And for the many already familiar with the wryly subversive humor of Anthony Ausgang's paintings, or even his penchant for collecting and recontextualizing the culturally reviled and socially expurgated past ephemera of the incessant American pop machine, it might be equally evident that Ausgang was the one to rescue and reanimate the inane inventory of bad paintings cluttering our attics, thrift stores and flea markets. Call it the aesthetic ecology for the twenty-first century, call it the pictorial economics for the new depression, but Ausgang's revisionist interpretations of the second hand and second rate perform a daring salvage and provocative sacrilege on the bloated corpse of amateur art-making, kitsch reproductions and cliched representations that is nothing less than utterly fantastic.
Laugh or leer as you most certainly will when it comes to looking at Ausgang's thrift store transgressions, but know too that what makes these purloined and mediated pictures work so well is that they're all about love. What we might otherwise have to term post-modern about Anthony Ausgang's visual strategies here- the appropriation of pre-existing imagery, the problematic questions regarding authorship and originality, and the systematic inversion of hierarchical value systems- is almost beside the point. Whereas the cultural critique endemic to much of late 20th Century art historical deconstruction was engendered by a rather mean-spirited sense of irony and a widespread polemics of intellectual intolerance, Ausgang approaches each canvas with a highly democratic, inclusive appreciation and relative equivalence. With his delirious comic interventions, Ausgang evinces an open heart and free imagination that bears no condescension. He has no need, nor desire, to demean the imperfect efforts of weekend painters, the over-circulated repros of fine art classics or the forsaken expressions of passé` style. Anthony proves that even the most debased of renderings contain an inherent capacity for artistic elevation, and that we can enjoy the ridiculous without ridiculing it.
Even when he must know that the canvas before him is truly beneath the consideration and efforts of a painter with his talents, Ausgang mines the most mediocre material for what it offers- the affordable, available, and most significantly, expansive possibilities for discursive dialogue. Entering into these already established compositions, Ausgang's trespass of thrift store topographies is a sneaky kind of voyeuristic intrusion where, no matter how outrageous his visual prank may be, his own hand must remain true to that of the original, the trace of his touch subtle and seamless. Each incursion is less an invasion than an investigation, and though he may violate its former intentions he maintains its integrity. In trying to change the message while maintaining the essence of the medium, each painting presents this artist with a complex compositional puzzle. On the one hand Ausgang must contend with the same formal issues regarding representation that go into any painting- and problem solving, after all, is at the heart of any creative process. On the other hand however, he must now also address these concerns within a preexisting pictorial narrative.
Ausgang doesn't paint over so much as paint within. He's not simply looking for canvases to cover, but rather those spaces inside a picture that can allow him to insert his ulterior visual information. "If you want to get it right," Ausgang admits, "graphically you have to be a slave to what others have done before you." Just as his most radical juxtapositions have to work conceptually, and his most jarring alterations must conform stylistically, so too is an abiding sense of scale essential to sustaining the perspectival logic by which we can enter, and believe, this flat fiction. Working within such constraints, while he continues to paint with the same stunningly bizarre imagination evident in all his work, this act of invention is now rather a kind of solution. How do you deface a Van Gogh without defaming its genius, or perpetrate a perversity upon the quaint Americana of a Norman Rockwell while preserving its innocence? For that matter, what can be done to make a bad painting better, or a cheap sentiment valuable, in such a way that the forgery doesn't forfeit any of the original idiosyncrasy? Anthony does it by holding the compositional integrity of any picture as paramount, and honoring the past with the same intensity that he haunts it. In terms of technical skill and artistic vision alike, these hybrid conflation's of antiquated ideals and contemporary iconoclasm's are like lessons on the problems and poetics of painting itself.
Perfecting the prank, Ausgang's altered artifacts follow through on Duchamp's mustached Mona Lisa with the same abiding affection for the inherent beauty of the found object as motivated R. Mutt's urinal. And if the collection and exhibition of thrift store paintings by fellow Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw belongs to the purer forms of l'objet trouve tradition, Ausgang's vulgarized vandalism's are far more overt in the ambition and Duchampian conceit of their co-option and conquest. Ausgang himself will describe it as a kind of pictorial colonialism. Here, like a visual equivalent for our adaptable and continuously morphing relationship to the environment and authority of history, Ausgang hits the landscape with the vigor and fearlessness of a graffiti writer or a skateboarder's reappropriation of urban architecture. With humor to deflect the sheer force and audacity of his genre-tweaking mayhem, Ausgang brings an explicit and graphic vernacular to the polite converse of the sublime, divine,
exotic, idyllic and pastoral in painting. And as landscapes are the easiest and most common subject matter for the hobby artist, Ausgang takes particular pleasure in pissing on the pastoral, riffing on these sedate settings with pornographic flourishes, toxic pollutants and a populace of oblivious vacationers, fornicating felines, automotive atrocities, and beer guzzling hunters. Sincerity and irony flip, inversions strung between picture planes, as the original painting is made background to Ausgang's deranged dramas.
Ausgang's signature cat is the most frequent star to bum rush the bucolic, crashing scenery in center stage antics of public indecency, drunken stupor and slothful leisure. Brunt of the litter spawned by all those Krazy cats from Felix to Fritz, Ausgang's animal is a florescent stewpot of our basest desires unleashed, exaggerated with the radical distortions of Tex Avery cartoons and animated by his surrealist disjunction against the placid picturesque. Whether projectile vomiting across scenic vistas or using the lay of the land to commit suicide, this carnal cat is mere metaphor for our greater disease before nature. Mountains, woods, streams, meadows, ocean fronts and villages, where-ever Ausgang finds them all, we too will see the desperate dramas, the marching soldiers, lurking assassins, missiles, airplanes, jet skis, hot rods and myriad other pleasure craft. And as long as humanity continues to paint its gardens, Anthony Ausgang will retrieve and revamp them- not to return to Eden or any other arcadia, but to recycle them through the forgotten composts and abandoned outposts of our perpetual recreation.

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