worlds apart, yet in the same lowbrow neighborhood, is the work of Anthony Ausgang.
Like Coop, Ausgang's work involves cars and a lack of "fine art appeal."
And there's another similarity - it's all right with him that the fine art Mafia,
as he calls them, aren't all that interested in him. Ausgang feels like he's
getting to the people who need to know.
Ausgang's paintings are habituated by cartoonish cats - cats in hot rods, cats with guns, surrealist cats - a far cry from Coop's devil girls or Williams' twisted stories. But the same stories are being told - "give it up, humans don't learn by their mistakes and we're all fucked." The flip side of these tales of woe is, "since all is lost have some fun while we're waiting to be wiped out." Ausgang isn't coming from some holier than thou pulpit, his tales are often autobiographical. He likes using the cats as an abstraction of the human form. Because the human figure has been used since caveman first put charcoal to the cave wall, Ausgang wants to pass on his message about the human condition using fresher methods. His goofy cats find their way into found paintings from thrift stores. His pink or blue or green cats get run over or pay for blow jobs or get mugged just like any old stupid human.
While the stories are clear to others like him, who grew up playing with Hot Wheels and watching Saturday morning cartoons, Ausgang realizes that fine art galleries aren't particularly interested in his statement on humanity. Going from gallery to gallery, he wondered why these people would want his work. It was all cars and wild shit. Fortunately there is another success route for these outsider artists, because the car thing is in Ausgang's blood. "Ultimately the hot rods are a big influence or starting point for me, more than anything. I don't really know what I would be doing right now if I hadn't recognized the beauty of cars."
That falling in love with the automobile happened when Ausgang was still a kid in Texas. He put together all those Roth models, played with Hot Wheels and constructed Odd Rods. What developed in him was a fetish for hot rods with a monster twist. "I could understand that these things were cool. And how they got tied into this whole thing about California - surfing and hot rods," recalls Ausgang. "I wanted to get the fuck over to California as soon as I could."
What Ausgang found on the West Coast was a group of loonies that shared his same fetish. To Ausgang this hot rod enthusiasm arises from the idea that cars freed up American culture, while making the country mobile. His love of cars gave him freedom to "get kicks" from things outside of the art world. It was legit for him to dig places like dirt tracks, car shows and junkyards. "I love to go to the junkyards and just look at these wrecks. You can see these cars that were in horrific accidents. Generally when you see these classic cars they're all beautifully restored, but you go to a junkyard and see these things fucked up. That appeals to me. They can no longer run. They become strictly a sculptural object. It's just this gorgeous beast fucking thing."
The junkyard offers a peek into personal lives decades after the people are gone. Shells of cars offer family pictures, clothing, eyeglasses, all sorts of clues about the people who first drove these cars home, fresh off the showroom floor. Ausgang sees the whole history of a man in the rusted bodies of the most expensive thing a family could own. "It's this object of yearning until you get it. Then you've got it and you're so fucking proud of this thing. It's success and then it falls apart and eventually ends up in the junkyard." Stories like these and other fucked up realities are what Ausgang offers in his work. One gallery show featured a fatally crunched and artfully flamed '70 Cougar. To the artist, it concocted the story of a guy in the fast lane having phone sex and getting his comeuppance. A guy, like a speed freak, who's on the road all the time and at the whim of a woman who wants to have phone sex with somebody driving. Even when he included the phone and all the clues, Ausgang was surprised the viewers didn't get it.
What people do pick up on is what also attracts Ausgang to this lowbrow school. Camaraderie. Traditionally even competitors in the hot rod arena share secrets, tips and respect for each other's hard work. That feeling of community is often missing among artists. The creation of art necessities a certain level of self-absorption. Creation in the car world is greeted with open praise - like right on, bitchin' car. Ausgang feels that same thing going on in lowbrow territory, particularly from the undisputed king-Robert Williams. "He's glad that everybody's out there working in the same school. He created this fucking art school. He created this style of art. He's a fucking saint."
Another of the lowbrow attributes carried over from hot rod standards is the lack of the ridiculous. "One thing about hot rods is you can't baffle somebody with bullshit. You can't write a 15 page theory about why your car should be going 150 mph, it has to go 150 mph. I try to find that kind of practicality in my art. I don't want to have to write a 15 page theory about what my paintings are all about. You look at them and you see it. Fuck it. This is it."
What's presented as straight ahead is just the beginning for Ausgang's search in his work. Sure eight balls and fuzzy dice have a proven attraction - but why? What is it about a custom Merc that embodies evil? Familiar with the empty feeling of walking away from art that functions as beautiful eye candy, Ausgang attempts to share more in his paintings including a message in the medium prevents him from doing what so many others in "homage" to Von Dutch and Ed Roth attempt to pass off as original art. An art enthusiast can only take in so many winged eyeballs or rats in souped up monster mobiles before craving a fresh thought. Or, as Ausgang says, "The amount of things you can choose to paint are infinite. So to repeat something that someone else has done blows my fucking mind." But he also admits that there's a difference between art and decoration, and if some guy wants the trillionth copy of Lady Luck on his car, well all right then.