CARBON 14 - JANUARY 2001
INTERVIEWER: JUSTICE HOWARD
e-mailed him out of the blue. I figured he might have heard of me since we'd
been published in countless magazines together. I'd seen his stuff and was entranced
by it. I already had an incurable case of "Ausgang-itis". With Ausgang-itis
you see lime green and bright orange dots everywhere. And cats
He got back to me by e-mail and said he was interested in trading a piece with me. I do this with all of my favorite artists; and that's a small club! This way I can get a piece of theirs into my Private Erotic Art Collection, already willed to a Museum at my demise. I already have original pieces by Weegee, George Hurrell (famous 1940's glamour photographer), and many others so he was in good company. He told me he had a piece that needed a special home; one he'd never been able to place. He sent me a scan of it and I immediately fell in love. It was round. It had attitude. It had cats.
After our trade was initiated, we continued to e-mail. His e-mails were some of the most witty, wild and savage ones I would receive. I knew this Ausgang was a formidable character.
The painting he gave me is my all-time favorite in my erotic art collection. It used to be my Weegee self portrait but Ausgang-itis changed that. When he said it was a round painting, I thought he meant it was a round painting on a square canvas. Then I opened up the crate it came in and I'll be damned-it's actually a round fuckin painting totally round. Like a circle on your wall. Only a circle with it's own whimsical world inside. I think it's called "Cat Pimp" and it's got a Jessica Rabbit type babe in it with all of the voluptua one can muster in a cartoon diva. Veronica Lake hair, pouty lips and boobs for days. And the funny thing is, that when I look at this painting, it always makes me feel good. It's right up on the wall of my bedroom, right above my sewing machine, where I see it every day. One of the things I value most about his work is the originality in it. That's what impresses me these days, originality in artwork. How many times have we seen something that's just a version of something else? Too often is the answer.
In "Ausgang World" there's lots of bright colors. Lots of cartoon characters with eyes falling out of their heads. Lots of pinks right out of a psychedelic poster with acid-oranges to match. One of my favorites on his site (www.ausgangart.com) right now is a painting called "The Ambush"; it's cartoon cats all tatted out-a meaner, leaner, more delinquent version of his cats that are usually featured. They've got this other cat ambushed with tattoo guns while the background is obviously a tattoo shop in some comic book haven that can be found only in his head.
He informed me the other day that he first became acquainted with my photography in the crapper at the Frolic Room in Hollywood. Someone had stuck one of my stickers on the wall of the john but had craftily torn off the contact information on the bottom. However, due to bathroom fate, our meeting would come later.
Ausgang spent a while in art school and then pulled away from the histrionics to find his own way. I, for one, am certainly glad he did cause nothing he does is a version of the norm. Nothing he does is a part of someone else's art. He is a TRUE ORIGINAL. Round paintings are his frenzy. The crazy eyeballs are all part of his disease. And the cats are all his own.
Your stuff is really cartoon-oriented.
What is your thinking and your theories behind that?
Why do I like cartoons so much? Is that what you're asking?
Well it goes back a long time. It has a lot to do with my pop, who was basically an immigrant to this country and didn't have much of a clue of what American culture was all about. So he was watching these cartoons on TV when I was growing up, with the same kind of enthusiasm I was. He'd never seen them before and I'd never seen them before, so we'd sit there together and watch cartoons on TV and just completely flip out on Warner Brothers and things like that. He would explain to me what was going on, like the adult humor and stuff like that. I just kind of really bonded with my dad over cartoons. But the thing that was most important was, since I liked them so much and my parents realized I liked them so much, they decided-if you fuck up or do something wrong, you can't watch any cartoons.
So it really made me value the cartoons and it kept me in line. There was kind of like a work ethic attached to that, 'cause if I did well I could watch cartoons. So when I paint, I want to paint the best thing I can so I paint cartoons. Does that make any sense?
Yeah, that's good. What kind of comics did you read as a kid, like MAD magazine or
I had a really weird upbringing because my father was Welsh and my mother was Dutch, therefore they were very European, and they tried to bring me up in a European way in the middle of '60s America. I didn't really read many comics, I read books more than anything. I think that has a lot to do with why I'm so visually oriented because I would come up with the images that were described in these books, as opposed to looking at a comic where it's basically laid out for you. But I always read MAD magazine. I didn't know what it was, I didn't know what the fuck was going on. I didn't know of the cultural references, so I didn't really get it. But it was all like magic to me. It didn't make any sense, it didn't hook up with any of my cultural brainwashing, because I had this European culture thing in my head and yet I was reading all this weird stuff like National Lampoon, their first few issues, and MAD magazine. It was all completely surreal to me because it didn't hook up with anything I'd ever been told about.
For a while you went to art school, is that correct?
Yeah, I went to the Otis Art Institute, I went to the University of Texas. Basically what went down was my dad was paying my tuition and I was just coasting along, enjoying living in LA. One day I went to a bar, and I met this guy; he was getting drunk, I was getting drunk. We were sitting there talking and it turned out he had also gone to Otis and he had ended up owing sixty thousand bucks. So instead of getting a job as an artist he ended up getting a data entry job for some insurance company. So here he had a degree but he wasn't using it because he had to pay off his education. I thought 'Fuck that, I don't want to fall into that trap.' So I dropped out of art school after two semesters. I managed to hang on for one more semester by sweet-talking the teachers and acting like I was a student; I just kept going to classes.
So you kind of rebelled against art school? Or you just found that it wasn't for you or it was a waste of time ?
It wasn't a waste of time. I could see that there were a lot of things to be learned in art school. No question about it; there's a lot of things you can't really learn on your own, you have to have some parental or authority figure breathing over your back saying, 'You have to do this by Tuesday, you have to do this by Wednesday.' And that's a good kick in the ass. I didn't have any discipline. I was just a fuckin' kid in his early 20s getting stoned; taking every drug I could get.
I needed some thing to reel me in. But at the same time I also realized-because I started going to art openings, which I had never experienced before, at least growing up in Houston and Austin-if I go to school I'm not going to be able to become involved in any meaningful way with this [showing my art], other than being a spectator, for four years. So I decided to drop out of school, paint, and start going to galleries with my shit.
I've seen your resumé, the one you mailed me about a week ago, and I was pretty impressed; you've had a lot of shows.
Yeah, I've been really lucky. A lot of it is sweat and toil. I mean, there's two types of artists; the people who make art because they have to, because it's a part of their fucking life. They're gonna get spun out if they don't do it; the hell with whether there's a show coming or whatever, they have to do this. And then the other type is the people who work when they get a show. I'm constantly working, so if anybody came up to me and said they had an opening or a slot available or a group show on blah blah blah theme-I would always have work ready to go. So I'd be able to get into shows because I had shit ready to go.
That's very cool.
And I've been at it a long time. That's one of the perks of getting older, you get a lot of stuff behind you. It looks pretty impressive but you know, you're looking at ten years worth of ruined relationships, sweat and blood. If all that was compacted into two or three years, I'd say, 'Fuck, that guy's awesome!' When I moved out to LA in 1980, I was this bored out of place punk rocker in Houston and Austin and when I came out here I found a whole social scene. They accepted me for who I was, with my funny hair and torn up clothes and fucked up attitude. One of the things that was most prevalent in the scene those days was the DIY ethic-get it done, don't wait for somebody to do it for you, just do it. And that was a real motivating thing to me, that carried over into my making art; just do it. Not the Nike slogan, but just do it and get it done and do it yourself.
Right. There's a lot of titles and designations that have been put on your style of art; you know, a lot of people call it lowbrow art
Oh yeah. Lowbrow, fucking surrealism
Yeah. What would you call it yourself?
[laughs] I gotta tell you a funny story that has to do with that. A couple years ago, there was this really dynamic couple that showed up in LA; these Canadian kids. They were totally brand new on the scene, they hadn't experienced anything like this kind of art that you're talking about, the unnamed art movement-
The unnamed art movement! That's even better!
What I really want to call it is-who's that guy in that band the Dwarves? [Hewhocannotbenamed-ed.] Anyway, I think it should be called the art movement that dare not speak its name. That's what it should be. But these guys from Canada decided they were gonna name it, this art movement, a year or so ago. And the guy was really into the whole European '30s tradition of nailing the door shut; 'We're gonna come up with a name for this movement and a manifesto, and until we do it we're not gonna leave this joint.' And he tried to pull something like that off at this place here called the Key Club, which is a big rock and roll venue.
Yes, I've had shows there, I know it well.
He basically had a bug up his ass that we were gonna pound out this manifesto and we were gonna come up with a name. The guy had machine rolled about a hundred joints, there was tons of booze and about 15 different artists. It was catered, and indeed the doors were locked-and nobody could come up with a name for it! You know what I mean? We ran down a list of like hundred names for this thing, and they were all pretty catchy. They almost sounded like band names, you know?
But nobody could come up with anything. I don't know, I call it cartoon mayhem. I call it fun. Whatever. That's not the job of the artists, that's the job of the critics. Punk Rock; who came up with that, Lester Bangs? Some English guy? Somebody else. Somebody who's job is to intellectualize what's going down; they're wordsmiths, that's their job. We do the art, let the critics decide what it's called.
One of the things I'm really taken with in your art is the wonderful colors; the bright pinks, the lime greens, the lemon yellows, what's your take on that?
Sounds like Trix cereal doesn't it?
Yeah. Trix cereal on acid with animal friends.
Well yeah, it probably would have a lot to do with dropping acid, I would think. When I dropped acid a lot, I would generally go out into the country and just blaze. I didn't really do it recreationally, to go out and see a band-of course I did that kind of stuff-but for the most part when I dropped acid I would go out and just get really into the visuals. And there were certain trips that were really colorful, and I remember thinking to myself, 'These are colors I want to try and remember.' But also, I worked as a colorist for this fucking textile company, and these guys would come up with 12 different color chips and say 'OK you have to match all of these color chips perfectly by noon.' I got really good at that, I got to the point where I could match any color they gave me, and in my spare time I would just go to the paint and think, 'OK, what would happen if I mix Thelo Green with Thelo Blue and throw in some Cadium Yellow, what will I get?' Sometimes I would get mud but sometimes I would get colors that were just insane. So I was really blessed that I had unlimited amounts of paint and all the time I wanted. I could just experiment and play and do all that.
So you're painting original works over found art canvases?
Yeah I do that. Oh, let me mention one more thing about the colors. I'd forgotten, and this is something I always wanted to mention; I used to play mad scientist as a kid. My mom would give me all this stuff out of the kitchen and I would go in the bathroom and mix together massive quantities of food coloring and water-they were totally benign but to me they were monster chemicals! And I would have big beakers of yellow, green and red liquid. When I think about it, I think that is really the source of where I got my colors; playing with food coloring, playing mad scientist in the bathroom, when I was like seven. Can you dig it?
Yeah, that's very cool.
I mean as hard as we'd like to not think that everything we do is influenced by what we learned when we were kids, I'd have to say that's probably where it comes from.
Cool. So tell us about your found canvases that you're painting over.
Well, I was at a thrift store one day and I found this really nice painting of the Redwood forest. I was stoned and I was just lookin' at it and I thought, 'That's a really nice scene, but there's no action, no story.' So I thought, 'OK, it's not signed, it's in the thrift store dustbin; it's free, and I feel free so I'm going to paint on top of this thing.' But, at the same time, I felt there was a certain amount of respect I had to maintain for what the other person had done. Because, like it or not, I was involved in a dialogue and I had to respect what they had done before me. So when I add to these paintings I add characters, I add some very subtle things but for the most part I want to leave them the way that I found them. You know what I'm saying?
I think understatement is the key. Because this whole art movement that cannot speak it's name is all about overstatement. I'm like the black sheep because I believe in understatement.
What do you mean by that; you're the black sheep because you believe in understatement?
Well, I mean there's a lot of people who find a certain icon and just beat the shit out of it; keep using it over and over again. Big tits; hot rods; this and that.
You can do more with those things other than present them as an icon on their own. You can use them to represent something. So there'll be some cat who's doing Frankenstein driving a fuckin' jalopy, and that's cool. But wouldn't it be cooler if you took Frankenstein driving a jalopy and you gave him an environment, and a reason he was doing that? So I try to look just beyond the image and figure out-what is this and why is this happening in this painting.
Like the one that looks kind of like an impressionistic nude and you put a little naughty cat underneath the nude grabbing her boob? [laughing] You mean like that?
Yeah, like that. Well that one is specific because who hasn't thought about screwing the nude model? I mean you get all these people sitting around in a classroom looking at a nude model, and somebody at some point is going to be thinking, 'Is she do-able? Is that guy do-able?' There's like a sexual subtext to the whole nude modeling session anyway so I thought, 'Fuck it, why not have this guy grabbing the tit?'
It's a very cute painting.
It's benign, right?
Yeah. And of course he's hot pink too, and bright orange. I wanted to ask you what artists you admire? Who are your art icons?
That's really tough. It changes; constantly. There are certain people I've always respected, one of them being this guy Franz Marc-he was a German expressionist painter who died in World War I. He did a lot of really bitchin' animal paintings, really gripping, cool stuff. I think I like his work the most because he was such a talented person and his life was cut short, and he's not really known. I bounce back and forth with Duchamp. I think Duchamp is a villain sometimes and other times I think he's brilliant. Basically my opinion on art is, what I respect changes but it depends what I'm doing at the time. 'How can I justify what I'm doing? OK, I'll throw out Duchamp this time!' [laughs] But the next piece I'm gonna love him again. And Robert Williams, of course. It's a real pleasure to be alive at the same time as artists you respect because somebody of the stature of Robert Williams has affected me in so many ways. It makes me think, 'Yeah, Mozart was real person. Mozart was a guy with emotions, a guy who got hungry, took a shit, jacked off, had sex '; you know, he was a real person. As the years go by and this person just fades into history, you tend to personify them somewhat and they become like this force, this thing that's just there. I feel completely blessed to be living at the same time as Williams.
That's quite a compliment.
It's a big one, but he deserves it. I don't know, for the most part I was influenced more by writers than anything else because of the imagery that good writers come up with in their books, it's a mental exercise. I think reading is one of the most important things an artists can do because it really works your vision muscle in your head You can read something about tank warfare; whatever subject you want, it's just printed letters on paper. But while you're reading it, if you have a developed visual mind you can envision these scenes, and the carnage you just can work out your visual muscle. Does that make sense?
Oh yeah, big time. Do you find over time that your art always seems to be changing and maturing? 'Cause I just wrote this thing, it was a preface for Erotica magazine, and that's actually what it's about. I'm finding that personally, and I'm looking toward a lot of other artists-ones historically in the past, and also even Marilyn Manson; he's no longer so much like the devil boy anymore, you know? So I find my art kind of maturing and changing and I was wondering if you're finding that also?
Yeah, I think that's something that has to happen. To me that's the hallmark of a true artist, being able to mature and do something with the new experiences that you have I think that's totally a critical thing, there's no doubt about it. If you get a monograph on an artist and it covers that artists work from when they were a student until when they died you can see the progression there. To me that's one of the most enjoyable things about books on artists, just looking at the stages that all these people go through. I mean take Dali for example. If you look at his early work, it's just ships by the sea, then it morphs into this insane surrealism and we won't talk about what he did towards the end cause I don't really like it. But yeah, it's really wonderful to say, 'Look where this came from.' I think it's really important to do that, for musicians, for artists, for writers. Yeah, man, you've gotta mature. That's the wrong word. Develop is a better word.
Yeah. Progress is also a good word. I think all the true artists mature.
It takes a lot of fucking guts. Because you're gonna alienate your audience. I've got this reputation of painting hot rods, flames, cats, this and that, and I'm trying to take it a step further; I'm trying to take it someplace else, and there are gonna be people who aren't gonna dig it. They're gonna go, 'Where are the hot rods? What the fuck? What are these landscapes?' I don't give a shit, because it's entirely for me. I have to do it well because there's an audience of people looking at it, but that's it.
So basically when you paint, you paint for you?
I paint for me, but I paint well for the audience.
That's cool. Let me ask you this, apparently a lot of porn people collect your art; is that true?
Yeah, there's a few people in the porn industry that have bought them.
OK. Do you want to give any names of any collectors who own your stuff? Not just porn people, but people in the overall category. Come on now, brag a bit!
Overall? Big collectors?
Nick Cage has bought a few, he's probably my biggest "star quality" collector. Mark Mothersbaugh, Perry Farrell I don't really think about it that much. It's interesting because there's a lot of high powered people in industries, who aren't that popular, who have ended up buying my work
Do you want to talk about anything you have coming up?
I've got a show that's coming up on October 28th at the Nils Kantor Gallery out here. That's kind of a big move for me because I've been showing with this gallery called the Merry Karnowski Gallery out here; she represents a lot of the Kustom Kulture, lowbrow, whatever the fuck you want to call it, artists. And that's really nice, it's an appreciative audience, but I'm preaching to the converted. So I wanna take my paintings to a whole different audience, which is spoiled brats in Beverly Hills. [laughs] So we'll see what they think about it.
I'm sure they'll love 'em; I just think your stuff is the shit times ten.
You ever hear of Foetus?
He bought one.
OK. So what's your favorite thing to paint?
Why is that?
Oh man, I get asked that question so many times. I have a lot of different answers. I was talking to my friend Sonic Boom, I've been doing his artwork for him; we were sitting around one day and he was asking me that. We were talking about it and he said, 'Well, it just works.'
It just works, I can't really explain it. I suppose it could go back to that cartoon thing we were talking about earlier. I mean watching Sylvester and Felix the Cat-
Do you own any?
Yeah, I've got one, he's sitting right there. I always have to have one around. It's really interesting because when I went to the British Museum they had-apparently they discovered this tomb where there were, I think, 40,000 cat mummies in it.
I mean look at the Sphinx, that's a major piece of world history and it's a cat, of all things. I like painting cartoon characters because one of my basic philosophies about why I do this shit is-ever since the cave paintings at Lascaux, people have been painting the human figure, and I think that's long enough. I mean, painting the human figure for 10-20,000 years is long enough. I want to get the whole idea about what it is to be a person but get it through to people in an oblique way by putting it with cartoon characters. I mean, why did Warner Brothers do what they did? Why is there Daffy Duck? Why is there Sylvester? Why is there a rabbit? Why is there a pig? Why is there basically one fucking human, Elmer Fudd, who's a dweeb? What's up? Somehow in my childhood responded to this wacky universe that was presented to me, that I had never seen before, which was populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals and maybe one person and it all worked. So I bought it, and I'm screwed 'cause I'm 40 and I'm still into 'em-I still believe it! I went to a shrink once, I had these problems for a while, and he said 'Tell me a little bit about yourself, tell me what's going on.' So I said, 'Well I paint cats, and blah blah blah '
And we talked some more and I told him about my mother, who had this weird sort of Northern European, Darwinist attitude where when stray cats would come to our back door she's feed 'em and then she'd take them off to the vet to get put to sleep. Because she thought that their lives were so empty it would be a boon for them to be put to sleep.
That mortifies me.
Well, she was working with what she had, I can't hold that against her. I can't pass judgment on that, that was her thing. But the shrink leans forward in his chair and he looks at me and he says, 'Well did you ever consider that maybe what you're trying to do is give all these dead cats a life?' And I said, 'No, I don't think so.'
It doesn't go that deep!
I also want to make a point of the fact that you paint really good penises.
Yeah. [silence] Am I supposed to talk about that?
Well yeah! [laughs]
Why do I paint penises so much? [laughs] I'm obsessed with my own cock. I really am.
I mean, I've seen some renditions that don't even look-it's not even close, you know what I mean?
But yours are pretty right on the nut.
Pardon the expression.
No, that's good. Well, it's easier to paint because all I have to do is get a mirror, whip out my own dick and I can look at it while I'm trying to paint one. But if I have to paint a nude female, I've gotta go out and get a model or convince some girl to come over and strip. [laughs]
Do you ever do that, paint from real models?
I've been doing that more actually. I've been starting going to life drawing class again. I have this friend, this guy Van Arno, he's a supreme, really exquisite figure painter. He and I do completely different types of work but somehow we relate to each other very well. He's convinced me to start going to life drawing classes.
Are you teaching him how to paint cats?
I'm teaching him color, how to use his colors a little bit more. But no, I'm not gonna teach him how to do cats or I'll be out of a job.
[laughing] OK. And your babes are just pin-up heaven.
If you look at pin-up art, there's a certain formula to that. There's certain visual images that get across certain ideas and there's a lot of that in pin-up art; you've got small waist, big hips, big breasts and a good looking face. If you can put those four things together, you can come up with a passable pin-up thing. I don't know, I appreciate what you're saying but it's kind of, in a way, formulaic. You know what I mean?
Oh, I think you're being much too humble.
Bukowski was slagged by so many women for being sexist, but he loved women-and this happened with Williams too; they both love women. That is not an insult, what Bukowski wrote about women and what Williams paints. These are not insults, these are accolades, tributes to women and a lot of people have this knee-jerk reaction. They can't handle it. But you have to look slightly below the surface and you can see that these are tributes to women. I definitely think that women are some of the best things on the planet. I'd rather spend time with a woman than a guy any time.
OK, now all the readers are positively sure about Ausgang's sexual preference, so that's good. But at the same time, let me say that I think Tom of Finland kicks ass too. I mean it's an eroticism, the pin-up formula is more about eroticism than it is about the female figure. I guess that would clarify that a little bit. I mean I'm not into big gay cocks and stuff. I'm not into that part but I really look at his drawings.
Yeah, he's pretty awesome. Did you know, just as a little bit of trivia here, that I am the first woman they ever archived at the Tom of Finland Foundation? Also there was a big backlash about it. A lot of guys canceled their subscriptions and were like, 'Oh my god, you're letting in a woman!' It was really funny.
I can't deal with the whole separatist faction of the gay scene.
No. I mean who's the first to cry discrimination? You know what I mean? It was reverse discrimination, it was very strange.
It's bullshit, I don't like the exclusionary thing.
Yeah. The president of the foundation really stood up for me. He wrote this letter that said something like, 'Look, get your heads out of your asses. This is about art and erotic art and the preservation of such.' It was pretty cool. Anyway in your art, Anthony, I really like the little hysterical cat faces you do; the ones with the big, round tennis ball eyes and the tongue sticking out and the whiskers that look kinda like lightning, they all stick out to the side. Those are wild.
Yeah, that's like a cartoon take.
Yeah, it's like the 'Eek' pose. Like it should have the little "Eek" lightbulb above it. [giggles]
So do you want to mention your website?
Yeah, sure, it's ausgangart.com; it's a place where people can go to find out what the fuck is going on.
OK, Double-A, is there anything else you want to mention?
I wanna mention that I think computers area a really important new tool for the artist, and I think a lot of artists need to overcome their dread of it. Although that seems to be happening anyway. But I've been using a computer now for going on seven or eight years, and I know that there were a lot of people in the beginning who were absolutely shocked by the fact that I was using computers. Because they felt there was this sort of ideological problem with it. But I use them for putting my paintings together. I'm not a big fan of digital art; at it's logical end, it's just a piece of art that's strictly digital. But I encourage all artists to use Adobe Photoshop, learn it; it's as important a tool as a #2 pencil.
-that's what it is, it's a tool. It shouldn't be used right from the get-go, like you're saying, like totally done on the computer with no kind originality or human artistry, that's bad.
I'm not saying it's bad; I'm just saying for me, it leaves me cold. I mean the last really big development in terms of painting was the invention of oil paint. That was, I think, in the 17th century. In 200 years people are gonna look back on Adobe Photoshop and say it was as profound an influence on the visual art as the invention of oil paint or the invention of photography. For people not to understand that and take advantage of it right now is bullshit. Well maybe not bullshit, but I think they should do that. That's the last thing I want to say, because I really want the artists to start using computers and get over their fear. I remember Williams came over to my studio once and I said, 'Let's put your name on a search engine, I'm sure all kinds of stuff will come up.' So I did, and all this stuff came up. I said, 'Come on over and look, there's 80 different listing of your name,' and he wouldn't do it; he didn't want to look, he didn't want to have anything to do with it. He's a holdout, and I really wish Williams would start using a computer. The dude doesn't even have a fax machine. [laughs]
That's what Suzanne says, I don't know if that's true. But I know they don't dick around with the computer.
Is there anything else you want to add?
No, that's about it. I'm all talked out