CHRIS MUSTO) Obvious question out of the way first. Who are some of your influences
& favorite working artists?
ANTHONY AUSGANG) Thematic influences:
In my high school school library there was an entire run of Life magazines from the '30s to the '60s. I used to ignore my homework assignments and sit and look through the issues, tripping on all the old advertisements and articles. After I moved to LA I began finding tons of old magazines in junk stores and I began making collage work from stuff I would cut out. I eventually got bored with just pasting images together and began to do paintings of the collages. I was always attracted to images of company mascots, shit like tractors with tails and paws. Finally I just abandoned the magazine source material altogether and began painting from my drawings. I had learned the basic idea of what constitutes a cartoon character from watching TV cartoons and collecting little animal figurines so I'd just draw whatever fucked up anatomically impossible animal would pop into my head. I was influenced a lot at this point by the artists in the magazines I had all over my studio, people like Hannes Bok, Virgil Finlay and various anonymous cover artists. The colors were lurid, the monsters completely bizarre and the women were sex exemplified. I was also inspired by the stories I would read in these old Sci-Fi pulps and paperbacks. My parents brought me up to be a great reader so I learned as a child how to visualize the characters and setting that I was reading about. I still believe that the most important exercise for a visual artist is reading. It's easy to put into visual terms what's floating around in one's head but far more difficult to build a character or scene from someone else's description. It works out the visual muscle, which is sadly flaccid in the majority of artists I encounter.
My parents dragged me kicking and screaming to the finest museums that Europe had to offer. I was bored by most of it but the paintings cut through the shit and really "spoke" to me. I was engaged most by Flemish paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, works that chronicled life in Medieval Europe. Years later I took psychedelics and went the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, looking very closely at Bosch and Breugel paintings for hours on end. I've never painted with oils but I managed to learn a lot of technical shortcuts by looking at "old masters" art. The art of the Russian Constructivists gave me an entirely new sense of graphic arrangement; Pop Art and Surrealism taught me that anything is possible and Abstract Expressionism showed me that anything is acceptable.
I have no favorite working artists, only favorite individual WORKS of art. Most of Robert William's work is good but some are slightly off the mark (that may sound blasphemous to some but it's a painful truth, for all artists). And that goes for me, for every really successful painting there's a slew of shitty ones. I had a long discussion with Sonic Boom about if an artist can create only great works and we couldn't come up with ONE artist (or musician) that hadn't done a few clunkers.
CM) What's the first thing you can remember drawing?
AA) My hamster in his cage. It won a blue ribbon at some "art faire" and the goddamn thing hung on a wall at my parents house for years.
CM) When did you decide you wanted to be an artist/ was your family & friends supportive?
AA) I came of "artistic age" in the late 70's, early 80's when Punk Rock was happening and I was completely blown away by all the artistic freedom I witnessed going down. I changed my style and demeanor to match, and the only crew at the campus of The University of Texas that shared my new sensibilities was gathered in the Fine Art building. I saw those cute gals and stylish guys and just wanted to be there with 'em. My parents were supportive in their lack of antagonism: they never actually approved but they were savvy enough to appreciate the fact I wasn't a junkie.
CM) Where did your fascination with hot rods come from?
AA) In 60's America there was a strong hotrod and custom car culture. Years
later I was to meet the masterminds behind the hyping of the craze, people like
Jim Brucker in Santa Paula for example. Anyway, my Dad took me to the shows
that would hit Houston, Texas and we would go see the latest Ed Roth and Tom
Daniels creations. Making car models was a rite of passage for American male
youth at the time and I built many of them on the kitchen table. One day I bought
a "hot knife" that enabled me customize my own rides from the standard
kits and I fancied myself a Roth in training. The hot rod thus became a powerful
icon in my lexicon of images and I incorporated it in my early paintings without
even considering it's appropriateness.
CM) What was it like at the Otis Art institute in LA? Were they accepting of the cartoon/hot rod influence or did you get a hard time for it?
AA) I was pretty much your standard issue American college kid, out from the parent's house for the first time so I spent most of my energy getting fucked up and trying to get passing grades. The Otis Art Institute was a different story: I was up against talented young artists and I had to get my shit together if I was going to develop in any meaningful direction. I accepted the self discipline and worked my ass off. It was incredibly necessary for me to have an authority figure that I respected hanging over me. The teachers at the time were wildly open to whatever the students presented, as long as it satisfied the assignment so I had no problems with my choice of imagery. Remember, there WAS no Kustom Kulture at the time so the use of hotrods and monsters was essentially neutral and reactionary to nothing. The only kid I saw get a hard time for his art was drawing superhero comic book style and he got dissed badly.
CM) What would your dream project be?
AA) My dream project WAS to design little Hot Wheels size cars with my designs on them and goddamn if I didn't get a deal with Playing Mantis, the company that makes Johnny Lightning toy cars. Well, they liked my designs and I knocked out two bitchen hot rods for them. At that point they decided to visit my website and they were so freaked out by what they considered my anti-establishment stance that they called me a "cultural renegade" and cancelled the deal. Why they felt it was okay to produce Playboy magazine cars and not mine is beyond me, after all Playboy is all about masturbation, which seems pretty lame to me. I'm still trying to find a company to produce them. My current dream project would be to go to Egypt and make some huge stone sculptures of my characters to rival the ancient stuff. Then bury them.
CM) If you could do a collaborative project with any artist living or dead,
who would it be & why?
AA) I'd like to work with Dali so I could learn his classy tricks of self promotion.
CM) Here's a 2-part question I'm swiping from Wizard magazine... What was your
favorite toy as a kid & what's your favorite toy as an adult?
AA) As a kid I favored these little plastic figurines I picked up in Holland in the late 60's that were made as giveaways with certain products, like sodas or motor oil. They were incredibly detailed and most of them weren't related to any show or product so kids could just make up any personality they wanted for them. The best one was a wolf in a smock and beret splattered with paint, holding a brush and looking slightly perplexed. My favorite toy now is a pair of spike heeled shoes on a beautiful woman.
CM) What kind of music & movies are you into?
AA) I'll listen to anything, from archaic pre-electric recordings of Delta Blues to the Chemical Brothers. As long as it's done well, I'll check it out. I tend to listen to heavy Dub or "Ambient music" while painting because it just plods along like the whole painting process. I consider "Apocalypse Now" to be one of the finest movies made but once again, I'll check out anything. Except bad porno, they should institute the death penalty for boring porn that uses ugly actors and actresses
CM) And to top things off, what would
you like to be best remembered for?
AA) Having studied Art History, I'm aware that it takes a GROUP of artists to create a movement but only a few select individuals will get credit. As Post Modernism progresses and art critics seek more ways to analyse the past, those "forgotten" artists get some crumbs of recognition. I have no illusions about my place in Art history and I'll most likely never get included in any updates of Gardner's Art Encyclopedia, tough shit. But I do hope I get remembered for having helped legitimized the use of cartoon characters in fine art.