Car Kulture Deluxe, Vol.1, No. 2, Winter 2005
One Kool Kat: Anthony Ausgang By Anna Marco
Special thanks to Debora Ballabio
Anthony Ausgang was born in Point-a-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago to Welsh and Dutch parents. After a miserable plane flight he arrived in Texas, just in time to catch the birth of Ed Roth's Ratfink and Kennedy's assassination (a connection noted by many conspiracy buffs). What was lousy about the flight was that the family had left a tropical paradise and moved to Houston.
Witnessing hot rod culture in the cow pastures of Spring Branch, Ausgang vowed to someday travel faster than his mother's euro ragtop Vespa and bust a move to California. The aforementioned car died a rapid death and ended up with a hippie named Peanut. The little farming community is now a suburb with no traces at all of its past.
After years of imprisonment in Texas, Anthony was slapped in the face by punk rock and thus knocked in a westerly direction. Ignoring the myth of Hollywood, he took up residence on the dangerous Eastside of LA. He maintained his composure with painting and target practice, as crack dealers sold their wares 24/7 on his doorstep.
One day at the beach, Ausgang found some Zap Comix that a bored surfer had left in the port-a-potty. Proud to say that he had "discovered the art of Robert Williams in a toilet"; Ausgang hunted down a show of Williams' Zap Comics work at Zomo art space, and introduced himself. That was in 1982. Realizing the vast difference between the curriculum offered at Otis Art Institute and the graphics of untamed Lowbrow Art culture, Ausgang dropped out of school to acquire practical knowledge of the budding craft.
Armed with portfolio and bad attitude, he harassed L.A.'s Zero One Gallery for a show and was eventually included in a group exhibit. His painting sold at the opening reception and both Ausgang and his new dealer were instantly struck blind by visions of giant dollar signs and fell backwards. Since then, collectors have tasted Ausgang bait and bitten hard on the hook. Anthony draws influence from as many "outside" channels as possible, preferring the toy contents of grocery store gumball machines, to the latest exhibit at the Getty. He is most inspired by Bomber nose art, weird cartoon characters, deadlines, young talent, and people who will wait in line at an art show for an hour and a half, then pay $7 to get in. Badass hotrods and art helped him survive a near death accident when he was run over by a car while riding his bicycle.
Fueled by intelligence, informed opinion, Stanley Mouse, Salvador Dali, Skip Williamson, Robert Crumb, and Boris Artzibasheff (a mid century illustrator), he is able to see the beauty in both Rembrandt and last year's rusty primer. His variety of interests leads him to design his artwork on the computer but complete it on the easel with acrylic paints, a perfect combination of new technology and traditional media.
Outstanding examples of his wares include vintage autos used as canvas, his "Car Show Barbie", and his signature cat motif. When asked why cats? He replied, "I paint cartoon characters because everywhere I go I see people, people, people. So the last thing I want to see when I look at art is more people; one writer described my art as "a vacation from reality". I paint cats because they seem to work well graphically and I love the fact that they're self-cleaning machines. Never met a dog that cleaned itself properly. I consider myself to be in the tradition of cat artists who have worked for thousands of years; don't forget that the Sphinx in Egypt is a cat and that's one of the world's great sculptures".
Furthermore, he explains his love of hotrod culture: "Hot Rod culture is an amazing subgenre of American culture overall. The pioneer spirit lives in the bodies of the men and women who are willing to jam unwilling parts together to try and make something beautiful, fast and slightly dangerous. If parts are unavailable these lunatics will machine the part themselves; what could be more hardcore than that? In the art world you can have some fool with a single color canvas and he'll have a book to explain what it means. In Hotrod culture you can't write a manifesto about how your car should go 150 mph, it has to go 150 mph. I appreciate the lack of the ridiculous.
I have always been interested in the art painted on airplanes during WW1 and WW2; more the violent and weird cartoon characters than the pinup girls. Although early hot rodders painted flames on their vehicles I think that the first real popular usage of painted flames was on fighter planes. So I saw a connection between art applied on cars and military airplanes. I was also getting tired of painting on canvas and a beat up old car appealed to me. No one else was painting on old cars and trying to pass them off as 'fine art" so I got a lot of offers of thrashed old cars to paint on.
At one of The Blessing Of The Cars events I was given an early 1950's Plymouth 4 door to paint. It was set up next to Ed Roth's merchandise booth and I labored furiously in the direct sun all day while watching him rake in the dough. Every now and again his customers would wander over and silently watch me sweating and cursing as I painted on hot metal with water based paints. The paint dried immediately and was impossible to work with. At the end of the day I finished the car, everyone was leaving and Roth walked over. I was hunched over in the shade of the wheel well and he just looked at me and said "Those are pretty nice flames believe it or not" then split. I had a lot of respect for Roth, he actually took some time out at one of the early Rat Fink reunions to teach me how to pinstripe".
Ausgang himself drives a low-key, cream and white 1957 Chevy panel truck that's basically original except for the 350 power plant, dual exhaust and lowered single beam front axle. Upon acquisition it was a mess and towed home to a very un-amused girlfriend. She split, however the truck stayed, ultimately receiving a new radiator.
Occasionally, Anthony can still be spotted at The Blessing of The Cars seeking redemption from his auto-artistic sins. As a mainstay in the lowbrow art scene, he will continue to entertain viewers with his comical cultural car commentaries, and like the Sphinx, forever remain one kool kat.