SPARK PLUG, Volume 1, Issue 3
By MICHELE MCMANMON
Raised in the L.A. arts community of the 1980’s, Anthony Ausgang broke through the bland abstract decorative art scene of the time to become one of the first originators of “Low Brow” art. His ambition and tireless drive to get his work seen elevated his work to being viewed by millions as he nabbed the cover art job of MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’ LP. Even with various celebrity endorsements, his DIY esthetics remains intact, and Ausgang still understands that visibility is the key to success.
“I wish I had gotten an art degree because as an artist I think it’s important to teach and inform younger artists.” After moving from Texas to LA in the early 80’s, Otis College Art & Design became his school of choice until he realized he’d owe an incredible amount of money once he graduated. He found the arts community in LA at the time to be ‘very small’ and ‘everyone knew each other’.
He hung his artwork anywhere and everywhere he could “It’s hard breaking into this business and I’m glad I had no illusion that I would get into some big name gallery right off the bat.” Before he began showing with the 01 Gallery he hung his paintings in coffee houses and wherever else he could find a space for them. He claims to be influenced by Surrealists like Dali, but was inspired by the work of Robert Williams. Ausgang first became aware of Williams work in the 60’s underground comic book “Zap”. An LA gallery showcased paintings by Williams, which hooked the bud- ding young artist. “He had everything going on in one painting, a story, scene, a mystery, and it was going deeper than the sh*tty, decorative art of the 80’s.”
Williams work was considered “Low Brow” by the arts community and largely overlooked for decades. This art style became respected by the community when it gained the celebrity stamp of approval being purchased by Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis. Ausgang knew immediately it was a style he could develop and grow within his own artistic realm.
Throughout the years, Ausgang has built up his own celebrity collectors such as Nicolas Cage, David Arquette, and Perry Ferrell. Timothy Leary was said to collect his work also, but the pieces he had are likely still with the current home owner. “I used to go into people’s houses and draw on their walls or refrigerator’s, then say I had work in their collections.” He smiles charmingly as his eyes dance with delight. His introduction into the music world began by doing flyers and band covers for Long Gone John who owned the Indie record label Sympathy for the Record Industry. “He was the first person to put out a release by The White Stripes, and he was respected in the community for always having his ear to the ground.” He worked with John for free CDs at first, because “it’s professional suicide to try to start selling your art at unreasonable prices.” Ausgang knew it was important to get his work seen by as many people as possible.
Sonic Boom, MGMT’s producer introduced Ausgang and the group. The band went to the artists home and hung out with him on a “personal level”. They were recording up in Malibu and invited him up to ‘hang out’. When he arrived the band was busy and so, in true artistic fashion, he just began sketching on paper on the floor. The guys saw his work and had Sony call him later to inform him they wanted his work for the cover of their sophomore release ‘Congratulations’.
“Andrew is the big brain of MGMT, Ben too, but mostly Andrew chooses the aesthetic of the band” so with the guys’ direction, Ausgang created an original painting. “I got the work done a month before the release date and what I didn’t know was that Sony leaked the photo to the press via Boing Boing, so thousands of people had seen the work before the music came out.”
Critics and fans bashed his work and taking it in stride, he posted their writings on his web site. With 75% of the fans “hating” his work, the artist felt sure the band would scrap his work. “Much to their credit, the guys didn’t pull my artwork, they stood behind [their choice].” Once the music was released no one had anything to snicker about anymore and the focus shifted back onto the band. Sony offered a brilliant packaging idea to sell the record. There was a collector’s edition coin that allowed the owner to scratch off Ausgang’s checkerboard background revealing the band underneath. The artist went out to MGMT concerts and asked fans how they owned the release and most of them answered digital. He hadn’t anticipated the 60” piece would be downsized to a 1”x1” size for people’s iPods, but the fact his art is out in the world is his main focus.
Ausgang has built up his Facebook fanbase with requests from young MGMT fans from all over the map. “I ask them to send me their version of my art, so I get all these cover art versions I post on [Facebook].” His favorite piece was a wall mural that a kid did in his room and another version was on a girl’s pair of Keds. “It’s nice to see that image go out into the world and watch people want to do something with it. At the end of the day, the money’s gone, you can’t take it with you, and it means more to me that my art is out in the world.”