A dog is a man’s best friend, unless that man is Los Angeles-based pop surrealist Anthony Ausgang. The Trinidad-born, Texas-raised artist found his creative muse in cats, and he typically expresses his feline characters in bright psychedelic colors and energetic visual narratives. As an island-born artist, Ausgang naturally supports the plant, and the images featured here include cannabis-themed pieces. Likewise, he will debut a new piece (featured first in the slider below) on February 12 at a show called Fail Better at the Last Projects Gallery in Hollywood, California.
Was there a specific cartoon cat that made an impression on you as child and influenced your interest in feline characters?
In the early 1960s, a lot of cities had their own regional programming, and there was a live action show called Kitirik on KTRK-TV in Houston. Kitirik was a young woman dressed in a black body stocking with a tail and wearing cat ears, and she really grabbed my attention for reasons I couldn’t understand at the time! Anyway, if you were a kid in the studio audience who had a birthday or answered a tough question correctly, you got to ride on her carousel. In those innocent times, the whole fetish angle was completely overlooked.
Cats were always around when I grew up because we lived out in the country and people would dump their pets in our neighborhood. Eventually there would be just too many cats, and some of them would be taken to the vet to be “put to sleep.” Well, I knew they weren’t going to sleep so I started making drawings of the defunct cats to give them back their lives. It was art with a purpose.
What feline characteristics do you find particularly appealing as an artistic character?
Cats work as artistic characters whether they’re on all fours or standing upright. I never could envision a dog walking around on two legs. Too much information, if you know what I mean…
"Pot Culture is now part of Pop Culture, and I see no reason not to make reference to it."
When you work, do you typically envision a specific narrative first and then decide which particular moment to capture? Or is the overall narrative meant to be loose and interpretive?
Generally, I start with a drawing of a character in some pose and work the narrative around that. As an artist, one has to be cool with sometimes taking orders from the painting and not forcing the story. So, I may get to play god and invent a universe, but relinquishing complete control leads the characters to interesting places within that arena that I might never have considered.
Some of the newer pieces have a more psychedelic edge. Did something in particular lead you in that direction?
The art movements that I am most frequently associated with are Low Brow and Pop Surrealism, the defining characteristics of which are the presence of narrative stories acted out by recognizable protagonists. In this new body of work, I wanted to introduce psychedelically abstracted characters engaged in non-specific activities. The primary actions are the forces that have altered the characters. Low Brow artists have always shunned Abstract Art, maintaining that it represents the most damning aspects of the Fine Art world, and I wanted to shake things up by bringing in some new influences. Even so, I cannot deny the influences of certain mind-altering substances.
Some of your pieces incorporate cannabis imagery in the artwork. What impression did you hope to evoke?
Pot Culture is now part of Pop Culture, and I see no reason not to make reference to it. I include cannabis in the schemata of my paintings because it provides a reason why the characters are so, well, weird. Art viewers sometimes need an explanation why the events they are observing are taking place.