Remembering California painter Ken Auster
By Kristin Hoerth
This story was featured in the April 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
I’ve noted the passing of many important artists on this page over the past several years, and this month it’s Ken Auster, who passed away in late January, to whom we pay tribute. A native Californian who spent many years creating surf imagery for t-shirts and serigraphs before becoming a fine artist, Auster was a highly respected member of the California plein-air community.
Auster first appeared in the pages of Southwest Art in a feature story in the March 1999 issue. In that article, written by longtime contributor Norman Kolpas, he described his ultimate transition into fine art this way: “I had the fire to do something more, but I didn’t know how to fuel it.” So he went on a personal search, visiting every local museum and gallery that he could. “I wanted to see what hit me,” he continued. “And I discovered that there’s a whole big world out there beyond the beach, a world of buildings and signs and cafes and alleys and buses and trains and other things that are beautiful but that we take for granted on an everyday basis.”
Indeed, Auster was equally comfortable painting the city and the countryside, from busy streets to beach scenes. That 1999 article opened with descriptions of three of the artist’s recent paintings: “Two boys stand on a surf-slicked boulder, looking down into a tide pool…. Cars rush along a small-town street on a rainy night…. Deep, dark, and mysterious, the nave of a Gothic church stretches out ahead…. More than just presenting an aesthetically pleasing scene, each [painting] captures a moment in time charged with a hint of narrative drama. And each is rendered with vibrant immediacy.”
I think Auster must have liked that phrase—vibrant immediacy. He told Kolpas, “I don’t paint intellectually. It’s all eye, heart, and hand. I paint strictly from the heart.”
Auster appeared in our pages three more times over the years: In the May 2002 issue, in a story on 12 contemporary Golden State artists; in March 2004, when we visited him at his Laguna Beach studio; and in February 2008, when we heard about his latest adventure: 6-by-8-foot paintings created by dipping his hands into gallon containers of paint and using his fingers as paintbrushes. “They give me a sense of connection with the paint and the canvas,” he said. “Now my hands are actually touching the canvas, and it’s a thrill.”
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