Ken Auster of Laguna Beach Paints Expressive Pictures of San Francisco
Ken Auster, Laguna Beach based artist, generously gave me a copy of his book, Intellect and Passion, San Francisco.
As a journalist and art critic, I receive numerous art books. Yet few tell the tale of a particular artist, of her/his development and passions, as well as Ken’s book does - and in his own words. Perhaps more important, this book features dozens of magnificently reproduced color images of this artist's oil paintings - all on heavy, glossy paper.
Ken Auster applies thick paint to his works, employing gestural brushstrokes. He uses modern art's impressionist technique of adding dabs of brightly colored paint to be blended by the viewer’s eye to simulate reflected light. He combines impressionism with exaggerated expressionist brushstrokes; the latter used to emphasize emotion. The result is works expressing energy and attention to detail, enabling the viewer to experience the artist’s feelings about a particular scene or mood.
Color, light, feelings, energy! Looking through this book feels like taking a marvelously madcap adventure throughout this city on the hill. Beginning with a street scene, perhaps at rush hour, of cars and cable cars trudging up one of San Francisco's impossibly (yet romantically) hilly streets, this painting tells of a place that embraces movement, creativity and unique vistas.
Several of Ken Auster's images are of cable cars, some featuring a single car, others depicting these hundred year old vehicles as part of the larger stream of the city’s energy.
Night paintings of city streets recall Vincent Van Gogh's works. Yet Ken paints from joy, rather than from the obsessive angst of the Dutch artist. In fact, Ken writes expressively about his portraits of towers, lights and movie marquis in his book. He writes,"Night paintings can be a good exercise in unnatural light. It's not about painting what you see, but painting what you know. It takes a much stronger focal point and a simplification of areas that are not as important."
There are two paintings of the interior and one of the exterior of Tadich Grill, operating since 1849. This old fashioned eatery with white tablecloths, waiters in white coats and a long bar to eat at epitomizes the old San Francisco of prospectors, fortune hunters, women seeking a new life, and a place that warmly welcomes those who are, "cold and hungry," as the artist writes.
More romantic and evocative of the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is Ken's painting within a painting of the Pied Piper mural on the back wall of the Palace Hotel bar. This large, replicated Maxwell Parrish work, slightly askew from Ken Auster's angled layout, dominates the painting, without diminishing this classic bar scene with endless rows of bottles, a white haired bartender pouring a drink and three patrons enjoying their afternoon respite.
As if San Francisco provides an endless feast, there are several more paintings here of eating places, one overlooking the bay, another inviting patrons in with large comfortable armchairs. Describing the Elite Café on Filmore Street, he writes, "The dark wood, glass partitions, white tablecloths and Art Deco light fixtures made great graphic shapes."
Vistas of the Bay
Toward the end of this book, Ken depicts vistas of the city’s bay: "I was fortunate to be able to sail around the city. The perspective of the hills and buildings created even more of an illusion of San Francisco as an island. The calm cool blues of the bay contrasted with the geometric shapes of the buildings and the primary colors of the ferryboats." In a few works, Ken Auster paints the blue bay in the foreground with towering city buildings behind. Others feature the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge, while three depict sailboats, showing a calmer side to this often-frenetic city.
And then Ken Auster's book reproduces his paintings of surfers and surfing, one of his other passions. He writes, "San Francisco has a thriving community of city surfers raised on cold water and pounding beach breaks."
Ken speaks and writes as he paints - with natural fluidity. He says, "My book is a compilation of 15 years of painting San Francisco, a visual story of the city by the bay. Lots of paint and lots of passion! I like to paint images that are very pedestrian in nature, of places that people recognize but are a little surprised to see on a wall in a gallery. I try to create a moment in paint supported by design composition and brushstroke, relying less on pretty things to carry the message."
You can enjoy Ken Auster's expressive oils and purchase his book this summer at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach.
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