Aloha, Ken Auster

January 30, 2016 § 19 Comments

Ken Auster painting on location in San Francisco in 2014.

WE ARE SAD to share the news that the artist Ken Auster died yesterday, January 29, 2016, at his home in Laguna Beach, California. He was 66, and had been battling metastatic prostate cancer for a decade.

Auster burst onto the resurgent California plein-air scene in the mid-1990s and became one of the country’s most respected location painters. Within a few years he had won nearly every major plein-air painting competition and had successive sold-out gallery exhibitions.

“My life in art started when I was a kid,” he wrote in his 2011 book, Intellect and Passion. “I can remember being yelled at for drawing surfers screaming down humongous pen and ink waves at the top of my homework assignments.”

He grew up near the water in Long Beach and surfing was a major part of his life. During his college years at Long Beach State University, he combined his interest in art and surfing and began silkscreening T-shirts. Eventually, after living in Hawaii, he established a successful surf art business and his work was seen around the world.

Despite his success, he decided at mid-career he wanted to be a fine artist.

“A lot of artists start by trying to be painters, then de-evolve into commercial work to make money,” he said. “I started with surf art on T-shirts and worked my way up.”

Painting on location was his breakthrough.

“One day I was invited to go out with a few friends and paint on location at a local beach,” he wrote in his book. “I set up and started painting what I saw. The experience was a turning point in my life. Here was the bare bones of art — no process and minimal equipment, just a burst of passion and paint, with immediate results and gratification. It just happened and it was beautiful.”

Auster’s first exhibition was presented by the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco in 1997. It sold out. So did his second and third. His work was widely published, and he went on to exhibit at galleries nationwide. He was also a natural as a teacher, offering workshops around the country and a series of videos.

“Ken Auster was the real deal,” said Reynolds. “He was a terrific painter, a great teacher and a wonderful human being — and he always made it fun, from his clever titles to his endless one-liners that seemed to flow without effort. The world has lost a great artist.”

He is survived by his wife, Paulette Martinson Auster. An aloha style celebration of his life is being planned.


§ 19 Responses to Aloha, Ken Auster

  • Kim Frohsin says:

    This is sure sad news. Condolences to his family and friends. He left his painterly and personal MARK! RIP

  • He left us too soon. Great man and great teacher.

  • Leslie Allen says:

    Thank you, Thomas, for this wonderful eulogy (and prior blog posts about Ken as well). I didn’t get to meet him, but I always loved to see his paintings in the gallery, and I have paged thru his book many times. Now I will try harder to go outside and paint, in a relaxed manner, inspired by Ken.

  • Winifred Koonin says:

    Ken Auster was such a talented man and we are glad we had the opportunity to meet him and watch him paint. We have the painting that he did of the neat house with the domed roof across from the park the day he was demonstrating his work for your gallery. Then there is Tadich’s, which I so requested for the longest time, etc. etc. etc.

    Also, there is the cigar box with the view under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point, the location we loved to view often in person. My dad was a cigar fan who had cigar boxes in our home as I grew up. I remember when I bought that piece at your gallery, it was so new you were not even sure if the price you quoted was correct, but you let me take it anyway.

    Well, a memory with each of his works and we never tire of any of them. His art has given a lot of joy to us, as I am sure it has to many. Please pass our sincere condolences on to his family. Wini and Joe Koonin

  • Sloat Van Winkle says:

    Yesterday I took a bit of time and particularly enjoyed our paintings from Ken, appreciating how he captures parts of San Francisco in a way that’s sometimes even better than being here.

    So glad you introduced us to him and his works.

    What a wonderful influence he’s left for us to enjoy each day.

  • Ed Musante says:

    So sad to hear of his passing. A real talent. Too young.

  • Susan McKenna List says:

    Pam Glover & I first met Ken Auster at what I believe was his first solo show at Thomas Reynolds Gallery. It was a fun and memorable day – full of good humor, great hospitality and great paintings! That spirit stayed the same – whether in competitions (& collecting awards) or demonstrations, etc, etc. So sorry for the loss.

  • Barnaby Conrad III says:

    So sorry to learn of Ken’s death. May Life Perpetual shine upon him. His pictures are a great testament to life in SF during our lifetime!

  • Sandy Ostrau says:

    Just wanted to send our condolences regarding the passing of your good friend Ken. I was sorry to hear it. I know you two were friends and that you had huge admiration for his work, which of course was shared by so many. It’s a huge loss to the art community. Sad news.

  • Michael A. Kelly says:

    Very sad day
    Great talent
    I am glad I have the pieces I have to remember his talent
    Should have bought more

    Mike Kelly

  • Sally McGivern says:

    I am so shocked and saddened by this news. He was the best! I had no idea that he was battling cancer.

  • Janey Fritsche says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of Ken’s passing. I came to many of his shows at your gallery, and loved his work. From the linked video on your site: “If we have an opportunity for abstraction, we are going for it.” That is a big part of what I liked about his art.

    “May the four winds blow him safely home.”

  • Christine Blomley says:

    I’m so very sorry to hear this. I will treasure my Coit Tower painting all the more now. How very sad — he’s younger than me and should have had so many more years of living and painting.

    Thank you for letting us know.

  • Thomas Still says:

    I’m crushed. He was too young to go. We’ve lived with Ken’s paintings every day since the late ’90s and our purchases at the TRG. His work has given us such pleasure, since seeing his early paintings featured in the Surfers Journal perhaps circa 95? Tonight, we will be celebrating his art. He lives on.

  • Debbie Matthies says:

    Oh, my … I will cherish my chefs, aka “Warm Water,” all the more. Such a young man … enjoy every step, Thomas.

    The “501” piece receives raves in Boston — thank you for all your help in the purchase/delivery/joy in getting that piece for my daughter and son-in-law.

  • Dana Wall says:

    I had the great pleasure of taking one of Ken’s Plein-Air classes at his place in Laguna. Not only a great teacher and amazing talent but a great human being.

  • blaise says:

    My condolences to Ken’s Family. I only met him once, but through his work could see what an amazing person he must be. I hope he is now riding the ultimate wave somewhere very special. -Blaise

  • Tom Szewc says:

    What a great guy and a terrific contemporary painter. Some of the best paintings of San Francisco and street scenes ever painted. He will definitely be miss by all who knew him and will live on in my memory. You’re a legend now, Ken.

  • Katherine Mcwilliams says:

    Went online to New Masters this evening to see the latest Ken Auster pieces…he was not there and I wondered why, so looked him up on the ‘net to see where he had gone…felt like my balloon had popped. Someone special is missing from the world. Never met him, but if paintings could talk, his would scream “life is beautiful.”

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