He painted what he saw

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment


Executive Director, The Irvine Museum

I first met Ken Auster in 1998. Up to that time, I had been a lifelong collector of historic California paintings and had not really considered works by contemporary plein air painters for my collection.

One day in 1999, Robin Fuld and I were discussing the contemporary plein air art community and she took me to the Laguna Art Museum to show me two paintings by Ken Auster that were on display in the back stairwell. I was immediately struck by these remarkable paintings. They were wonderful works, full of light, color and movement. It was clear that this artist knew what he was doing, knew how to do it, and most importantly knew why to do it. This was no ordinary painter, this was truly a master.

A few days later, I visited Ken and Paulette in their studio in Laguna Canyon. There, I saw paintings of traffic jams! In addition to beautiful landscapes and beach scenes, Ken was intent on painting what he saw in everyday life, and for those of us who live in California, we do indeed know traffic jams.

While many self-described “Impressionists” were painting elegant scenes of ladies with parasols in a carriage on the Champs-Elysees — scenes from the past century they had never experienced — Ken painted the same concept, but as it appeared today. He painted people in cars trying to get home at the end of the day. He found beauty in a setting that most of us consider a predicament to be endured.

That day, I talked at length with Ken and he impressed me as a knowledgeable and deeply committed artist. He could talk about anything regarding art and he had a deep working knowledge of art history. Before I left, I purchased a striking painting entitled “Electric Avenue.” It shows Market Street in San Francisco during rush hour, with numerous cars and an electric trolley. He signed it, “To my friend Jean, 1999.”

Ken and I became friends and I saw him many times at the Crystal Cove Art Festivals, the Plein Air Painters of America Annuals, the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitationals and the Laguna Plein Air Painting events. I have presented him with several painting awards over the years, including Best in Show at the 2013 Maui Invitational.

He was a wonderful person, a brilliant man and a great artist. May he rest in peace.

MORE: The Palette from the Irvine Museum

A spirited send-off

April 13, 2016 § 1 Comment


Ken Auster | The Pitz

IT TOOK PLACE in a church, but the first part of the remembrance of life weekend for painter Ken Auster was a decidedly irreverent affair — featuring a rock band, a ukelele interlude, and a freeform string of raucous tales from his fraternity brothers and surfing buddies.

One who’d shared a college ornithology class remembered the final exam, which showed only the legs of several birds and asked for their identity. Ken and his pal thought it was ridiculous and stood up to walk out.

“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted the professor. “You can’t just walk out. Who are you, anyway?” With that, Ken pulled up his pants leg and replied: “You tell me.”

‘A beautiful remembrance’

April 12, 2016 § 2 Comments


Ken Auster was remembered with a paint-out and a paddle-out in Laguna Beach.

LAGUNA BEACH — Those who knew Ken Auster say Sunday’s celebration of his life was the perfect “Ken moment,” combining his passion for the things he most loved — art and surfing.

The event — held by the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association — included a morning paint-out at Main Beach and an afternoon paddle-out from Heisler Park’s Picnic Beach.

“This is the best of the best,” said Paulette Martinson Auster, his wife, before heading out at Picnic Beach for the paddle-out near Bird Rock. “It’s a beautiful remembrance of his life. He loved art. He was a waterman.”

MORE: The perfect “Ken moment”

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.


Plein-air in the park

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

THE RENOWNED PAINTER Ken Auster takes his plein-air workshop to a favorite park in San Francisco.

That flicker of gold

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ken Auster | Slide Ranch

Ken Auster | Slide Ranch


One day I was invited to go out with a few friends and paint on location at a local beach. Using an old easel and a few tubes of oil paint left over from college painting classes, 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.

A year and probably 200 paintings later, I was ready to get feedback from people other than my friends. I looked north to San Francisco. For me, San Francisco has always been a kind of Disneyland for adults. My first adventure there was in 1967 during the Summer of Love. There’s still a Jefferson Airplane poster on the wall in my studio. So during another trip to the happiest place on earth, I thought I would stop at a few galleries with some transparencies and see if I could get some response.

The last stop on this spontaneous gallery tour was the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, in a classic Victorian flat a few steps from Fillmore Street. A series of small rooms showing mostly small paintings, each one hanging with room to breathe. I presented my slides — and the owner wanted to see more. It was at that moment I realized that a good gallery was interested in my work.

A few weeks later we scheduled my first show. My original vision was to paint landscapes of Northern California — trees, rocks, ocean and hills, but no city. That first show sold out. So did the second and third. It was the mid-90s at the height of the plein-air painting renaissance and I was right in the middle of it all, painting many of the small towns along the California coast. I won top prizes at the plein-air events that were cropping up, and the surfer-turned-painter story was picked up by several art magazines.

Then came another moment that again changed my direction as a painter. I was driving in San Francisco on California Street late in the afternoon heading into the belly of the city — a straight shot downhill punctuated by intersections and cross traffic with red taillights glued loosely together at the bottom. I stopped at a red light and just stared for a moment at this incredible concrete grand canyon. I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures, circling the block and hoping to hit every red light. Everywhere I looked was a painting. Artists are always looking for the moment that is the catalyst for the next painting — that flicker of gold. I had found the mother lode.

— from Ken Auster: Intellect & Passion

Intellect & Passion | Ken Auster

A one-minute Auster

April 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘This was all passion’

May 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ken Auster discusses the ideas behind his new publication and exhibition, “Intellect & Passion,” which celebrate 15 years of painting San Francisco.

A night in old SF

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tadich Grill is San Francisco’s oldest restaurant — open since 1849 — and critics sniff that some of the waiters have been there since day one.

It’s not true. Anton Weidlinger, the main man at the counter, has been at Tadich only 21 years, as of today. His wife Connie threw a big bash in the back booth and invited a few of his fans to celebrate.

After Manhattans and martinis came the usual excellent dinner of pan-fried sand dabs, petrale sole and a Hangtown fry. Then the big moment: the unveiling of a new painting of Anton at the counter by the artist Ken Auster. Auster too is a fan of Tadich and has made it the subject of many paintings in recent years in his quest to capture the essence of Ess Eff.

Sweet home Chicago

January 10, 2004 § Leave a comment

Ken Auster | Showcago

Ken Auster } Bridge Up

Since Ken Auster had his first exhibition in 1996 at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, he has gone on to national acclaim as one of the finest and freest oil painters in the resurgent plein-air movement.

Many of his landscapes are still painted on location. But he has increasingly moved to urban scenes, especially of San Francisco. Recently he has been painting in Chicago — one of our happiest homes — and we are pleased to present this latest work.

Ken Auster | End of the Line

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