Obituary: Ken Auster


July 1949-January 2016

By Jake Grubb

Auster at his easel.
Auster at his easel.

If you presented him with a creative idea, Ken Auster would pause in silence with a quizzical look on his face. Seemingly detached in a daydream, soon he would emerge from “painter’s planet” into the present moment with a critique so articulate it was as though he had been assessing your concept as you yourself were hatching it. And then he would go further. With laser-focused attention to the idea put forth, Auster would offer a fresh approach that would rebirth the presented notion in a version of form, color spectrum, content essence and purpose that you couldn’t and wouldn’t have thought of on your own. It might be a painting, a sculpture or an example of architecture. Most anything. But always, it was the Auster magic that inspired a matchless outcome. There was nothing else quite like it.

A painting by Ken Auster.
One of Ken Auster’s works.

From this wellspring of invention came Auster’s rare and special genius as a painter. Transfixed by graphics and fine art painting from a young age, Auster began developing art works in varied mediums as a young surfer, creating renditions that expressed his deep passion for all things coast and ocean; azure waves, pristine beaches, flowing palm trees, coastal scenes of endless variety, surfer guys, surfer girls, surfer kids and surfers at their zeniths on the waves of California and Hawaii.

All the while, Auster was absorbing and logging his overall life experiences and observations, later to be expressed on canvas after canvas. Beginning as a Long Beach university student in 1968 under the mentorship of master painter Dick Oden, Auster began conceptualizing a painting style and subject range that he would ultimately apply years later through his specialization in the “plein air” painting technique. Brilliantly mastering this 19th century French alchemy of impressionistic color, brush strokes and subject, Auster explored and painted wide-ranging subjects on several continents for over two decades, in the process becoming a true master himself and much sought after as a documentary painter and teacher.

A classic Ken Auster subject.
A classic Ken Auster subject.

Auster was an enraptured resident of Laguna Beach, beginning in the late 1960s, and was a respected annual exhibitor at both the Festival of Art and Sawdust Festival until 2015, his final year. On any given day you could find him painting in his eclectic studio on Laguna Canyon Road, teaching a plein air workshop at a majestic Laguna Beach location, on his standup paddleboard off of Picnic Beach or evenings with his beloved wife Paulette, musing upon the beauties of Laguna Beach from their hilltop home.

To all who knew him – fellow artists, clients, students, local merchants, city fathers and friends – Auster was a beacon of ebullience with a mischievous sense of humor, whose artistic passions and fervent opinions provided life fuel for anyone of any station who was exposed to his warm yet irreverent smile. Auster was an indefatigable motivator for all who crossed his creative path, whatever their pursuits.

Auster died Jan. 29 at home among devoted friends and his loving wife. A date for a celebration of his life, aloha-style, has yet to be set and will be posted at Ken Auster’s Facebook page.

Although Auster’s loss leaves an unfillable void in Laguna Beach and beyond, his paintings and teachings remain forever alive.

Jake Grubb is a friend of the late artist Ken Auster.

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  1. It is a shock to learn of Ken’s passing. I attended his workshop in Easton, Md. and do not hesitate to say he changed my paintings and success. He will be missed by future painters. Fred.

  2. I have only just heard of the passing of Laguna artist Ken Auster.
    My wife and I paid a visit to Ken Auster’s studio back in 2011,while on vacation from our home in London. I first becoming aware of his work through his book ‘ Intellect and Passion’ on sale at the local Laguna Book Store. I didnt buy the book there ( sorry book store ) but did buy one on visiting the studio. Ken and his wife were both there at the time,and he kindly signed our copy for us.
    I was extremely impressed by his paintings and have been ever since, but even more, it struck me, he seemed to me to have found that perfect work/life balance that we all might strive for. It’s so sad to lose such a great talent, and also a very nice man.
    Brian Shepherd

  3. Just stumbled into this sad news. We were introduced to Ken’s work via a gallery in Carmel in 2011. Purchased a small piece, then went on to have Ken do two commissions for us 2011 and 2013. Working with him was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. He took my half baked ideas and patiently and sometimes testily in his inimitable style (“it’s meant to be an abstraction for crying out loud! Step back and look at it as a whole.”) made me understand, appreciate and come to love the finished items. They are among our most treasured pieces. Gone way too soon.

  4. I fell in love with Ken’s work while working for Chart House restaurants in the late 80’s. He was my favorite painter. Sad to hear of his passing.

  5. Loved his work therefore I purchased several DVD instructional videos. Visited his studio, met him in person, bought a painting. It hurts to hear he has passed. No one had more passion for painting. He will be missed but his work will live on.

  6. I was learning to paint in Montana when my teacher said to me: “You paint like this guy Ken Auster-You should see if you could take a class from him.” Later that year, I found myself in Ken’s week long class in Tucson. It was one of the delights of my painting career. He made himself completely available to our large class for questions and for fun. Very sad to hear that he is gone.


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