Interview: Ross Auger

Ross Auger is a Minnesota-based visual artist and musician. His work explores the crossroads of where pieces look and feel, experimenting through abstraction and expressionism with the intent of transmitting a presence of energy. The majority of his work utilizes mixed media through acrylic and mono print, allowing him to work at a faster pace to keep tandem with a feeling. Ross’s formal study is in graphic design which has a large influence on his work’s layout. His work can be found at rossauger.com/art and on Instagram at @rossauger. Ross’s work is on display throughout June 2021 at Boiler Room Coffee in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What subject matter are you drawn to in other art or media and how does it relate to the art you create?

I’m mostly drawn to color and form. Subject sometimes feels like an afterthought or to compare it to music, I usually listen to the lyrics second. When I start a piece, I will generally start with a specific feeling or object that feels interesting enough to express, treat that as a sort of lightbulb in the dark and create from there.

Is there a sort of ritual you perform before creating, or do you just jump right into it?

Jump right in for sure. There’s been a few times where I’ve gotten into bed, turned off the lights, had an idea hit and gotten back up out of bed after midnight to start a piece. I can appreciate rituals and schedules, but have never been able to make either work for me. 

How do you feel your work has progressed during your time as an artist? Can you think of any milestones or times where you looked at a piece and thought to yourself ‘yeah, this is the one?’

I keep a decent archive of my work so I’ve got drawings, paintings and some ceramics from all the way back to my high school projects. Up until about 2018, my work was style steady. My sister is a flight attendant and gave me flight benefits that I started to take advantage of around 2018. I went day trips to museums around the U.S. and that’s when texture and scale really clicked. I’ve been making art my entire life, but this was the first time I really felt like I was seeing it. After having that realization of texture, I painted a larger piece on cardboard and it was the first time I was stoked on my own work enough to want to share it.

Building off that, has the pandemic changed the trajectory of your work?

The pandemic certainly gave me more time to practice and experiment. I found new creative muscles and pathways to getting the idea out that have really helped shorten process times. With the surplus in businesses needing sneeze guards, there was a sale in larger sheets of plastic. I bought a couple and started printing mono prints to rip up and incorporate into my work. During the pandemic I decided to focus on works on paper as well to save on costs and space (I live in a studio apartment). The shredded monoprints have been a great way to work texture onto paper without it being too heavy.

Are there any creative endeavors you’d like to explore outside of your primary medium(s)? 

Someday I’d like to get into welding. I’ve been wanting to for a bit, but visiting the Porter Sculpture Garden in South Dakota turned up the heat on that desire. 

When assembling a piece, what artistic element is most important to you?

Color or more specifically color combinations. You might not know what the subject is from across the room, but color calls out. When I’m picking up supplies, I’ll just walk the paint section and see what colors jump out. Sometimes pieces start from just those colors jumping out. It feels the same at galleries too where I’ll be a magnet to the specific colors of a piece. 

Do you seek out inspiration or do you just let it come to you on a whim?

I think if you open your gravity to inspirations of specific flavors, it’s not a whim but an orbit. I appreciate obscure and absurdist humor that is still saying something. I know that sounds pretty specific, but it’s wild what you will find if you start pulling a thread. 

When I visit antique and thrift stores, I’ll crouch and dig. A while back I stumbled into a comic book series called The Flaming Carrot that’s tough to describe beyond a flipper wearing-sort of detective with a flaming carrot for a head. Since getting into that, I’ve found there’s a whole world of comics that are independently published or through smaller publishers. Recently, I found a comic from 1971 called The Balloon Vendor where a scientist proposes that if the universe is expanding at a relative rate, all you have to do is control your rate of expansion and you can travel through time. It’s hard to not be inspired by that, even conceptually.

That said, my inspiration comes mostly from letting ideas and feelings cook and then at some point the timer goes off and I end up with a creative output. I’m open to the whim. Or that saying, if you stare into the void, the void stares back.

What has surprised you the most in your career as an artist? What’s been the biggest disappointment you’ve experienced?

My day job is currently as a graphic designer and haven’t focused on art as much as I wanted to until the past few years. It’s taken a little bit to get used to the idea that people can be as hyped on my artwork as finishing a design for a co-worker. If there’s any disappointment, it’s that I didn’t let my art out sooner. 

When was the last time you saw a piece that really resonated with you? 

I was in a thrift store in Southern California where the owners let local artists sell their work in the store. This small framed sketch of a disproportionate chef stirring a pot with the text “Souper Man” caught my eye. I really like cooking, specifically making stews, so the crossroads of art, food, and absurd hit just right. 

What purpose would you like your art to serve – or what sort of feeling are you trying to convey through your art?

I want my art to be a radiator of good vibes. Just like you can warm up to a heater in the winter, I want people to be able to feel something comfortable within proximity to my work. A positive influence in space.

Do you ever have any hangups about sharing your work? Do you have works that only your eyes have seen?

Absolutely. Sometimes I wish I had someone to post for me, but wouldn’t tell me what or when they posted. I’ll admit I frequently go back and delete photos from my Instagram because I prefer my current work and would rather have the attention there (here?). I’ve got bloated sketchbooks and portfolio folders that I should probably let see the light of digital or analog day at some point. 

Tell us about your show this month at Boiler Room Coffee — how did that come about? Is there a unifying theme throughout the work you are showing there?

Boiler Room has been my favorite coffee spot in Minneapolis for some time. It’s low key and something about it being in the basement of an apartment building really charms me. Boiler Room was the first place I showed my artwork publicly back in 2019. I really found a stride during the pandemic and wanted to share some of that work again, reached out to see if they had an opening for an artist month, they asked if June was too soon and I was more than down to bring my work in. 

Are there artists currently working that you’re always excited to see work from, especially locally?

Seeing Allison and Ben’s work in the MPLS Sketchbook project really struck a chord. Collage feels like punk rock where artists of all genres are getting inspired from it, but it doesn’t always get the credit matched to the inspiration level. I love to see how people are thinking that’s feels up front in their work. It never occurred to me to use photo clippings as abstract textures towards a visual narrative until I saw Allison’s work. Seeing Ben’s excavations in person is mind breaker, too. The thought process to leave what you find interesting and cut out the rest of the context while leaving the book? Damn. I’ve also been digging Tchana Pierre’s work. They’ve recently been exploring textures with acrylic and it’s been awesome.

You can find Ross’s work at Boiler Room Coffee in Minneapolis throughout June 2021, and connect with the artist at rossauger.com/art or on Instagram at @rossauger.

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