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Artist to Watch: Craig Auge

(photo by Jim Barcus)

Embracing transience and change, the Kansas City artist mines old and new to create works that are eclectic, singular and visually intelligent

Craig Auge is no stranger to the ephemeral terms of existence. It’s something that informs his artistic sensibilities and philosophies.

Auge has developed a philosophy of artmaking that plays on his notion that what he is creating might be ever evolving or transient. “I grew up in West Virginia, where you have this mixture of new and old and the city and the woods . . . I find aged aesthetics and patchwork qualities (that) visually excite me and remind me of home. I then start to make connections in my mind with humanity,” says Auge. “I’ve just always been attracted to that thing that’s kind of the rust or that wears the elements of time and age.”

It should come as little surprise that an artist working at the intersection of sculpture, collage, craft, bookmaking and design would be accustomed to change. It’s that adaptability to the intimate nature of change that Auge fuses with the often overlooked vocabulary and linguistic aspects of abstraction.

The 38-year-old West Virginia-born artist and second-term Charlotte Street visual arts resident has a long history of wanderlust and travel. Auge has lived in West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, New Mexico, and now Kansas City. He has been a working artist since he was 19 or 20 but hit his professional stride in Kansas City. His list of curatorial projects, artistic collaborations, showcases, residencies and creative initiatives are impressive in their breadth, depth and substance. His works are multi-layered and imbued with an elegantly complex but restrained quality that evokes thoughtful engagement.

“I don’t like to be pinned down, I can’t be pinned down, I won’t be pinned down.”

Craig Auge
“Techno Mixed Tape” (2021), by Craig Auge, a work incorporating collage, laser-cut wood scraps, black glue, mixed media and found plexiglass (from the artist)

In his 2021 work “Techno Mixed Tape,” Auge combines multiple modes with an unfinished polish that uses mixed media and minimalist tendencies. It leaves the viewer curious and taken with various intricacies and wondering whether the piece is finished or unfinished. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s this idiosyncratic approach that is a foundational hallmark of Auge’s aesthetic.

Once COVID shut things down, it hardly put a damper on Auge’s muse. Throughout 2020, he engaged in several initiatives, including the “Telephone” experiment, a participatory virtual game of artistic telephone devised by Seattle-based artist Nathan Langston. Auge also started the Lodger Gallery, which he currently operates and curates with occasional guest curators. A child of the ’80s and ’90s (in the heyday of mall and retail culture) Auge often makes use of such influences with refuse and folkish aesthetics, found objects, retail window displays, semiotics, and empty spaces with unexpected, sometimes disharmonious juxtapositions. The viewer often finds himself at odds with disparate and conflicting elements such as man-made constructs or found objects assembled in the natural world, with a subtext of the reclamation of nature that engulfs both aspects. It’s this kind of application and framework that situates the itinerant Lodger Gallery in a unique place within the Kansas City art scene. His unique style places Auge’s work in a dynamic category that’s as eclectic as it is singular and visually intelligent.

Auge showed last winter at Troost Gardens in a show called “Primer” with Luke Firle, Martha Elena, Matthew Willie Garcia, Marcus Cain, Gary Noland and Philip Denker. He also showed at the Beco Gallery’s “Temporalis Rite” exhibit and with NoDivideKC’s Queer Narratives Festival iteration, also shown at the Beco Gallery. In addition, he was a 2021 Exchange Fellowship Resident at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, along with Kansas City artists David Alpert and William Plummer. As if his practice weren’t looking busy enough, he now serves as a co-director and board member at plug gallery and, in early 2022, Auge was named one of the NEA Centerpieces For Social Justice studio residents at the InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park, with an exhibition date slated for June 2022. He was also recently highlighted in an issue of “New American Paintings.”

“I have a big philosophy of saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes my way,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’m doing a lot of things at once, but I don’t like to be pinned down, I can’t be pinned down, I won’t be pinned down.”

Using museum collection materials, Auge created this work as part of a series titled “Drifters” while he was a 2021 Exchange Fellowship Resident at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. (from the artist)

Auge initially thought he wanted to go into book conservation, but ultimately opted for an AS degree in digital design & print communications, graduating from BridgeValley Community & Technical College, in Montgomery, West Virginia. Once Auge arrived in Kansas City, he knew that he wanted to pursue art full-time and make it his life’s work. He subsequently earned a BA degree in studio art with honors at the University of Missouri-Kansas City while doing shows around the country.

Hyeyoung Shin, associate professor of art at UMKC, says that while Auge attended UMKC, he continuously showed not only a “. . . great deal of artmaking skills through his investigative and systematical attitudes towards the medium, but also shared the inspiring contribution of concepts and possibilities as a creative artist.”

Today as maximalist and minimalist worlds collide for the umpteenth time in just a few years, Auge has no plans to slow down or relent in his originality or the language of his artistic intimations. Instead, he plans to continue to adapt, create and go with the flow of artistry born of subtlety, nuance and as ever, the ephemeral — “I am flowing and weaving through all these things simultaneously and I love that. I hope to keep doing that, and I’ll go where one project will send me and then onto the next.”

Auge’s work can be seen at Charlotte Street Foundation Open Studios through June 2022 and at the InterUrban ArtHouse Centerpieces for Social Justice exhibit in June through July of 2022. For more information, visit www.craigdeppenauge.com or www.interurbanarthouse.org/centerpiece-residency.

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