DULUTH — Artist David K. Austin has a unique setup for his new Lakeside-Lester Park neighborhood studio. In his heated garage, he displays the typical artist’s supplies one would expect: paints, brushes and finished paintings.
But something that sets his studio apart on some days is the 4-year-old boy chipping away at a block of frozen paint in the middle of the wooden canvas on the floor.
“Messy!” cried Hugo, David’s son, peeling off another chunk of frozen paint. “I make a game, a painting game.”
“He developed this process of mixing and freezing paints,” David Austin said. “Kids that age are very experimental and experiential. They’re very tactically and sensory oriented. He started mixing paints and wanted to put them outside to freeze and I thought, ‘This is crazy. . But the next day he started smashing them on the wood and the effects they produced as they dried were quite phenomenal.”
He says he appreciates the freedom of expression that Hugo brings to his work. Often Hugo will start a piece, paint until he gets bored or tired, and then David continues. Their partnership was born out of necessity.
“We’ve had a real shortage of babysitters because of the pandemic,” said Kristen Austin, David’s wife and Hugo’s mother. “But we had to create video content for our social media platforms and there was just no way to do that unless he was there too. So we started involving him in the process.”
Every member of the Austin family is involved in the art industry in one way or another. Kristen takes and edits all of their social media posts, runs the website, and creates fashion designs based on David’s paintings to sell in their online store.
“I already had some experience designing costumes and clothing, so one day I started playing around with Photoshop with some of his paints to create patterns,” Kristen said. “Then we started having them made by a local printer and found that people liked them.”
Although David enjoys spending time with Hugo in the studio, he doesn’t bring him in every day. A typical day for him in the studio starts at 3 or 4 a.m., when “everything is quiet and without drama.”
“I get up and drink my coffee and paint until 8:30-9 and have breakfast with the family,” David said. “The rest of the day is usually family and business. I try to paint right in the morning and get that ‘ass in the seat’ moment.”
David’s work these days is generally abstract painting, but he also has extensive experience in ceramics. He received his MFA with a major in ceramics from Northern Michigan University and has created and installed a number of public art works in his home state of Michigan.
But her love for art goes back even further, to her childhood with both her parents working in similar fields. His mother, Sharyn, was an art teacher in Battle Creek, Michigan, and his father, Earl, was a professional photographer.
“They always encouraged me to express myself through the visual arts,” David said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do now with Hugo.”
On Saturdays, the family usually hosts an Instagram Live show, instagram.com/david_k_austin, which sometimes involves Hugo, if he’s in the mood to paint.
“Sometimes he comes in and says, ‘I don’t want to paint anymore!’ Like any other typical artist I know,” David said with a laugh.
The family is brand new to Duluth, having just moved from Michigan in December. David said they had been looking to move for quite a while, but couldn’t find the right place. Last fall he got the idea to visit Duluth, so the family packed up and headed west.
“As we were crossing the Blatnik Bridge into town, I looked at Kristen and just said, ‘Wow,'” David said. “But it wasn’t until we met the people here that we decided to move. Everyone we met was so nice and you don’t get that everywhere you go. Plus there’s a active art scene that I’m excited to join.”
David has already held his first open studio event at home and plans to hold one a month on the third Saturday. Check out his website, davidaustingallery.com, or on his Facebook page at facebook.com/davidaustingallery, his TikTok at tiktok.com/@davidaustinpainting, and his YouTube page at youtube.com/c/DavidKAustin.