One of the most prolific and recognizable artists alive today, Ron English has bombed the global landscape with unforgettable images, on the street, in museums, in movies, books and television since the early eighties. The master of ‘Popaganda’ continuously reappropriates pop iconography, applying his critical touch to billboards, paintings and sculptures; a king of culture-jamming whose vast arsenal of characters have become iconic in their own right. Ahead of some major upcoming exhibitions and projects, the artist took some time to answer a few questions for SLAMXHYPE.
Hey Ron, what’s new?
Tell us a bit about the work you’re involved with at the moment.
It’s about seeing the world through a child’s imagination rendered by a trained adult artist.
For those who don’t know, what’s Popaganda?
Popaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at countering propaganda and advertising dogmas in favour of a more fluid and critical creative balance in society at large.
Where does your fascination with the more corporate areas of popular culture originate? Is this something you feel on a personal level, or are you acting as a mouthpiece for what you see as a jaded society?
Corporate domination is something we are all oppressed by at some level, but are often paralyzed by its omnipresence. It seems like there should be a counter to Right Wing Think Tanks and Madison Avenue.
You’ve worked with Morgan Spurlock in the past, most notably, you created the MC Supersized character for the movie, Super Size Me. And now you’re to take part in New Blood, an exhibition that Morgan will curate. How did you guys end up working together?
Actually MC predated the movie. I created an illicit billboard ad campaign for McDonald’s using MC as a more realistic portrayal of a habitual consumer of fat food. Morgan saw one of the billboards in his neighborhood while he was shooting Supersize Me and tracked me down. I figured out pretty quickly that Morgan was a powerful progressive force that possessed the rare ability to engage the population on a very personal level. We became good friends and I turned him on to the then emerging worlds of pop surrealism and street art and he became a great champion of the movements. Now the second generation of artists is coming up and Morgan curated the show New Blood to highlight the mentor/protege process embedded in the culture.
I see you’re also coming to visit us here in NZ for Semi-Permanent in May, how did your involvement in that come about?
I have wanted to come to New Zealand since the movie Popaganda played there ten years ago and I was flooded with invitations to visit people there. When Semi Permanent offered to fly me there I jumped on the opportunity.
How do you feel your art has evolved over the years?
I have become more skilled and more clever. They say you have to have a thousand bad ideas before you have a good one. I believe I’ve gotten that out of the way.
Do you feel the internet has had anything to do with the way your work has moved forward? Like, potential subject matter has the ability to be in your face ALL the time now!
Artists have always engaged in a dialogue with other artists, at one time an artist’s influences might have been limited to his comrades in the cafes of Paris; today the dialogue is global.
Bearing the above thought in mind, do you ever find yourself trying to escape from this barrage of brands and messages?
Actually where I live now, Beacon NY, there are no chain stores, no billboards, outside the porthole of television, little evidence of the barrage, so I guess I have escaped to some extent.
What’s next for Mr Ron English?
I am going to sell ad space in my paintings. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.