On Dec. 12 Medicine Agency played host to the release of Ron English and TOTT Globals release of the “Mandala Grin” jigsaw puzzle. I was fortunate enough for them to invite me out for the release and signing. TOTT Global makes art more interactive by producing toys and novelties solidifying a place for street art and the culture to reach a wider audience. Mr. English is one of my favorite artists of our generation and I was lucky enough to ask him a few questions in which he addresses the topic of our culture and its future. The live painting video and photos are by Sean Desmond. Thank you to Rama, John, Sean, and Mr. English for making this possible. The puzzle is now available at TOTT Global’s Online Shop for $39
Slamxhype: Do you think every generation has that one pop artist that is most influential, or would you consider yourself a pop artist?
Ron English: Well our generation has two..
Slamxhype: Meaning the obvious? Warhol?
Ron English: No that was generation before, see now that the population has doubled there has to be twice as many.
Slamxhype: So what is it about pop culture that intrigues you?
Ron English: I think its the way that the impressionists kind of all went to the same locations, and painted the same scenes. If everyone is looking at the same thing then its also something everyone can go see. Then you can really get an idea of what the individual interpretation of that artist is. It is a way to see your style and what you bring to it, cause you know what you’re painting. Everyone knows pop culture so they understand what part is English.
Ron English: I like that piece because it has a certain meaning already to people, almost like a universal meaning. Also, I was thinking about when we were kids we used to sing “Ring Around the Rosie,” but it had long since lost whatever meaning it had about the Black Plague. That is how humans get through tragedy, it can’t be that tragedy anymore. Picasso’s “Guernica” was a step away from that tragedy. It wasn’t this brutal depiction about what happened so he had already taken a step away from it. You have to bring things down to the level of a nursery rhyme otherwise our brains would explode with all the stuff that happens in the world. And trying to personalize or internalize it all.
Slamxhype: Is that what you try to do, make everything more personal to people?
Ron English: Well its a step away from the actual events, and making it a part of pop culture. It is also identifying other things that are problematic too. Besides dropping bombs on civilians to see if they work or not. There is also dropping bombs on people culturally.
Slamxhype: Do you still do billboards?
Ron English: I actually haven’t for a whole year, besides the Obama thing. I’ll start again within the next couple weeks. I literally went somewhere almost every single week this year, so it was a hard year. But, next year we have Mexico lined up so were gonna go down there and do billboards. I don’t know what happened this year it just got away from me.
Slamxhype: Now that you mention Obama, how do you feel about Shephard Fairey being persecuted?
Ron English: That is kind of a loaded question, what do you mean by being persecuted?
Slamxhype: Well he used the Obama image he might go to jail..
Ron English: Oh he won’t go to jail for that, that’s a financial crime. He will probably have to pay the original fee whatever that was, $15? Then the lawyer fees on the other side, if he loses. AP isn’t known for losing, but he was completely in the right. He made a mistake in trying to fake some evidence. There was no reason to do that. He was the first big artist of the generation that actually makes art using images from peopel all over the globe. They make this art at 2 o’clock in the morning in front of their computer. So it doesn’t seem like you’re stealing everything because you never leave your apartment, how can a thief steal something without ever leaving their apartment? Its this new age and hes a pioneer in this new age. Its important that he fights it and not cave in and just get it off his back. It sets a precedent, He changed the image more then 30% which is the law. But if he pays them off or settles, it is going to weaken the law, for everybody. We don’t have access to people like Obama or Ghandi or different public figures. If we want to make social commentary were going to have to use someone else’s photos to see what they look like. More freedom of speech more liberalism, more use of images not less.
Slamxhype: How do you feel about street art just recently becoming more accepted in the art world?
Ron English: That was an interesting turn of events. The art world is very fickle and they go through a lot of fads. Street art is interesting juxtaposed against other art movements that have came and went. Because it also has legs outside of the official art world. It has other venues to sell itself like on skateboards etc. It is also something anyone can do. I think what has happened with street art is its become more like soccer. It is the new sport, people I know like to watch baseball or football. They’re not football or baseball players but they did play in High school. Because they learned it at a young age, once they realized they weren’t going to be a professional player.. They continue to appreciate the sport and support it. I think now were in this generation that came after the original generation that actually went out and did graffiti or just practiced in their notebooks. But they had a relationship to graffiti when they were very young. At some point they probably realized they weren’t going to be a professional artist. Or maybe they can be a graphic designer. They still understand and appreciate the artform by buying the products or actual paintings, in one way or another they’re going to support the culture, because they understand it. Its sort of a weird culture because like baseball, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t understand the rules. Neither does street art, but everyone understands the rules. Street art is here to stay now.
Slamxhype: Especially with companies like TOTT Global it is really solidifying a place for it now
Ron English: Right. Its a lot more democratic, if I think I have a lot of talent you know.. The old art system there was really no way into it. You could take your slides into a gallery and they’d throw it into the trash. It was a very elite group of people selling art to another group of elite people. graffiti and street art. it had to quit being just graffiti. It is too narrowely defined of a thing. There is a lot of rules with it that had to be broken.
Slamxhype: Would you consider yourself a graffiti artist when you do billboards?
Ron English: No no, I did traditional graffiti when I was a kid because I was from that generation. I very quickly thought I’m not in New York and I can’t paint subway trains and that was the place you really had to make your mark as a graffiti artist. So the billboard in Texas was the equivalent to the Subway cars in New York. Everybody saw the subway cars everybody saw the billboards. So, I started taking over billboards. And also I needed to write my name, I still felt like they had ownership of that, that was their thing. I don’t know if that makes any sense but I wanted my own thing. Keith Harring very much thought I miss this, I am not one of these guys. I’m kind of an interloper so I can’t imitate their art and become a part of them. I think he felt like he had to find his own turf he didn’t put it on subway cars he put it on subway posters. He was the first authentic street artist, the new way of thinking of it.[vimeo width="600" height="400"]http://vimeo.com/8180864[/vimeo]