Ron English – POPAGANDA

Posted: February 12, 2008 in creativity


Ron English paints, perverts, infiltrates, reinvents and satirises modern culture on canvas, in songs, and directly on hundreds of pirated billboards, using them against the very corporation they are meant to represent. When he was was younger, some apparently called him “the Robin Hood of Madison Avenue” – for his guerrilla attacks on billboard advertising. He put Hitler and Charles Manson’s faces on Apple’s “think different” posters. He’s mocked Camel cigarettes and McDonald’s hamburgers (“Over 50 billion super-sized. We’re lovin’ it”). Maybe he is the godfather of street art … 

English is certainly irreverent. As a painter for example, he has created dozens of versions of Picasso’s Guernica while transforming the original Spanish civilian characters into Disney and Peanuts characters, soccer players and schoolchildren. One of them, at the Station Museum in Houston, is the world’s largest version of Guernica. It is one foot longer and one foot wider than Picasso’s original and features school children play-acting the violent scene of the original. He also painted topless Marilyn Monroes with Mickey-like faces for boobs, a “Muslim Mickey” guaranteed to offend just about everyone and a version of da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ in which he replaced Jesus with Mickey Mouse and the disciples with other Disney characters. 

There also is Ron English music, like Songs In English, the world’s first (and maybe only) blog-as-you-go recording project. It is based on lyrics by Ron English and Brooklyn songwriter Jack Medicine. The project is being arranged and produced by Velvet Rut. Apart from music check out also English’s POPAGANDA stores, especially the toy store, which offers pop items like Cathy Cowgirl, Big Yang and the Yang Bangers, MC Superersized Ronald McDonald or Ronnie Rabbit. 

Tim Teeman from Times Online interviewed interviewed English recently and described him as follows: “English, in his mid-forties, is a shaggy-haired survivor who grew up in smalltown Illinois. As a teen, he was into drugs and had a fight with Angus Young of AC/DC. He was on acid the day he was interviewed for a job at a factory. He got into bed with the enemy at the outset of his career, enrolling to study advertising at the University of Houston. His anticorporatism took root, he told me, when he realised that if he took a picture of his children’s Mickey Mouse nappies and made it into a poster, he would be infringing Disney’s copyright. ”

“He told me he was “trying to reclaim culture, in the same way the earliest people were overwhelmed by the animals that killed them, so drew their images on cave walls to give them psychological power”. The odd thing is, he has become part of the Establishment. He is famous, fêted, seemingly well-off – and not that anticorporate. He told me he used Kinko’s and Dell equipment. He let his children go to Burger King and “would rather wear Nikes than go barefoot”. He said he saw himself as an artist rather than activist: “The billboards are something I do at the weekends. It’s romantic to be an angry young man, but not an angry old man.” ” Ah well, we’re all getting older 😉

It’s well worth, spending a bit of time on Ron English’s POPAGANDA website, with plenty of examples for his guerrilla billboarding, paintings, staged events as well as free music downloads (at quite a good compression rate).

There seems to be a good documentary by Pedro Carvajal on English called “POPaganda: The Art & Crimes of Ron English. Shot entirely guerilla-style, the film chronicles the evolution of an artist who offers an alternative universe where nothing is sacred, everything is subverted and there’s always room for a little good-natured fun. Unfortunately though I could not track it down.

The billboard is in Tui in the north of Spain: “Evolution, It’s not for everyone” (George Bush)

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