Try as you might, you can’t escape commercials. In North America, they account for almost a third of scheduled programming. During the Superbowl, they generate almost as much hype as the game itself. Fortunately for those of us who seek refuge from the onslaught of marketing, there are artists like Ron English re-imagining some of America’s best-known advertising campaigns. A forerunner to Banksy, English’s work is definitely mischievous, drawing attentions to certain truths manufacturers would rather consumers ignored. The iconoclast has recreated cigarette billboards and depicted a rotund Ronald McDonald; he has even reinterpreted Picasso’s Guernica, Kiss, and Homer Simpson for his own nefarious ends and shows no signs of slowing down.
“[My kids] don’t really have an opinion. My daughter will probably be a writer and my son wants to be a naked dumpster diver.”
Format: How old were you when you really started to take an interest in art?
Ron English: Five maybe.
Format: You’ve mentioned in the past that you started working on 8MM films and comic books when you were young. How did you get into that?
Ron English: I don’t know. I mowed yards to raise money for the 8mm movies from about 10 years old on and I drew for a local underground comic book when I was in high school.
Format: What made you choose Guernica as a reference point for some of your best-known works?
Ron English: The first time I used Guernica was in a billboard called THE NEW WORLD ORDER in protest of the first Gulf war.
Format: How do you feel about being described as the “prankster father of Agit-Pop?”
Ron English: It’s better than being the grandfather or great grandfather, age-wise.
Format: How did you end up working with the bands on your music project? Are Electric Illuminati still going strong?
Ron English: I have always hung around musicians. I was in a band in high school and I had all the local bands play at my post-high school and college parties. Later, I started working on concept projects with various musicians. Currently I am working with The Electric Illuminati on a new CD. I write the lyrics.
Format: What was the last illegal billboard you did? Do you still find yourself riding the subway or walking round New York itching to give billboards a makeover?
Ron English: It’s been a month or so, although I won’t be able to say that tomorrow. YES!
Format: What made you include your kids, Zephyr and Mars, in your works? How have they responded to reactions towards their appearances? Do you think they will follow in your footsteps?
Ron English: They don’t really have an opinion. My daughter will probably be a writer and my son wants to be a naked dumpster diver.
Format: Have you ever been approached by an advertising company to produce a campaign on their behalf? Would you ever consider doing it?
Ron English: I did an ad for Absolut Vodka some years ago when they used artists. I’m sure I could create a pretty effective ad campaign.
Format: What do you make of the work of artists who operate in a similar vein to yourself, such as Shepard Fairey? Do you keep up to date with the various graffiti scenes?
Ron English: I think Shepard is brilliant. I am painting today with Bigfoot and Jason Maloney. I am also putting together a big show for Opera Gallery NYC of thirty years of street art this fall. With all the major talent out there it’s not too hard to be a fan of street art.
Format: Morgan Spurlock featured some of your work in Super Size Me. Did you get a chance to meet him while he was working on the film?
Ron English: Yes, we’re good pals now. He really knows how to tell a story.
Format: Have any companies taken offence to your interpretation of their work?
Ron English: Plenty.
Format: You were amongst a number of artists who created works featuring the likeness of Barack Obama in the run up to the election. What was it about the president that motivated you personally to create a piece of work in his honor?
Ron English: I thought he was the candidate best suited for the job. I created the image Abraham Obama for the campaign, then did a ten city tour of billboards and murals of the image. There is a documentary about it by Kevin Chapados called Abraham Obama.
Format: How did you end up designing Ron English condoms?
Ron English: They asked.
Format: Is there a medium that you haven’t had the chance to work with yet, that you’re eager to experiment with?
Ron English: Yes! Sky writing.
Format: Can you finish the following statement: Ron English is….
Ron English: Still alive and still trouble.
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