If you wanted to demonise a certain well-known fast food brand, you might choose something bleaker than its actual corporate colours before putting brush to canvas – Perhaps change Hunger-Inducing Red for, …hmmm, let’s see, Tortured Innocent Calf Blood. Golden Arch Gold for Smog-Stained Canary. But if you’re Ron English, you’d much prefer to beat the brand up with its own palette. And beat it up, he has. Hundreds of English’s works haunt the global brand in all the glorious colours of its own advertising schedule. Not one of them has you racing out for a triple quarter pounder.
In the global forum on capitalism, English disregards the gentlemanly rules of public debate and effectively drugs the icon of a million- or billion-dollar brand, then photographs it performing unspeakable acts to society (none of which lack some element of truth). While many guerilla artists may find the lack of time and brushes with the law to be restrictive, Ron English has managed to produce highly finished art for proud, illegal display in many public spaces since the early eighties.
With the aid of a small team, he has posted literally thousands of anti-corporate billboards across the US, provoking thought amongst millions of passers-by. Over time, the artist has made a gradual move away from extra-legal work and towards gallery openings. Either way, with his boldness, endless patience for detail and love of colour and good composition, he’s not a bad one to have on your team if you’re punting for a public backlash against corporate injustices.
Favourite targets of the Ron English include Disney, McDonalds and Coca-Cola, each one being exposed for some form of mass wrongdoing. And while Joe Camel may look cool in airbrushed shades, he’s out to get kids hooked on pre-rolled lungbusters. The collection is a nightmare doppelganger of the capitalist society around us.
English is in his element when he hits the ‘wait, that ain’t right’ button. He presents the viewer with an image familiar enough in Western pop culture to instantly fire neurons, then abuses it in some obscene way so as to evoke a strong emotion; disgust, fear or even a laugh. In addition to advertising imagery, English references artists from Da Vinci to Picasso to Warhol, framing his messages on revisions of The Last Supper, Guernica, Warhol’s Elvis prints and many more. (In fact, the artist cites his repeated failures of art history classes as the reason for his love of the great works. In art school, only by imitating the works, he says, did he manage to get inside the heads of the masters.)
English is also a successful team worker. A list of people he has collaborated with including Slash, Pearl Jam, film-maker Morgan Spurlock is not at all exhaustive. He has also worked alongside celebrated street artists Banksy and Swoon on the West Bank wall in Palestine, and the list goes on.
Love it or hate it, you’ll find the artist’s portfolio has you turning pages to see what juxtaposition he’s thought of next. With this enormous collection of works, each produced with marvelous attention to detail and a repeated message about the need for society’s self-reflection, Ron English is a testament to the success of artists who maintain consistency in their work but are never afraid of a new challenge. If you enjoyed the images above, it’s well worth taking the time to visit his website.