'Buy a Ladder': The Wit & Wisdom of Ron English

Categories: Art Whore
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Eric Stoner
Culture-jamming artist Ron English
If you haven't already read my enthusiastic review for "Status Factory: The Art of Ron English" at OCC's Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, then take a few minutes, read it and then come on back. Not only will it give you a lead on a damn fine exhibition that's also free, it'll also give you a bit o' background on the activist artist, bringing you up to speed for the interview.

Take your time.

I'll wait.
You're back? Good.

Here goes:

What led you to initially begin altering the messages on billboards? Any tips for readers who may want to liberate a few themselves?

Ron English: It seemed they were only telling one side of the story. Buy a ladder.

You seem to have a love/hate relationship with comics, ambivalent enough that when I look at your work, I can't tell what you feel exactly about comics in general. You definitely deconstruct them in your work, but it also seems like they're an important part of your life (or at least your childhood). Do you enjoy the medium?

I believe there have been some great artists involved in the production of comics over the years and comics have helped create America's mythology. They were also my porthole into the world of art and artists at an early age. I use comics not only as design elements and nostalgic background noise but also as a subtext narrative to the bigger picture. I also like to keep part of my roots exposed in my art.

Celebrity culture has increasingly become more toxic since you first began critiquing it in your work, becoming a 24/7 phenomenon. You've also, ironically, become a bit of a celebrity yourself. Any thoughts about this?

Being a celebrity now is like wanting money for nothing. People want money and lots of it, not as a reward for persistent hard work or a measure of their talent and intellect but more as the birthright of being a lottery-playing American. They want celebrity in its purist form, not some public acknowledgement of extreme accomplishment or contribution to society, but unabashed fame for being famous. Anybody can be a famous auto-tuned karaoke singer/sampler or be a paint-by-numbers photoshopped master artist. Greatness in art no longer inspires the population, it only makes them feel inadequate. Personally, I would rather make a great painting than be a famous artist.
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Eric Stoner
English's Grade School Guernica


Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica is an inspiration for much of your work, including several pieces in the current exhibition at OCC. It's an amazing piece, but why do you think you're so strongly attracted to it?

Picasso's piece is a universally understood cultural touchstone that provides a             powerful foundation for contemporary cultural commentary.


Can you give our readers a list of five artists (in any medium) that you have a particular passion for?

I think Mark Ryden and Marion Peck's paintings best describe the American dream state of my generation.

The painter Mark Dean Veca has masterfully  crystalized the psychedelic vision of the 1960's with a perfection no one from the 60's was actually able to achieve.

Travis Louie has successfully tamed the nightmares of childhood.

Banksy has infused street art with a new wit and wisdom reminiscent of John Lennon's advancement of pop music in the '60s.

You're very much a progressive political activist. Any thoughts on the recent election?

I should have voted twice.

Is there any aspect of pop culture that you have a fondness for or is it all, ultimately, poisonous?

Pop culture is loaded with cool stuff. Gold-plated poop is still poop, but it's also still gold.

Following up on #7, at Comic Con, you showed up with a line of toys, featuring the Telegrinnies, among other characters that you've created. What others do we have to look forward to?

A twenty-inch American Infantile, Figment (Dead artist bust), life-size Telegrinnies, life size Mouse Mask Murphy and my version of The Mad Hatter (for Disney no less).

I see that Hurley carries a couple of t-shirts, featuring your designs. Any more coming?
The shirts were a limited run and are sold out. I would love to do something in the future. I got to see a lot of the new pieces Hurley's designers are working on and they are stunning! They even have James Marshall (Dalek) designing for them! You asked if there is an aspect of pop culture I have a fondness for, Hurley evokes extreme fondness overload!

Do you have any corporate guilty pleasures? (I'm pretty fond of Starbucks coffee and the faux-boho ambiance of their coffee shops, as example.)

Starbucks coffee is great! I hope to one day win the lottery so I can drink it every day.

"Status Factory: The Art of Ron English" at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa; occartpavilion.blogspot.com. 11 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 5-8 p.m. Wed. Through Dec. 17th. Free.

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