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Home FEATURES Ron English Interview

Ron English Interview
Written by Daniel Rolnik   
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 13:21
Wasn't going to write an intro for Ron English because if you're here at Fecal Face you should already be well aware of this iconic artist. If you need to know, read his bio below.

Thanks to Daniel Rolnik (danielrolnik[at]@gmail.com) for conducting this great interview for Fecal Face.

One of the most prolific and recognizable artists alive today, Ron English has bombed the global landscape with unforgettable images, on the street, in museums, in movies, books and television. English coined the term POPaganda to describe his signature mash-up of high and low cultural touchstones, from superhero mythology to totems of art history, populated with his vast and constantly growing arsenal of original characters, including MC Supersized, the obese fast-food mascot featured in the hit movie “Supersize Me,” and Abraham Obama, the fusion of America’s 16th and 44th Presidents, an image widely discussed in the media as directly impacting the 2008 election. Other characters carousing through English’s art, in paintings, billboards, and sculpture include three-eyed rabbits, udderly delicious cowgirls and grinning skulls, blending stunning visuals with the bitingly humorous undertones of America’s Premier Pop Iconoclast.

How do you teach yourself other artist’s techniques?

Trial and error. I had a gig painting landscapes a long time ago at one of those production houses where they taught me a lot of techniques. I also worked for a few different artists, so I had to learn how to mimic their styles.

What artists did you work for?

I did some paintings for Rohhny Decone, Larry Rivers, Marcus Darvy. When I first moved to New York in the 80’s I was a ghost painter. Yeah, it’s a good job to work and you get paid.

Was it frustrating to be a ghost painter because people wouldn’t actually know it was you who was the painter?

Oh yeah. It’s funny because I always get what I wish for, but it’s kind of like the old genie in a bottle thing – I wish that I could have people see all my paintings and the paintings I would make [for those artists] would end up in museums, it’s true. I always forgot to ask “could I sign them” but it’s not really your thing. It’s like if you go on tour with the Rolling Stones and you’re the bass player, you’re not really in the band and you don’t think you’re in the band –maybe after 30 years or so you think you’re in the band like Ron Wood [guitar]. It’s funny because it’s someone else’s art, they’ve built their own language, and if you went to art school there’s a certain amount of that stuff that you can just do. Their art was more about their concepts and I did it because I wanted to learn a lot of techniques.

Would you purposefully choose to work with certain painters whose style your wanted to learn?

Well Mark was probably the ultimate situation because initially there were only 3 other painters working with me, but later there were like 40. Guys were coming in from Russia and Poland, people who were trained as master painters and knew all the technique. And even from day one Clark Decarro was a classically trained painter from Canada, so he showed me how to make glazes, but it’s interesting to do something with someone sitting right next to you and where you can say “Why is this not working” and they’ll be respond by saying “here’s what you’re doing wrong”. They’re all there with you and I think that’s the best learning environment - when you can’t overcome something and there’s someone to show you how to do it right there. There are always bumps in the road, eventually you can figure it out on your own, you can read books, there are a lot of things you can do. If you want to get somewhere you’re going to get there, but it’s always nice to have a set of directions.

Do you have assistants help you with your paintings?

I have two assistants. One assistant comes in one day a week and stretches the canvasses and the other guy pretty much does everything - like all those weird houses with the comics all over them that are in the paintings. He puts together the houses and then puts the comic book collages on them and then he’ll set up the shot. When we were at Art Basil last week painting a big mural he took lined up and shook all the spray paint.

It’s kind of like being a surgeon and saying “Hooker Green ASAP” it really allows you to move like a motherfucker because you just reach your hand out and somebody’s putting whatever you’re asking for in your hand instead of you having to find it and shake it.

I mean all that time it takes to do that stuff slows us down and the fact that they are doing all that for us is just amazing.

Do you do anything to your spray paint cans to get them to behave in a certain way?

Sometimes they put too much pressure in the cans, so you turn them upside down and relieve some of the pressure. If you turn them upside down it just sprays, it doesn’t release the paint. And, as soon as you’re done spray painting you turn the can upside down so paint wont dry in the tip and ruin it. It’s also good if you want to do fine lines to make the pressure [in the can] super low. You never quit learning, you just don’t.

Do you read books on new painting techniques?

One of my friends learned a lot of his techniques from reading books, but I’m just not much of a reader.

You’re a doer!

I mean talking about art is a weird thing. Talking about what you’re going to do and when you hit the ground tend to be different. I flunked the photography class. In fact, the teacher said “you’re the best photographer that has walked through here in 8 years, but you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing because you can’t tell me what the fuck you’re doing”, but I did know, I just didn’t know how to say it. I knew that you stopped at f22 if you wanted a lot of depth of field so you could flow stuff in and be able to trace it. I also knew how to fuck with perspective. Obviously I was taking the best pictures so I knew what the fuck I was doing. But I think it was frustrating because I couldn’t tell him. Sometimes it’s just easier for me just to do something without having to tell somebody what I’m doing. I’d probably be a really lousy teacher.

It’s awesome how art is so natural to you, and you’re just able to know what to do?

I think it’s the fact that I want to know how to do it - like my son is insanely good at computers because he really wants to do it, so if he wants to do something with his computer he’s not going to get frustrated because he knows he can keep trying new things to find out what works. Also, since he didn’t pay for the computer he’s not that worried about damaging haha.

Are you doing any of your work digitally these days?

I’m pretty lousy at computers except for typing.

When you make a toy or a bust are you forced to use a computer to design it in 360°?

No, I draw it from every side so I have to be able to conceptualize it from every side. They’re pretty good at it […taking my drawings and turning them into sculptures] –if you take what you’ve drawn and hold it up to your sculpture it matches exactly. Sometimes I wouldn’t draw the back of the figure, and I’d tell them to just do something –and they’d say “we can not”. I don’t care what the back is, they just refuse [to let me not design it]. I used to make the sculptures for the original toys and busts. In a way it’s actually easier to sculpt it yourself than it is to farm it out to somebody else - unless I’m going to have to worry about trying to get a sculpture to somebody in undamaged.

Are the frames that surround your paintings very important to you?

No, but guys like Mark Ryden make the frame part of the art. Mark actually gets these guys to sculpt his figures into the frame - which is fantastic. I wouldn’t be against doing that, but the frame is a go between the art and the environment they are putting it in. In a way I felt like it’s always the collector’s choice, because sometimes they may like a piece of art that may not transfer really easily into their environment and the frame can help them do that – and the thing is the collector can always take it off. It’s My job is to do the painting and hopefully the collector won’t have me repaint the sky to match their couch.

Has anyone ever requested that?

Yeah

How long did the Homer piece take you to complete?

The original Homer took about a month and a week. First I painted Homer on there, then I added the splash paint, and then I went back to the splash paint to make it 3d and psychedelic - that part took forever because I actually rendered all the splashes. I was working every minute that I was awake, to the point where I wasn’t eating lunch unless someone brought me a sandwich, and no one would talk to me while I was painting.

When you do the splashing technique are you in control?

You have a measure of control. You have less control than you do with your hands. Jackson Pollack had more control than people realize. Also, those old oil enamels you can thin them with some “turp” and when you pick up the brush out of the can there’ll a stream of paint coming off of it that holds together so when he [Pollack] would fling it, the actual flings would stay in one piece until they actually hit the canvass, but now the new kinds of paint break up more.

If you actually wanted to do an authentic Jackson Pollack you would have to go back and find the old oil based enamel paints and use the old turpentine with it, and then you’d be able to achieve the same effect.

I mean obviously his gestures are going to be slightly different than yours, but that’s why it’s easier to paint a copy of a Rembrandt than a Jackson Pollack.

Is having fun an important part of your work to you?

Well, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing, so I guess I’m having fun. I like to be in a jail, because you just sort of hang out and you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to return your calls, you don’t have to do interviews, you sit around and bullshit with the guys, and you can say “I can’t do this, I’m in jail”. Most people don’t like it, but I feel like it’s a little vacation.

You made a series of dolls with our mom, was that stressful or rewarding?

My mom has been making costumes for my photographs since I was a little kid, and even up until now. She was staying at my house so we thought it would be a fun project to do art together and then a local store decided to sell them right when my mom was leaving, so it was a nice treat for my mom when she left town.

Have you ever caught people who stole your art and claimed it as their own?

Yeah, there’s a company who keeps putting my name on their toy that I didn’t design, and there isn’t much you can do because they just change the name and put it someplace else. Basquiat had a lot of trouble with that because he would trade his paintings for drugs. There was also a guy who hung around Basquiat and used the same exact paint as he did and copied his method.

He had Basquiat come to his studio to check out the piece he created and had a photograph taken of them standing together and then the guy sold the painting for a half-million dollars. You can make a real living by doing that.

I mean you’re young and probably into Banksy. You can call up the guy who cuts out Banksy’s stencils and try to get him to send you a couple and then all of a sudden you’re running around doing Banksy pieces. Do a couple of them on a panel then forget about them for about 30 years and it’s pretty easy to say “yeah I have some original Banksy pieces”.

Was Basquiat angry about it?

Basquiat was pissed.

What have been your favorite books and exercises in regards to the art of influence to read and practice?

Steal This Book by Abby Hoffman

Of all the corporate giants you’ve gone after with your work, who has had the most devastating effect on culture through its use of propaganda, and how do you suggest we stop them?

ADM

What is a rule of society you find absolutely bogus and what do you suggest it be replaced with?

Capitalism | Cooperation

In your artistic process how do you go from an initial photograph to a giant painting, what tools do you use? And, what new artistic method are you currently teaching yourself how to do?

Usually I project the photographic study onto the canvas and start with a brown-toned under painting.

In one video of you painting Homer Simpson, you are swinging a bucket on a stick to get a dripping paint effect - how exactly does that work, and what type of paint are you using?

The old toxic enamel paint Pollack used is best for dripping because the paint streams hold together as they are flung to the canvas. Modern paint breaks up into tiny droplets before landing on the canvas. After I am done flinging paint I go back in and hand paint every drip to look like it is three d.

What has been one of your favorite hidden elements in a painting that you’ve done which you haven’t caught most people seeing at first glance?

I don’t know if anything is exactly hidden. I often reference the brushwork or peculiar methodology of another artist to make or enhance a concept. I’m not sure if anyone actually picks up on this.

http://www.popaganda.com

- Interview by Daniel Rolnik (danielrolnik[at]@gmail.com)


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NYCHOS completed this great new mural on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco on Tuesday. Looks Amazing.


Sun Milk in Vienna

With rising rent in SF and knowing mostly other young artists without capitol, I desired a way to live rent free, have a space to do my craft, and get to see more of the world. Inspired by the many historical artists who have longed similar longings I discovered the beauty of artist residencies. Lilo runs Adhoc Collective in Vienna which not only has a fully equipped artists creative studio, but an indoor halfpipe, and private artist quarters. It was like a modern day castle or skate cathedral. It exists in almost a utopic state, totally free to those that apply and come with a real passion for both art and skateboarding


"How To Lose Yourself Completely" by Bryan Schnelle

I just wanted to share with you a piece I recently finished which took me 4 years to complete. Titled "How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue)", it consists of a copy of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine (the issue they made the documentary about) with all faces masked with a sharpie, and everything else entirely whited out. 840 pages of fun. -Bryan Schnelle


Tyler Bewley ~ Recent Works

Some great work from San Francisco based Tyler Bewley.


Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

While walking our way across San Francisco on Saturday we swung through the opening receptions for Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in the Mission.


Jeremy Fish Solo Show in Los Angeles

Jeremy Fish opens Hunting Trophies tonight, Saturday April 5th, at the Los Angeles based Mark Moore Gallery. The show features new work from Fish inside the "hunting lodge" where viewers climb inside the head of the hunter and explore the history of all the animals he's killed.


The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


The Marsh Barge - Traveling the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


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