Popaganda Invades North Texas with the Bizarre Truth about Advertising
Every time you go in public, advertisers are waging a war for your mind and money. Thought pollution slams your senses. Repeated images command you to reach for certain products the next time you shop. Faced with the subliminal, you buy what's familiar like a zombie with a wallet.
The next time you wake up, screaming for a world where products list the truth on the package, you might notice Ron English floating in that little bubble over your head, pointing the way through the maze of modern advertising. The iconoclastic prophet tells a different bedtime story.
"I look out my window and I don't see a mountain, I see an advertisement," English notes on his website. "I am surrounded by the cartoon mascots of the corporations that rule the planet."
English is known for his brightly saturated critique of consumerism that leaves a taste of the bizarre in your mouth. He is the creator of the character MC Supersized used in the film Super Size Me. He has painted on the Berlin Wall and once he appeared as a character on The Simpsons.
He paints skeletons emerging from smiley faces, Mickey Mouse in a gas mask, baby Incredible Hulk, a South Park Last Supper, double-vision Elvis, a child-clown cadet and Marilyn Monroe with Mickey Mouse ta-tas.
The Popaganda artist is setting up shop at UNT on the Square Marche 3-8, with a throw-back to one of his earliest projects as an art student in Denton. In Brandit-Popmart, there's a different flavor on the cereal aisle. Yucky Children Charmer, Cereal Killer, Cap'n Corn Starch and Kill Frog's Sugar Smack scream the truth about sugar and fat in cereal. Obese Ronald McDonald smiles at cartons of human breast milk next to cartons of cow milk offered by Cathy Cowgirl, a sexy cow with lots of nipples and very short shorts.
English, a Texan-trained artist, has been culture-jamming since the '80s, interjecting his art in the dialogue corporations have with the public -- advertising. It's a one-way conversation, English says, especially at the supermarket.
"Everything is promoted to you, telling you, everything on the advertisement is saying how great it is," he says. "But it's not saying, 'By the way, there might be ill health affects if you consume this'."
The UNT photography graduate, who found himself in a house full of political activists in Austin, recalls outings in his Mustang and taping off one headlight in order to paint shadows on a wall. Then came the billboards, as many as 24 a night.
"We'd been doing it so long we'd lost our fear of getting caught. By the time we got caught we were wearing ridiculous clothes, having parties under the billboards," English says. "We created our own art scene that paralleled the things going on in New York subways to a degree."
English has been politically active ever since. He spent summers in Europe doing street painting to survive and later worked in a painting factory in New York. He eventually learned to paint. He remembers thinking, "How hard could it be?" Now he paints about 15 hours a day in his studio when he is not traveling to show his work, install street art or do collaborative projects.
In 2008 he was enlisted to help the Obama campaign reach youths, and he created Abraham Obama, an image of Lincoln with Obama's face that went viral online before it was publicly displayed. It spawned the "Abraham Obama" documentary about street-style installations of the image across the country.
If you're ready for an in-your-face critique of corporate advertising, check out English's free exhibit March 3-8 at UNT on the Square (109 N. Elm) from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m, or catch the artist at the opening March 7 from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit hall will host a Barter Market from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, March 8, where Popmart products can be purchased in exchange for donations to Denton County Friends of the Family, a nonprofit organization that benefits victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.