The latest solo show from iconic political pop surrealist (and one time The Hundreds collaborator), Ron English, recently wrapped at LA’s Corey Helford Gallery. Mr. English himself was kind enough to pencil in some face time to discuss some of the driving themes behind his latest exhibition, POPagandastan, a body of work based on a dystopian universe which is home to a Noah’s Arc-load of sinister and delusional species — a world of submissives and ringleaders that may or may not be but definitely are on drugs. When I asked him what it all meant, and whether his paintings are about a moral clash with corporate giants and the corruption of consumer culture, the following is what he told me. What ensues is a fascinating explanation set to the backdrop of his masterful artwork. Without further adieu, the mind Ron English:
“The chicken is “Poultry Rex.” I listen to NPR while I paint, and these scientists were saying they don’t think dinosaurs are extinct. They think the t-rex is the modern day chicken. They were looking at the DNA and it was the same. So it’s kind of like, they’ve evolved differently because they’ve been isolated. The rabbit’s back story is different - this guy was a clown and he was in a circus (this guy, he’s actually not in the show) but there’s an alien and he comes to Earth. He was a skinny alien when he came to Earth - he came to Earth kind of like the Twilight Zone episode, to serve man. So he comes to Earth to harvest people to his planet as sort of a gourmet food but then he sadly finds out that they’re all really skinny, and somehow they [aliens] were all deceived into thinking they were juicier, plumper.
But he finds this circus, but it’s a really ragtag circus – mostly this guy just has freaks. But he sees pictures of him [clown] all around town - he’s the clown on the poster - but he doesn’t understand what a circus is so he thinks he must be a leader, because he has posters all over. So he hooks up with him and he’s trying to get him to help him to harvest people and get them fatter. And of course, the clown has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s thinking he must be wanting to join the circus, and he’s got the big head, so he goes, ‘you can be the human fetus.’ So he’s kind of on display as the human fetus, but at the same time he’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to make this work.’ And then he comes up with this idea. They go town to town and serve people, and then he goes, ‘What about the Fat Lady? How come she’s like that and everyone else is so skinny?’ And the clown goes, ‘Oh, she eats all this horrible stuff.’ Then he goes, ‘What horrible stuff?’ Then he puts together the salt and the fat, and he takes over a stand in the next town and serves up really fattening foods, like french fries. The townies love it.
Then he has this other idea: ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take one of these townies and put them in charge of the stand, and we’ll move to the next town and have him still send us the money.’ And of course, MC is like, ‘Why are they going to send us the money.’ Well, why do people of America send money to the Catholic Church? Because we’re stupid. ‘If there’s anything I’ve learned from you guys it’s that you guys aren’t too bright.’ So they start setting up these little things but somebody steals his idea and becomes McDonalds. So he’s essentially the original McDonalds – but nobody cares about him and he lives underground and nobody wants to see freaks. And the reason that there’s so many freaks is because the alien thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to get eclipsed by McDonald’s, let’s make the freak show better.’
So he kind of genetically altered a lot of things and created all these freaks. But then people were like, ‘It’s not really PC for people to see these freaks.’ So nothing really worked out for these people. But they live in this world, and a lot of the wolves have come out of this world. The wolves used to be like this big thing on the planet, but now they’re kind of marginalized. They used to be able to eat all the rabbits, but now they can’t. So like all this stuff has kind of transpired at once so they built this underground world. He just bitches all the time about how he invented everything and the ideas got stolen by him. *Points at drawing* And that’s Paws, the son. He never talks, but everybody thinks he’s really brilliant. Like how when somebody never talks a lot of us think, ‘Wow, he must be really deep!’ And then the sheep are all Culties. *Points at drawing* So that’s the daughter of the main sheep; she’s called Fall. She’s fallen for the little wolf boy, that’s why she’s always wearing wolf clothes – to present herself as a wolf and impress the boy. But yeah, you can see how they’re all a weird hodgepodge of religion and stuff.”
Now I get it.
Introduction by Jane Helpern
Quotation by Ron English