The celebrated billboard satirist and painter Ron English lives on the East Coast, and so most of his outdoor work takes place there. But he regularly provides downloadable paste-ups on his blog, and is himself a regular journeyman, who makes outdoor contributions to the public art in every city he visits — all of which results in the appearance of ubiquity, and contributes to his legend. This November alone, he's been producing new work for the print shops Post No Bills and Modern Multiples, not to mention various billboards and walls around town; and this weekend he opened a show of sculpture and paintings on canvas at Corey Helford, entitled Seasons in Supurbia.
Fans of his hilarious appropriations of advertising strategies in the service of social satire and market-subversion will not be disappointed — they'll just have to look closely. English's show follows three distinct threads — the first of which is a group of densely detailed, hyper-realist cityscapes overrun by monsters, militia, and intestines, and populated by sexed-up cartoon characters. But even a post-apocalyptic town needs billboards, and that's where you'll find some of the best jokes in the art.
Other series depict wild animals who have developed camouflage patterns, and a series of paintings and sculpture depicting singular molestations of pop culture icons. As the show amply demonstrated, he may be known for the bigger pictures, but sometimes, it's all in the details.
CHG opening nights are known for being huge scenes, with fans often lining up hours in advance to get in on the free giclee prints and Lowbrow A-list crowd. I'm truly happy for them, pulling off the combination of glamorous fine art at crowd-pleasing — but when given the choice, I prefer the night-before VIP (aka civilized) shindigs.
Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park (also a terrific painter himself) apparently feels the same way, and was kind enough to say a few words about Ron while posing with some art: “What I love about Ron, is that in spite of being very contemporary, there's something very timeless about his execution. When I see something painted this well, it's always very inspiring to me.”
The crowd downstairs was mostly collectors and other friends of the gallery, which was great because there were clear views and plenty of room to study the mass of elaborate details in each painting. With immaculate precision, English renders a world of dark fantasy and perverted childhood memory combining cartoons like Peanuts with comic books like GI Joe and evil empires like corporate America and Disney. It's witty and hypnotic, repellent and more than a little bit rock n' roll.
Disney is a favorite go-to source for English's allegories. At times, its iconic characters stand for the self-righteous cultural dominance of merchandise-driven advertising culture. At other times, they represent an almost nostalgic vision of childhood and/or innocence which is itself ravaged by other dire situations like climate crisis and war.
When it comes to Peanuts, especially the romantically awkward Charlie Brown and possible lesbianism of Peppermint Patty, English sees a chance to let some steam off his sick sense of humor, creating a glossy, sickly sweet revved up candy-porn.
His larger-than-usual sculptures take the quirky, slightly disturbing surrealism of his re-interpreted cartoon characters to a new level, with detail, dimension, and a physical presence that is hard to ignore, combining adolescent shyness with exaggerated quirks.
Fast food and other unhealthy corporate products whose visual ad-based assault on America's eyeballs is relentless and lethal remains a favorite topic for English, with its lead evil clown represented in both painted and sculpted form at the show.
If you missed the crazy-time opening night, you're lucky — you have a few more weeks to spend some quality alone time with this demanding but extremely satisfying exhibition.