The Important Cultural Satire of Ron English

Born in the Illinois city of Decatur, this 59-year-old artist is responsible for changing the perspective of brands for an entire generation. Ron English’s art is known worldwide for its mass appeal and clever re-use of pop culture characters and brand names. Yet it is on his home turf, the very same American soil where his conflicts lie, and his art has become omnipresent.

Beginning his career as an already capable artist, his psychedelic and surrealist images stood out from the crowd, especially as he began to incorporate his work onto advertising materials. Pasting over and editing the campaign ads for various brands, Ron began to change his art into something that became almost indiscernible from the actual messages the brands were pushing to the public. From here he began to do away with the abstract images and figures and instead used the very colours, typesets and mascots as some of the biggest brands in the world. Seamlessly slipping his poignant parodies over the top of existing billboards, his street art escapades did eventually cause him to accrue some jail time. This however did not stop him, or his mission for culture jamming at the very heart of where the brand brainwashing was most present.

Over the years he has become recognised for the use and manipulation of characters such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse who has been given several iterations, like a gas mask donned insurgent and a replacement for Marilyn Monroe’s breasts – which effortlessly parallels just how sought after the mouse is and also how unquestionably ‘Hollywood’. Even more so locked into the brains of anyone in the last 20 years is his MC Supersized, English’s more anatomically correct version of fast food mascot Ronald Mcdonald. With a chunky round face, double chins and a deathly gut hanging over his candy cane striped legs, this horrendous yet apt take on the corporate giant’s poster boy is painfully correct. Ron himself featured in the 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me, which showed first hand the ill effects of consuming Mcdonald’s food. The findings of the film as well as no doubt the broad reach, appeal, and simple reminder to consumers that English’s art conveyed, caused the company to make huge changes to their menu and brand identity that still exist today.

With most of his works carrying a powerful political message, it’s no surprise that he was one of three big name street artists to be hired by the Obama campaign to use the power of graffiti and instill captivating images to the masses. Ron’s contribution was a perfect example of not only what he is best at, but just how arresting an image can be. His perfect blend of Barack Obama’s face and that of celebrated former President Abraham Lincoln speaks volumes and is, more than anything,  quite uncanny. Who can say how much this image impacted voters, but it stands to reason that this piece and the hundreds of others prove that Ron English has made great change in the minds of others, skewing the smiles of so many pushy faces and revealing the sickly skulls underneath.