I recently interviewed Ron English for the latest issue of one small seed, on his ‘Art of Popaganda’ that attacks monopolisers of public space (corporates, government) who use deception to sell. Sometimes we call it propaganda. Sometimes we call it advertising. Call it what you will. Ron English draws attention to this blatant, shameless manipulation that perpetuates modern society in his artform called ‘subvertisements’.
In these, Ron takes existing ads, brands, even political campaigns, and creates spoofs out of them. MacDonalds is predictably one of the principal targets of his attack, along with Camel, US government, religion and war. With the former two he picks on the health factor, focussing specifically on the way in which they’re aimed at young people, usually children.
Some examples of these can be seen below:
Those were some of his billboards from the eighties and early nineties, which incidentally, were ‘hijacked’, illegally stuck up over existing billboards in broad daylight.
Some of Ron’s more recent paintings also incorporate this theme:
Nowadays, major laws are in place preventing cigarette companies from advertising as overtly, and many of us today were born after they’d already begun to be passed, so perhaps the significance of Ron’s work is lost to some, or at least seems a tad over the top. For a bit of a framework of reference then, have a look at some of the real cigarette and tobacco ads below. It’s really great how blatantly they use sex, family values, youth and celebrity to sell. Great as in culturally interesting, of course. And some of them are really beautiful works of art. They create a kind of interesting dichotomy with Ron’s work, which, of course, is art, raising all kinds of interesting questions about what ‘counts’ as art. Clearly here, function or purpose is a key factor.
Anyway, I’m going to keep it short and sweet, enjoy the pics. I found them really interesting in retrospect, and amazing to think that people actually bought into their methods of manipulation. Just shows how sophisticated advertising has become today. And perhaps, how artists like Ron English serve to expose and challenge the ills of modern society, and ultimately to enlighten and revolutionise thought constantly.
That last one’s my favourite.
As an afterthought, I wonder how our perceptions of today’s advertising will change in the future? Do you think we will react with similar retrospective incredulity? Would love to hear what you think.
To see more of Ron’s work, check out his website and the interview in the latest issue of one small seed magazine.