Don't try this at home 

OpticalReverb displays works from famed billboard hijacker Ron English

click to enlarge New fall lingerie from Mickeys Secret.
  • New fall lingerie from Mickeys Secret.

The work of Ron English is not exactly for examining while standing in a gallery, muttering appreciatively with a glass of chardonnay.

A pioneer in the "culture-jamming" movement (creative protest that transforms and subverts mainstream media), English has doctored billboards worldwide to reveal the dark side of corporate advertising and to comment on the commercialization of our culture.

His works seamlessly integrate design elements of corporate logos and ad campaigns, but with startlingly different slogans and concepts. Cases in point: "Jesus drove an SUV, Mohammed pumped his gas" and "One God, One Party: Republicans for a Dissent-Free Theocracy."

It would be easy to categorize English as a mere reactionary, but his is a completely artful form of protest. (Surprisingly, his technique is to make the changes during the day, which lends an air of legitimacy to the endeavor. Yet he has still been arrested many, many times.)

Local collector Don Goede has been accumulating English's work for most of the last decade. He first encountered it at a joint English-Daniel Johnston show at the gallery at rock 'n roll mecca CBGB. Goede, who had recently published a book about Johnston, decided to focus on English for his next book. The result, Popaganda: The Art and Subversion of Ron English, was published in 2000.

It is one of the few art books I've ever seen to have the following disclaimer: "Some of the activities described in this book are dangerous, and a few are illegal. Readers should not attempt any of the acts described herein. The publisher and author accept no responsibility for any injury or damage caused by readers ignoring this warning."

These days, the underground artist is making it big. You may recognize his colorful caricaturized Ronald McDonald from the hugely successful 2004 Morgan Spurlock film Super Size Me. (Warning: Not for the clown-phobic.) Two lines of toys have been launched from that particular image, but don't expect them to end up in Happy Meals any time soon.

English's pop art paintings and prints are also making a splash at major galleries around the world. His subversive paintings express the common theme of disillusionment with mainstream American commercial culture, but are detailed and loaded with imagery. He has a particular fascination with Mickey Mouse, who can be seen in everything from his version of Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica" to the nudes that fuse Mickey Mouse and Marilyn Monroe.

Like in all pop art, these symbols of contemporary society are subverted and made ridiculous all hinting that, perhaps, the original is ridiculous to begin with.


Goede Loves English

OpticalReverb Gallery,

218 W. Colorado Ave.

Runs through Aug. 31

Visit opticalreverb.com or call 210-9799 for more.


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