The Godfather of street art Ron English is back with his first Virtual exhibition entitled “POPaganda On Paper” in conjunction with Pop International Galleries. Check out my quick chat with Ron about COVID-19, Banksy, & of course his new virtual exhibition.
Always a pleasure to chat with you Ron, we have spoken before (check out our interview from 2015), but today we will be very briefly chatting about your new show of works on paper with Pop International Galleries., So tell me about the show and how COVID was a factor:
Well, I actually had everyday booked for the entire year. We were going to be on the road for most of the year. I was doing a million dollar painting for a guy in China, and then going to Hong Kong, and then to Art Basel. It was one thing after the other. And then like everybody else’s story, everything just abruptly canceled for a year and a half. So eventually I just said, I’ll spend a year and a half in the studio developing new ideas and stuff and trying a deep dive, things that I couldn’t possibly do if I’m constantly on the road. I’m kind of introverted. And working for long periods from home in my studio is becoming less and less of my reality over the years. Because you don’t want to say no to a guy that’s going to give you a million bucks. You just don’t want to say no to all these huge projects. Like we were going to carve out a Mount Rushmore style piece in China, like how do I say no to that? Or put something that cool on hold?
Hold on a second… So they’re making a Mount Rushmore in China and they want you to design it???
Kind of yes… but it’s not going to happen now because everything got canceled. But, yeah, it was the size of Mount Rushmore made out of ice! It was all the Delusionville characters. It was an actual building, a five story version of the Rabbit House with all the characters. So it’s not really Mount Rushmore per se, it’s just that kind of epic scale. So yeah, it was going to be a weird thing based on Guernica with all the Delusionville characters twisted together, like five ice sculptures. And there was just one thing after the other in the works including a Banksy stunt I had been planning for a while…
Hold on. Hold on. Which Banksy stunt? What were you going to do?
Oh, I bought a Banksy, you know, with the intention of painting over it. It’s been sitting in China waiting for me… not sure what we’re going to do with that…. It was for the Hong Kong art fair or whatever.
Did you tell Banksy about it?
You know, I never spoke to him about it. I don’t really know him. It’s a weird relationship. It’s like… I don’t know. It’s just weird. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know if it will be offensive to him, or if he will think it’s funny as hell. Sometimes our conversations have actually been through art. I went to Palestine with his crew and there was a piece I did on the Palestine/Israeli separation wall of Mickey Mouse wearing a keffiyeh with the caption “You’re not in Disneyland anymore”. And then two days later, he sent down a new stencil. That was Dorothy being searched, and her donkey getting searched, in Palestine.
So he talks with you in weird ways? If you do something, He will reply with some sort of contrasting art?
Seems that way at times. I did a painting of two fish sitting on a beach and each one is in a separate fish bowl. And then Banksy took two goldfish and put them in bowls, and then put them at his hotel.
Right. I remember that they were trying to escape the fishbowl?
Yes! So he saw my painting and he did that similar piece in 3-D. So there’s a lot there that seems to be a weird dialogue, but I don’t know. He’s a strange person, right?
I mean, yeah. So am I, and so are you.
Agreed! But it’s not a normal relationship, I would have a different kind of relationship with most friends and colleagues… but anyway I had this whole thing planned and thought Banksy would think it was funny.
Well I’m sure I would find it funny if that helps? But getting back to your new show featuring all works on paper. Is this is the first time you’ve had a fully online art exhibition?
Yes. It kind of started organically because I just thought, OK, I’m in a weird position. I can hang out for a year and a half and just work on the Delusionville, and I can make every plant, every animal, every house, every river I can. Everything completely unique and cool, and I can just work on this project for a year. At the end of the year, I’m going to release a book called The Grand Delusion about this new world. Then I can go to Hollywood to do a cartoon show or maybe do a VR version. It would be like the Bible of Delusionville. This is all the animals, this is what their belief system is, this is what their political system is…etc. I figured I would just work on it for a year and pull the whole thing together and have this grand, magnificent thing. I thought nobody’s selling anything. The galleries can’t get open. And then I started checking on some artist friends, and they are telling me “Oh, yeah. I’ve never done better.” And then Pop International Galleries contacted me and said “Give us a work on paper because we’ve been selling a lot of works online since we can’t open up yet.” So I gave them some and they sold really quickly, so I gave them more and those sold like crazy, so at that point we said “Let’s just have a show!”
So you decided to exclusively do a show with original works painted on paper. The idea just kind of came together with all that as going on?
Yes, but I originally got the idea from Peter Saul years ago. He was my teacher a long time ago. He told me, back when he started hitting it big and getting all those books and all those big shows and museums and stuff, “you know, my art is real kooky and I don’t really think there’s really a lot of people to buy it. If I really had to say, I’d say there’s about three people who want to buy it. And then at some point they quit buying stuff. And I had jacked my prices up so high that you can never, ever, ever, ever lower prices. Right. Because then people think it can happen. Yeah. You may have to just not sell stuff for five years and let the world catch back up to you or whatever you have to do.” So he found himself in that position and he goes, “well, look, you know, I just love to paint. So I started just selling painting on the paper. And yes, the world thinks it’s a work on paper. So it is never going to be as valuable as one of my paintings, even though it’s exactly the same thing. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a work on paper. Work on paper is always at a different price point.” So I took his advice and here we are…
So I guess, your were making the best of a bad situation. We’re lucky enough to have that luxury to work from home or at all…
Exactly, I just wanted to paint, and I just did a bunch of really nice work. I started playing with a new style. So I believe there’s only three paintings in the new style in this show. I call it Primal Pop. I did this technique a couple of times when I was touring in China because with clients sometimes weird situations arise, and I only have a couple spare days. I can’t really make one of my regular paintings they can take six months. So, I can’t make them like my normal style. This is a bit of a looser style but it’s still built from models like my traditional work.
So they’re kind of seemingly loose, but if you look at it closely, you realize they’re actually sort of realistic renditions of something that was loose in real life. That’s why I call it “Primal Art”, and it’s just it’s just a chance for me to have more of an emotionality feeling than the work that I normally do, you know what I mean?
Sure, and you at some point need to make new stuff, right? You can’t always do the same thing? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s part of life right?
You know, it always works for me. Everything is circular, though. Things that were hot 10 years ago maybe aren’t now, it’s weird, things that I made 18 years ago suddenly everybody wants. I got all this stuff that didn’t sell, but it always sells eventually. Everything has its moment. Sometimes you’re ahead of your time, and you have to sort of let things catch up.
I think people weren’t ready when I first made Marilyn and Mickey, I remember that very famous saying ”the definition of a insanity is somebody who repeats the same behavior and expects different results”. And I thought, you know, I’m that fool because, Mickey, nobody liked it. People were appalled and mortified and a lot of negative reactions. But at some point it just became super desirable.
So what you’re saying is that people should buy the works on paper available now with Pop International Galleries before they get super popular later?
Sure, why not!
Request a catalogue for POPaganda on Paper at [email protected]
All Text Copyright 2020 Matthew A. Eller. Photo’s Copyright 2020 Matthew A. Eller as watermarked. Follow me on Instagram @ellerlawfirm.