Ron English And The 'American Temper Tot' Pop Out In New York City

04/29/2015 10:12 am ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

"All American Temper Tot" is the name of the new installation by street artist Ron English on the Houston Bowery Wall in Manhattan, and the U.S. flag-based design may be comforting to the average patriotic New Yorker until you realize he is offering a not-so-subtle critique of mindless consumerism that indicts probably everyone who passes it.

Part of his "Popaganda" series, a sort of retrospective of it actually, the famous subverter of billboards has just delivered a one-two punch to the culture of comfortable consumerism that reduces all life experiences to a commodity.


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The enormous nose-tweak is more ironic perhaps on this island that has raised its rents so high that most artists have had to abandon it and little genuine street art actually is on its walls anymore. This particular high-profile spot has become revered not only because of its lineage of street artists (Haring, Scharf, Faile, Fairey, HowNosm, Swoon among others) but because greed and gentrification has effectively wiped out the sort of organic scene that gave it birth.


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)

While some passersby will see references to Jasper Johns here we are reminded of another more grassroots politically satirical flag. As early as the 1990s we began to see anti-corporate protesters carrying flags with the stars replaced by corporate logos and those may be a closer analogue to the stripes on display here.

In the last decade and a half, as media was consolidated into fewer hands and tabloid TV began serving up absurdity as normality, everything from pesticides to wars to fracking became slickly commercialized products to brand and sell. Artists like Ron English have been drawing attention and alerting the public to the mindless consumers that we are becoming via postering and illegal billboard "takeovers". With playful parody on fast food purveyors, sugary cereal sellers, and right wing news channels, these were more comedic satire like those you may find in MAD magazine than the pointed approach of early 1970s takeover artists like "The Billboard Liberation Front" or the full frontal lobe subvertising of folks like the Adbusters.


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In one more twist to this new wall story, a few will undoubtedly argue that this installation is also a billboard advertisement itself since a print of the piece went on sale this week on the artist's website, and its central figure, the Temper Tot, is also a three-dimensional vinyl toy that is highly collectible. But not everyone is scandalized by this -- the print already sold out. This is the soup we are all swimming in -- even while the little green hulking monster baby flexes his muscles and trembles with fury at what has been happening to that flag behind him.

Like his site says in the sales copy for the toy "The only thing worse than a toddler with a tantrum is a very STRONG one!" Terrifyingly strong and terrifically immature, don't get in the way of this well armed boy nearly popping off the wall and running across Houston Street to punch someone's lights out. English has poked his finger in the chest of popaganda and we all will see how it responds.


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Ron English (photo © Jaime Rojo)


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This article is also posted on Brooklyn Street Art.

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