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Ron English Discusses His Pop Surrealism (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Posted: 12/08/11 08:46 PM ET

Over his career, Ron English has taken a love of pop art and transformed the aesthetic into his own vision of appropriating icons and subverting corporate cartoons with photo-realism. His outdoors work in murals, billboard takeovers, and brand parodies since the 1980s is why English is considered to be a father of street art, bridging the wild style graffiti genre with gallery pop art impact. English has long established his distinct voice through childhood iconography with provocative social criticisms, and evolves as an artist into an ever-increasing number of directions.

Ron English's latest collection, "The Seasons of Supurbia," is a journey through pop surrealism, realized in English's universe as tableaus of toys with twisted features in a foreboding landscape. Many of English's motifs appear through the paintings -- superheroes, action figures, and classic characters of his such as MC SuperSized, the bloated Ronald McDonald image seen in Super Size Me. But in a trippy world with the disorienting array of characters one might breeze past in a dream, this re-imagining of Ron English's domain is both disquieting and compelling, with any graphic evocations softened by the subdued stationary setting of the subconscious.

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But it is not meant to be all dark, says English:

The thing that is often misunderstood about pop surrealism is, especially my work, it seems very cynical. But it is also embracing, too. It's like, "We love this stuff and we hated it." And I think that's confusing to people because they want you to pick one side or the other. They don't like if you can see all sides and actually see something of value on all sides.

To discover inspiration for this show, English revisited the town he grew up in, which he hadn't been back to for 30 years. While drawing from deep developmental attachments to Charlie Brown and long-forgotten favorite toys, English still summons the present context in his implicit commentary, invoking corporate hegemony, war, and the world we leave our children.

In this insightful interview, Ron English discusses what pop surrealism means to him, how he got started working for a protégé of Andy Warhol, and how Disney so closely guarded its corporate icon that it had U.S. Copyright Law rewritten to protect Mickey Mouse.

Ron English's latest collection, "The Seasons of Supurbia," is at the Corey Helford Gallery until Dec. 10. His website is popaganda.com.

John Wellington Ennis is following the growth and impact of political street art for his upcoming documentary, "Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes."

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