Monday, June 21, 2004

Ron English, fast food artist

We finally saw Super Size Me at York Square (this is turning out to be the month of documentaries).
This film has received so much publicity that I can't think of any point in doing a review, even a short one. It is, as Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel put it, a film that "aims at the broad side of the barn," but it's still fun to watch.

The aspect of the film that I haven't seen covered anywhere in the reviews is Morgan Spurlock's use of Ron English's extraordinary images as section headers. English is a pop-artist in the tradition of Andy Warhol. And while I don't see art critics taking him quite as seriously as they take Warhol, he clearly has a flair for finding macabre undercurrents in commodity culture. He does Bozo the clown with a death-wish, Marilyn Monroe with Mickey Mouse-ified breasts, and perhaps most memorably, a fast food-ized "Starry Night" (no direct link to the painting, but see here).

English's approach to pop-art uses the basic structure created by the first generation of pop artists (especially Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Keith Haring. But he seems less interested in defining his own original style than in creating a pastiche of pop art itself. His ironic, self-reflexive art melds the classic icons of art history (as in, Van Gogh), the contemporary icons of art history (as in Warhol), and the icons of consumer culture. At times, the enterprise buckles under the pressure of so much referentiality; English's stuff becomes schlock. It's also a little less than endearing that he shamelessly markets himself as a pop-artist; it comes across as cynical and self-important. But amidst English's many iconic/iconoclastic remixes (many of which don't do very much for me) come a few startling, original ideas.

I can't create direct links to English's paintings because most of the websites hide the direct URLs through javascript and pop-up windows. However, some of English's paintings are on display (meaning, for sale) at the Opera Gallerie in New York, and Tin Man Alley in Philadelphia.


chutry said...

Interesting observations here. I didn't make te connection between English's work in "Super Size Me" and his appearance in "This Land is Your Land," which I reviewed a few days ago. The filmmakers give him about 8-10 minutes of total screen time, including a sequence showing him putting up some Adusters-style billboards.

3:27 PM  
chutry said...

That should say "Adbusters."

3:28 PM  

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