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An Art Lesson from Ron English

Sarah J. Edwards interviews legendary artist Ron English, who divulges secrets on the use of colour for his strikingly beautiful paintings and how he created his iconic Abraham Obama piece.

An Art Lesson from Ron English
Interview by Sarah J. Edwards
Art by Ron English

American artist Ron English knows how to provoke a reaction with great skill, the trait of a great artist. His classic advertising parodies and politically charged pieces have led to some completely unexpected and film worthy stories. Yet it’s how it all started out, Ron’s ingenious wit, skill, use of colour and what has transpired that is ultimately fascinating.

First of all, how would you describe what your style of art means and its message in one word?
"Popaganda."

Do you mind if we rewind right back to your schooling, I understand during those days you had a deep fascination with film and mowed lawns for money to buy an 8mm camera. I loved the anecdotes of your antics with Russell Orr. Can you tell us a real stand out story?
"I used to show my films in English class. We had a very nice English teacher. When I showed one film where Russell was on fire she marveled at the realistic fire effect and enquired as to how I achieved it. Two cans of charcoal lighter and a match, I replied. That was the last film my mortified English teacher ever allowed me to show."

I know it's an obvious question, but at what age did you start painting and what other mediums did you work with?
"I made some paintings in high school. I also did murals for the hallways and cartoons for the school paper until they became too controversial. I never intended to be controversial, I just used the ideas I had at the time, which happened to be controversial."

What are the secrets to getting so many colours to jump right out of the images you produce? Making colours jump out is about contrast, using opposite colours and muting the background colours. Halo effects can give colours a spiritual feeling, reverse halos can create an ominous presence. Outlining flat colours in black allows colours to retain [their] own integrity next to other colours. I prefer secondary colours because they create a more inviting effect. There really are a lot of tricks."

This article first appeared in the print edition of BLAG - Vol.3 Nø 1 in 2009.

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