As he sits in a busy New York café sipping coffee and jotting down notes that will likely transform into yet another painting, pop surrealist Ron English notices another patron glaring at him from across the room. The woman's eyes are fixed on him as she rises from her chair and stomps his way, ostensibly working up the nerve to confront him.
English assumes she's just another person annoyed by the political messages that ooze from his widely recognized pieces like "Abraham Obama."
"You can tell by the way they stare that they want to say something," says English, recalling this moment among many similar others. "It's a determination you can see in their face, but only occasionally does someone get up the nerve to say what they intend."
Sure enough, she drops her gaze and turns just before reaching his table, another failed attempt to stand against the aggressive messages inherent to English's paintings, toys and more recently, his music.
Now Colorado Springs residents will get a face-to-face shot at protesting or praising the controversial artist during a weekend celebration of he and his bandmates' upcoming fall album (their first), held in conjunction with a Smokebrush Gallery exhibit of his work.
In the Electric Illuminati release, called Songs in English, characters like Cathy Cowgirl and MC Supersized, who speak out against McDonald's unhealthy food and "misleading" ads, are being transformed from painting and toy icons to song subjects.
With lyrics like, "Supersize your greasy fries / Supersize your clown disguise / Supersize your human thighs / Supersize your own demise," in the song "MC Supersized," English maintains his longtime aim at the fast-food giant. (His art appeared in Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me.) The song also shares the "original intent of social protest," and uses a "version of Ronald for the anti-ad-campaign that looks like he actually ate at McDonald's."
Says English, "Someone has to fight the corporations and their deceptive billboards, but who's gonna do an anti-campaign against McDonald's? I am."
The artist claims to have pirated more than 1,000 billboards over the last 20 years, changing painstakingly crafted messages from Shell Oil, FOX News and dozens of other entities, with his own "subvertisements."
"I think billboards are a point of view that never get countered," he says.
Beyond the visual displays, English opts for angsty songs to carry his messaging. While he wrote the lyrics for Songs in English, band leader and Springs native Don Goede, aka Jack Medicine, created the melancholy melodies. The two met in New York years ago and have worked on projects together ever since. (They recently shared compilation and editing credits on a book about their 2008 Obama work, titled Abraham Obama: A Guerilla Tour Through Art & Politics.)
Their first record will include 16 songs, each with an individual message, which may eventually be fused together as English and the band begin discussions about an off-Broadway musical.
While the final plans for both the album and its on-stage counterpart are still in the works, English says the cumulative story line revolves around an alien who comes to Earth to harvest humans, but finds them too skinny to sustain the alien race. The alien's hopes are renewed when he meets a woman obese from eating too much greasy food. A darkly funny and ironic ending will culminate in the joining of all characters in one final song, yet to be completed, English says.