VNA continues their “Diggin In The Crates” series continues with corporate iconoclast Ron English dissecting and reminiscing about the conception and execution of a whole bunch of his propaganda subversions. See below.
“I was riding high on a new style I’d come up with a few years previous in which I would overlay a cartoon line drawing on top of a monochromatic scene. The areas inside the cartoon overlay popped with bright colors. I wanted to do a painting of Malcom X using this technique and I decided to use a member of the X Men as the overlay, the multiple correlations being rather obvious. For Malcom I used the famous photo of him holding a newspaper in a manner that made it appear he was giving the finger. On top I positioned a line drawing of Cyclops screaming in anger, Malcom’s finger appearing as his penis.
The painting was first shown at the MOCA DC. The director, Michael Clark, displayed the painting at the front of the gallery, highly visible through the front windows. Within an hour the gallery was swarmed with angry Black Muslims demanding its removal, threatening to smash the front windows for noncompliance. When I arrived at the gallery moments before the opening I found the painting to be absent from the show. A nervous Clark explained the situation, to which I demanded the return of the painting. I would deal with the Muslims if they actually returned. A beleaguered Clark capitulated.
The opening started and I lost myself in the festivities until the crowd went silent. A parade of angry Black Muslims filed into the gallery and encircled a nervous Michael Clark. “I thought I told you to remove this painting”, reiterated the cross-armed leaded of the group. I introduced myself to the hostile group with an explanation of how I was the artist and it was upon my insistence that the painting was on display. I then asked a favor of the group, that they look at the show in its entirety and reevaluate the painting in its proper context. Then, if they were still offended by the painting, I would personally hand out the bricks. They eyed me with some suspicion, then strolled around the gallery taking in the other works. After a few minutes they formed a circle around me and stood in cross-armed silence. I felt my knees begin to tap out my heartbeat and wished I had not been so insistent on the display of the work. Alone in the studio for months your mind can go quite astray, and it’s easy to forget how incendiary something can be when it reaches the public. The leader stepped forward. “Can I shake your hand? I want to thank you for making that painting.” One by one I shook their hands, and then they filed out of the gallery. To this day I’m not sure what exactly changed their minds about the painting or if they actually saw it differently in the context of the show. I do know Clark was happy to watch them walk away from the gallery with his picture windows intact.”
VNA Issue 29 is available HERE!