"Living in Delusionville" | Film | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge "Living in Delusionville" Screens at Tinker Street Cinema June 3
Living in Delusionville tracks the life and career of Beacon-based street artist Ron English.

Ron English was a “street artist” before the term was coined. “I have committed over a thousand second-degree felonies,” English remarks. “It’s weird to say that to people: They don’t know what to make of that.” He’s referring to defacing billboards—and often creating his own parody posters to paste over the originals, with taglines like: “America: Home of the Homeless.”

Do you remember the “Think different” ad campaign Apple computers launched in 1997? Great innovators like Albert Einstein and Picasso were pictured, along with that phrase. English’s convincing imitation showed the hypnotic face of Charles Manson.

click to enlarge "Living in Delusionville" Screens at Tinker Street Cinema June 3
Ron English at home in Beacon with the creations that populate his artistic universe.

A new film, Living in Delusionville, directed by Kingston resident Mr. Kaleidoscope (real name: Constant van Hoeven) celebrates English’s life. Besides his illegal public art, English paints canvases in a photorealistic style. Two of his memorable archetypes involve Mickey Mouse. One is a glamorous side view of Marilyn Monroe with breasts shaped like the Disney rodent. The other is Mickey Mouse caught in a mousetrap, still with a big smile on his face, his arms spread wide, like a cartoon version of the crucified Jesus. (One drop of blood glistens on the mouse’s big yellow shoe.) “I’d never seen Mickey in a trap,” English observes. “So this is Mickey caught in…the trap he created, kind of.”

Another of English’s memes is a big yellow smiley face with a skeleton’s mouth. (This spooky death-smile also appears on the face of Charlie Brown of Peanuts, and numerous other icons in hiss work.)

English’s social role is closer to rapper than “blue chip” artist. (And, in fact, he gets an endorsement from Flava Flav of Public Enemy early in the film.) English coined the term “Popaganda” to describe his work.

When one sees an artist thumbing her nose at Western civilization, one naturally assumes she has a trust fund—but English’s father worked in a factory (in Decatur, Illinois). The boy’s love of art had a precise origin. He was punished for playing with firecrackers, and sent to his room for an hour. He discovered a box of crayons in the room, started drawing, and when the hour was up, refused to leave. “I had developed a new obsession, that probably I would never shake,” English observes. “In a weird way, it turned out to be just as explosive as firecrackers.”

Born in 1959, English missed the '60s, but came of age in time for the PCP-fueled nihilism of the late-‘70s Midwest. After a series of menial jobs, he started art school at the University of North Texas in Denton. He went on to receive an MFA in fine arts from the University of Texas. In college, he started creating his own billboards. At first they were his own artwork, but after moving into a house full of activists, he began attacking corporate culture.

In 1984, English moved to New York City, a city with thousands of billboards, plus the official “artworld.” Visionary artists often have stable, warmhearted spouses, and English is no exception. His wife Tarssa is featured prominently in Living in Delusionville, explaining her husband’s creations, and sometimes expressing anxiety that he’ll fall off a building while wheatpasting a billboard.

Delusionville is one of English’s long-term projects: a kind of imaginary theme park filled with characters that look like Disney mutations: a three-eyed bunny (Ronnnie Rabbbit), a toddler with a body like the Incredible Hulk (Temper Tot), an orange elephant with butterfly wings for ears (Elefanka).

English continues to surf the erratic currents of American life. The Light Cult Crypto Club, an organization devoted to his collection of NFT artwork, will hold a festival in Beacon (where he’s lived for 12 years) on May 14 and 15. For details on the Light Cult Crypto Club festival, see popaganda.com.

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