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Rock & Roll According to Ron English

Posted by: Nathan Spoor in Nathan Spoor on Mar 15, 2010

So Ron, tell us a little about your connection to Rock ‘n Roll and why this event at SXSW is important to you.

Well, this is a signing of high end prints with Planet Illogica in Austinduring the SXSW music festival that’s happening in Austin next week. There are some really well known and popular images that we’re going to show out there and I’ll be signing things as well. There are images from my HISTORIC KISS series, as well as THE KURSED KIDS and my new SLASH album cover and other music related pieces.

I have been to SXSW a few times in the distant past. The first time I was living in Austin and it was all unsigned bands. I came back a couple times to promote my brother in law’s band THE SUTCLIFFES and my concept CD POPaganda. I seemed to run into everyone you can think of at SXSW. When I was there with THE SUTCLIFFES we hung out with Chris Douridas and a young man he was introducing to the world named Beck. We had just been talking to Linklater and for some reason I thought Beck was one of the characters in Slacker and told him how much I loved the movie. He seemed a bit confused by me.
Other years we hung out with Space Hog, Sara Hickman, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, John Doe, Jello Biafra, Mojo Nixon, Daniel Johnston, Sonic Youth, the list goes on and on. You saw everyone 5 minutes before they were famous. I don’t know if there has ever been anything like SXSW. As for my own relationship to music, I think that probably really took form in college. I threw a lot of parties and used a lot of bands as entertainment. In exchange for their services I would do their flyers and the occasional album cover. I also let them rehearse at my house. It was a big old southern house we painted psychedelic with over turned cars as lawn ornaments. There were jazz bands, classical, punk, you name it. We had bands rather than a stereo. Musicians that played my parties in the day included Michelle Shocked and REM. Later when I started releasing concept CDs I had a lot of talent I could tap. My band The Electric Illuminati just mastered our first CD so I should be able to premiere the tracks at the event.

So how does it feel, going back to Austin now and being more involved in music from the fine art side?

I think the musician and fine artist careers are very similar. You both go on the road with a product, and if you don’t have a hit you’re not going to be doing that for very long. If everyone in the band isn’t in it 100 per cent it’s not going to last long. That includes the art dealers or the record executives, the A&R guys, the promoters, the fans, everyone. Both art forms are really group efforts with no room for slackers.

If every band could just get up and write a hit every morning they would. But that’s not how it goes. Kurt Cobain hadn’t pegged Smells Like Teen Spirit as a hit even after he laid down his tracks. I think Chris was there while they were mixing and gave Kurt a call to “get his ass down here and check this out”

Here’s a case in point, at my last show 17 people were trying to buy one painting. I really didn’t see it a something that would get much response. I thought that this other painting would have been the big hit. You can’t predict that sort of response and you can’t ignore it either. If you believe that it was just that one idea and you then move on, then you’re missing the point. The point is that you are on to something, and as an artist you might want to explore what that could mean for you and your career. It’s telling you something.

Going back to Austin will be a great experience. The people down there are always the coolest. But I don’t know what kind of response to expect. I imagine my work has a large enough following to do well there, and we’re going to prepare for success or the opportunity to change some minds. But it’s not a comfort ride no matter how well-known anyone is. The revolution never ends.

Speaking of good work, what’s some of the best work that you’ve put out lately and when can we see it?

That piece that’s going in your Suggestivism show, the Lady Lips? That’s the idea I’m excited about right now.
I got a call from Jason Flom who knew I was a big Rolling Stones fan and might be a good candidate for their next cover. He asked me to do a take on the famous lips he could show to Mick to interest him in my work. If I could have I would have done something the next day but I had to wait six months for the idea to present itself to me. By then The Stones and Jason had both moved on to other labels and Jason had lost contact. My lips are getting famous enough now that it’s only a matter of time before Mick sees it.

This is how it seems to work sometimes, and the marketing side of fine art side should come to terms with the fact that the best ideas, and the right ideas, sometimes don’t just happen because you want them right then. You are not your brain. You can ask a favor of it and it will respond in its own time. When the idea comes it’s like a gift from God.

How do you think the process of arriving at that thought comes about then?

I think that you’re constantly loading images and facts into your brain all the time, and when you assign it a certain task it starts scanning for relevant information internally and externally. The solution usually comes when you have a quiet moment like in the shower or even while you are asleep. Keith Richards wrote the riff for Satisfaction in his sleep. He had a tape recorder by his bed, woke up and taped himself doing the riff and then went back to sleep. When he woke up he discovered the now famous riff followed by forty minutes of snoring. The guy was so good he could write hit songs in his sleep!

So how is it working with Planet Illogica and talking with Tonny Sørensen?

I’m involved with the clothing line there and this art event in Austin. Those things are super great. I really didn’t understand much about the concept until I went and did the live painting at their launch party in San Diego. Getting to hang out with the guys really helped me understand the support aspect of what they do. And any conversation with Tonny is something I look forward to. He is decisive, which is a trait I have found in all successful people. If you have the big vision then all the decisions are just steps in the direction of the goal. Even missteps and wrong turns are opportunities though few can recognize them as such. Tonny makes it seems easy, like writing a hit song seems easy, but if it’s so easy, why doesn’t everybody do it?

Anyways, I have lots of ideas for Planet Illogica if they want them. For one, lots of people seem to get caught up on the name. I’ve even called it Planet Illogical once or twice and other folks have too. What they should do is capitalize on that and use it to their advantage. Make a commercial, something fun where people are working over the name and trying to get it right and just make fun of it. Have fun with it and make a cool statement that sticks with people. Fun sells and draws people in. The strange name becomes the secret handshake.

I think the thing that is really going to push Planet Illogica forward is a couple major coups like, “We’re are the ones responsible for the Ron English ‘Eye in the Sky’ blimp or “We’re the ones who got the Ron English art on the space shuttle.” What can we do for YOU? How big is YOUR imagination?

I am currently working on a new documentary called The Emperor’s New Art. It’s about America’s uneasy relationship with art and an attempt to bring art to the masses. I could see collaborating with Planet Illogica on some of the stunts in the movie. But right now we have some pretty damn cool tee shirts to get out there. The adventure begins in Austin, Texas.

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