10K80 by Raphael Henriquez March 2, 2020
On a dreary and rainy Tuesday morning outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), a beam of unexpected light shone inside the world’s foremost financial institution.
The bearer of light or rather the Prometheus-incumbent of the radiant flame that brilliantly flickered throughout the historical building was none other than the NYSE’s Peter Tuchman.
Heralded as the most photographed man of the NYSE, Tuchman has transcended his a role as a floor trader to a global personality, having exchanged trading tips and jokes with Shaq, championed art on the building’s 6th-floor walkway to the Board Room, and can’t be missed with his Einstein-like appearance.
Like the myth of Prometheus, Tuchman carried onto the floor of the NYSE a brilliant fire. This source of thermo-brilliance belonged to none other than that of art icon Ron English.
To those unfamiliar with Ron English and his work, he’s been [rightfully] dubbed as the “Godfather of Street Art.” His works act as a nexus for street art, connecting the bohemian ideologies of street art with the everyday patrons of the streets.
His murals quite literally cover both known and unknown corners of the world. English, a man of little to no boundaries has even collaborated with Pop Toys for various figurines, has directed and produced films, composed original music, written books, and just about anything under the sun that’s readily available for a modern-day renaissance man.
English, as you can imagine, is a rare breed. Not only is he a legend in the contemporary art world, but he’s also a living legend at that.
While those privy to the art scene and/or English’s work are in tune with his catalog, it was a fascinating spectacle to see the mythologized artist on the floor of the NYSE- a realm far removed from the art world.
Or so we thought…
Surrounded by mercurial traders, astute movers and shakers of global currencies, and bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college students keen on soaking in their experience at the NYSE, English casually blended in like a man who’s been there before.
It was as if he attained some sort of unknown level of artistic nirvana and bliss. Some might even argue that English has in fact reached such a level of grandeur throughout his career but that’s neither here nor there.
Needless to say, Ron English is an artist of such prominence and fame. However, he’s far from being a disillusioned or jaded celebrity of the art world. In fact, he’s the complete opposite. English, a modest man himself, is often humbled by life’s spontaneity and kept grounded by his wife and children.
“I always say that I’m miracle co-dependent which means I literally depend on some miracle happening over and over and over again. That’s how I started this year on New Year’s Day. I had nothing [planned].”
Rather than being standoffish about his successes and haughty about his upcoming endeavors, English is as down to earth as the rain on that Tuesday morning.
He’s never afraid to answer a question if he can provide the answer, which makes sense for an artist with such a multidisciplinary approach to his work. Not only that, but he’s always welcoming of new ideas and possibilities, but precariously attentive to past experiences.
This calculated and audacious mindset is indicative of how English got his start. English, who was both an unknown artist and who used to write for Detour Magazine in the early 90s, became increasingly interested in the work of Absolut Vodka’s late marketing legend Michel Roux.
For those unfamiliar with his legacy, Roux is cited as being “the marketer best known for ushering Absolut Vodka into every bar in the United States.” However, his true claim to posthumous iconography in the marketing world is for propelling Absolut Vodka into a newer age of advertising.
As a result, Roux came up with a new campaign series for Absolut called Absolut Art, where Absolut (on the behalf of Roux) and advertising agency TBWA commissioned legendary artists to like Warhol, Haring, Scharf, and Leibovitz to put their own unique artistic touch on the Absolut bottles.
The artists’ renditions of Absolut bottles were widely published in print and transcended the boundaries of traditional advertising. Art and the ad world momentarily underwent a harmonious process of osmosis where the two were inseparable, thanks to Michel Roux’s genius.
What started as a bold idea of Roux’s evolved into one of the more pivotal and daring moments in English’s early career. Having been inspired by Roux’s work, English finessed his way into interviewing Roux for Detour Magazine.
What was supposed to be an interview with Roux quickly became English’s elevator pitch. An all-or-nothing chance for him to have his work featured with the likes of the aforementioned contemporary art immortals. Needless to say, Roux was sold.
“Then I said, you know the real reason I’m here is that I want to be an Absolut artist. He looked at a painting I already made and he goes, ‘You won!’ He bought six paintings from me and from there it was Absolut English. That was a really big deal then. He also sent me to Japan. He just had so much stuff for me!’
Fast forward 20+ years later, this fearless mindset has empowered Ron English to express himself in almost any and every way imaginable for an artist.
More recently, he’s launched his book Original Grin in 2019 and collaborated with Swarovski on a commemorative PopToy figurine of Big Poppa/the Notorious B.I.G, decked out in a Swarovski x Coogi sweater.
As you can imagine, English is more than capable of creating art that is relevant to the times. He has reached a level of artistry that millions of artists have aspired to, currently aspire to, and will always aspire to- an unencumbered proclivity for creating the art they feel and know.
Ironically enough, here was Ron English on the floor of the NYSE. The man whose work so often critiques consumer capitalism. So much so that he even coined the term “POPaganda,” a term used to artistically critique and exploit the iconic, propagandized moments in mainstream culture.
This is best evinced in English’s works; his documentary POPaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English, his collaborative efforts with POP toys, i.e., MC Supersized, which was featured in the cultural zeitgeist of a film SuperSize Me, Hulk Menace; and so on.
English reminisced, “I think that a lot of my stuff is a kind of critical of things. I also feel like you just don’t want to be the guy that just hates everything. They were showing my film “POPaganda” and it’s about me making fun of all these things. At the end of it, a guy stood and said, ‘Well, we know what you don’t like. What do you like?’”
“I realized there’s a lot of power and also shouting out things that you like and things that have influenced you.”
The man whose work is often labeled as “anti-corporate” was casually strolling through the NYSE learning the rich (pun intended) and detailed history of one of the most historic capitalist institutions of the modern era.
Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? If your answer is “yes” then I think it’s safe to say that you might see the world in black and white. But in a world where things teeter along the lines of gray, it only made sense for English to have been present.
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Kevin Durant having out in my studio. #studiolife #artstudio #kevindurant #Basketballgrin #basketball
“Sometimes I’ll think that maybe Instagram or this kind of stuff will get me out there in a way and then I’ll let go of doing billboards and the illegal stuff,” said English.
“Then I realized that they actually kind of put you in a little box and actually really narrow the range of people that are going to stumble onto your stuff. So then I’ll go back out on the streets and do stuff again.”
Gusto. Zeal. An appetite for trusting your instincts. Call it what you want. For Ron English, the recipe for his success has been a simple one. Or at least he makes it appear that way. Write your narrative the way you want to. If not you, then who?