Ron English has bombed the global landscape with countless unforgettable images: on the street, in museums, in movies, in books and on television.
Coining the term ‘POPaganda’ to describe his signature mash-up of high and low cultural touchstones; from superhero mythology to totems of art history, his work is populated with a vast and constantly growing arsenal of original characters.
English featured in the hit movies Super Size Me and Exit Through the Gift Shop, and hosted Britain’s The Other America series on Sky TV; he has also made numerous television appearances worldwide.
He is the subject of the award-winning 2006 documentary POPaganda: the Art and Crimes of Ron English and the 2009 documentary Abraham Obama.
He has exhibited worldwide in numerous prestigious galleries and his work resides in the permanent collections of Rome’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MACRO), Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, amongst others.
English continues to create art that propels unstated cultural norms just beyond the bounds of comfort into a disconcerting realm simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
Halloween. Odds are, you think of it as one of the best days of the year.
If you really stop to think about Halloween and all the bizarre traditions that go along with this day, you may start to actually wonder… where in the world did all these crazy traditions come from?
Costumes, monsters, trick or treating, jack-o-lanterns… well, all this batty stuff had to start somewhere, right?
Ireland Is Believed To Be The Birthplace of Halloween.
The ancient Celtic Festival called Samhain was first celebrated more than 2,000 years ago in County Meath. The Celts believed it was a time of transition, when the veil between this world and the next came down, and the spirits of all who had died that year moved on to the next life.
But if the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped, the deceased could come back to life and wreak havoc among the living. Not a good thing.
Today the ancient past and the twenty-first century come together at the annual Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival, where a re-enactment of the Celtic celebration kicks off with a torchlit procession through town.
The Irish welcome Halloween with bonfires, party games and traditional food, including a fruitcake that contains coins, buttons, rings and other fortune telling objects.
In ancient times, it was believed that if a young woman found a ring in her slice of fruitcake, she’d be married within the next year.
The symbolism of ravens can be divided into three main categories: that of the evil spirit or harbinger of death, that of the trickster or thief, and that of the prophetic or wise spirit. The traditional English poem “One for bad news, Two for mirth” incorporates all three of these, reflecting the way that both Celtic and European cultures embrace a range of meanings for the symbolic raven.
Moreover, the original use of the poem as a simple way of divining the future based on everyday events, such as seeing a flock of crows, emphasises the raven’s prophetic powers. “
To have a raven’s knowledge” is an Irish proverb which means to have the power to see into the future, and the wisdom to understand what is being seen.
The interpretation of a raven as an evil spirit is actually largely a misconception based on Western culture’s negative associations with death. The raven is black, a colour generally associated with witches despite that fact that it is frequently a colour worn by members of the Church, such as nuns and Catholic priests.
The raven is also a carrion-eater, which is traditionally associated with uncleanliness.
This fact is likely one of the reasons for its association with death, because it was seen as significant that ravens were close by at the death of people and animals. Presumably they were just there for a meal.
The Trickster Raven
The raven as trickster is most often a part of allegorical myths that explain how things came to be. For example, there is an Australian myth in which a raven tries to steal fire from the people. It is burnt by the fire, and that is why ravens are black.
It may also come from some of the realities of ravens, such as the fact that they can mimic any sound they hear, and that they are attracted to shiny objects.
The Raven as Prophet
Lastly there is the interpretation of the raven as a proud, wise and prophetic symbol. Edgar Allen Poe’s raven is “stately” and “lordly,” even among the darker associations evoked by the poem. King Arthur is believed to live on as a raven, and the ravens Thought and Memory are key instruments of the Norse god Odin’s power.
Ravens are part of the divining and foreseeing arts of many cultures because of their power to give knowledge and understanding. All three of these meanings must be taken together to fully understand the meaning of ravens.
Between 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare murdered 15 people over the course of a year to make extra money, selling the bodies as cadavers for university students to dissect.
These murders took place starting in November of 1827 to October of 1828.
At the time, it was very difficult for universities to get human bodies for students to dissect. The only ones that could legally be acquired by universities were those from executed convicts.
This had once been an adequate supply, but thanks to certain legal changes that resulted in a drastic reduction of executions and thanks to the fact that the study of anatomy had become more popular as medical science progressed, there began to exist a huge shortage of human bodies.
In order to get around this problem, college professors and private tutors would sometimes pay under the table for bodies, no questions asked.
It was not uncommon for people known as “resurrectionists” or “body snatchers” to watch cemeteries and, when a fresh body was buried, they would dig it up. They’d then take any valuables that may have been left with the person.
Finally, if the body was fresh enough, they’d take it to sell. This practice became bad enough that relatives of a deceased loved one would often stand in shifts over the grave for several days to keep the body safe from being stolen while it was still fresh.
As author Hugh Douglas noted: “(Resurrectionists) could open a grave, remove a body and restore the soil between patrols of the night watch…. Relatives of the subject could mourn by the grave the following day, unaware that their loved one was gracing some anatomy slab in Edinburgh.”
William Burke and William Hare took this practice a step further.
Rather than wait for people to die, they began a year long killing spree, providing a steady stream of bodies for Dr. Robert Knox who was a private lecturer, teaching anatomy classes to University students.
The murder spree started relatively innocently enough. At the lodging house that Hare operated they had an elderly gentlemen named Donald who owed Hare £4 in rent when the old man died.
Knowing that one could sell a body to universities, they decided to fill the coffin with bark and steal the body to sell to make up for the loss of the rent money the dead man owed.
They originally intended to sell the body to Professor Alexander Munro of Edinburgh Medical College, but after making inquiries were re-directed to Dr. Robert Knox, a private lecturer, whose assistant instructed them to bring the body after nightfall.
When they arrived with the body, it was inspected by Dr. Knox’s assistants and Burke and Hare were offered £7.10s, which would be around £730 today, or around $1100.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes stories.
For those not familiar with the story, Holmes sends Watson off to investigate a mysterious murder surrounded by stories of a mysterious, spectral hound seen roaming the hills of Devonshire, supposedly part of a curse on the Baskerville family that has been haunting them for generations.
A great story, no doubt, but the real legend that it’s based on is no less creepy.
According to legend, a man named Richard Cabell lived in West Buckfastleigh in the late 17th century. A squire by trade, he was, by all accounts, an absolutely hated man known for his violent tendencies.
Supposedly his family had supported the wrong side during the English Civil War, and Richard ended up marrying the daughter of the man who had imposed fines on the family and sent them into financial ruin.
The marriage meant that he got his estate back, but the ending was anything but happy.
The locals were convinced that he had sold his soul to the Devil, apparently finding this a much more likely explanation for the return of his fortunes than the idea that he was just a stand-up sort of guy.
In an absolutely unproven version of Cabell’s story, it was said that his wife eventually found herself the target of his rage. (Death records show, however, that the historic wife actually outlived him by more than a decade.)
Cabell was said to have chased her out onto the moors in a jealous rage one night, killing her. In retaliation, her faithful hound ripped out his throat.
Cabell was laid to rest in the local church, but the villagers were afraid that he would rise from the grave and return to torment them. Instead of a simple grave, he was buried in a sepulchre lined with iron bars and a tomb sealed with a massive slab, all designed to keep him inside.
Almost immediately, villagers claimed to hear hounds howling in the night, pacing outside of his grave.
Naturally, they were the hounds of hell, sent by the Devil to collect the soul that he’d been promised. Other stories claim that the sepulchre is regularly visited by demons, hoping to succeed where the hounds have failed.