How We Met: Ron English & Morgan Spurlock - 'He'd charted out everything in his life for the next six months in 10-minute intervals'

 

Morgan Spurlock, 43

The American film-maker and political activist (right in picture) is best known for his 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary 'Super Size Me', which critiqued McDonald's. His other work includes 'Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?' and 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'. He lives in New York

We met in 2003, after I spotted a billboard in [New York's] East Village in 2003 of this fat cartoon version of Ronald McDonald called MC Supersized, and I thought, I've got to track down the guy who made this. Once I'd worked out who'd done it, I went to meet him in his mad science lab-style studio in Jersey City.

I love the idea of liberating billboards from their corporate captors, which is what he'd done; in the studio he had paintings of all these [subverted] Ronald McDonald characters. At the time I was working on Super Size Me, so I said, "I want to interview you for the movie." As the film was going to the Sundance Film Festival, I asked him to make the poster for me.

I have a mantra – if you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen – and that is evident in what Ron does, using art to challenge beliefs, using agitprop in a funny, snarky way: I love how he would walk into a grocery store and put these [spoof] cereal boxes that he'd made up on the shelves, to make fun of the unhealthy stuff we buy.

One of my favourite moments with him was when we hooked up while he was walking around in this life-sized MC Supersized "fat Ronald" suit. I went to Times Square to watch him and it's a crazy thing to see how people reacted to this fat clown; they didn't know what to make of him. And I loved seeing how giddy it made him, seeing his art affecting people like that.

We became really good friends when we travelled to a bunch of festivals together for the film, and during that time he introduced me to this new low-brow street-art scene. Nowadays we talk about the things we could take the piss out of next; the sacred cows we can skewer.

I've got a lot of his pieces in my home. I think my favourite is from a few years ago, while I was making Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?. It's a portrait of me with my shirt open and wearing a headdress, looking like a New World Laurence of Arabia.

At parties you never really know what's going on inside his head, as he's one of those people who's listening to everyone else, while I'm the first to talk.

We hang out at these barbecues he has at his house, where all these great artistic people come over; he's incredibly valuable to them, as he's the nucleus of an art movement; I think of him as the Adam surrounded by all these artistic people who form his circle of friends – when I'm there I feel like a fan boy.

Ron English, 55

Known as the Godfather of Street Art and credited with turning graffiti into a serious artform, English is renowned for subverting advertising billboards, and painted the West Bank wall in Palestine alongside Banksy in 2007. He lives in Jersey City, New York

Morgan was shooting Super Size Me – eating at every meal at McDonald's over a period of 30 days – at the same time as I was doing a fake McDonald's campaign; I'd made a morbidly obese McDonald's character called MC Supersize, and anonymously put it up on billboards over town. One billboard was on his street; he was so intrigued that he tracked me down, so I invited him to my studio.

My studio is full of McDonald's [style] paintings. He asked if he could use them in between segments of his film. I thought, dude, they're going to sue you so hard it won't come out for 10 years, but I agreed – though I never had a sense it would blow up like it did.

I released an MC Supersize doll after that, and Morgan came to festivals with me and helped me promote it. He's a blast to hang out with; he's super-gregarious and he strikes up conversations with everybody.

We discovered we had a shared philosophy: if you're dogmatic, people tune you out; but if you use humour to make your points, it brings people in. And that shared humour opened the door to a brilliant friendship. We're both puckish, but I'm a little darker than him, and less gregarious; I think most visual artists are reserved, as they're by themselves all the time – it's a monkish occupation.

As a friend, he did a lot to raise my profile and in return I've given him his biggest addiction; I've turned him on to street art and pop surrealism and now he's one of its biggest collectors. He's like a kid in a candy store and his place is packed with art.

He's super-intelligent and has a director's mind, constantly having 100 things in the air. I remember the first time I went to his office; on the wall he'd charted out everything in his life for the next six months in 10-minute intervals, with every segment double-booked. The first time we went out for dinner at this rib place, it was like he was having two dinners – with me and another guy – like a double date!

Morgan was a fresh new voice to documentary-making. While Michael Moore plays the Columbo character – depending on you underestimating him – Morgan acts more like your best friend, and instead of just interviewing others about a subject, he's like, "I'm going to live that life," such as with the immersion in McDonald's.

He understand that that moustache of his is his trademark now. It makes me think of Evel Knievel, who felt that if he didn't wear the suit he was just a regular schmo.

'Death & The Eternal Forever' by Ron English is published by Korero Press, priced £24.99, now available in-store at Atomica Gallery (atomicagallery.com, koreropress.com). Morgan Spurlock launches his new YouTube channel, Smartish, this autumn

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