RE/MX: Video Vaudeville

Ron English to Build a Welcome Wall on the Southern Border

By David Jenison

The odds are Ron English will get a wall built on the southern border before Donald Trump does, but it's an equally safe bet that Donald Trump will be the one demanding no wall should be built by Ron English. That's because his construct will be a Welcome Wall

"This wall is gonna be more of a bulletin wall," explains the pop-surrealist artist. "We will create a space where I will be the first person to do something on it and then we will invite artists from Mexico and artists more involved with the issue to do something. I want to make it a bulletin board for voices who aren't part of the conversation but who are part of the dilemma. But it's not a wall to prevent people from coming or going. It's a place where people [can] come leave a message and say what they think."

English also makes it clear that his wall will not be an impediment to anyone crossing the border in either direction. The initial construct will only be 2,000 feet long, so people can easily walk around it, though he hopes more people will contribute art and increase its length, even though it is irrelevant how long the wall is.

"Our walls are only gonna be about 10 foot tall," says English. "We'll provide 12-foot ladders so getting over won't be a problem."

To help raise $30,000 for the project, English launched a page where people can make donations or purchase artwork at a substantial discount. Pink Floyd fans will flip over the limited-edition Mother, Should I Build a Wall? giclées available for $200, and the artist is selling Monarch Butterfly paintings for $2,000. In the first 24 hours, the page already raised about $8,000. 

"The South American butterfly on faux bricks is stenciled, and then I hand paint the whole thing," says English, who made 100 of each offering. "They're probably worth about $8,000 so the flippers can just buy 'em and flip 'em if they want. As for the [Mother] print, I enhance it with prismacolor, so I'm trying to make everything a super good deal. Maybe you don't even give a shit about the wall, but you want a really good deal on a Ron English [piece], so this way everybody's happy." 

Unlike Trump, the artist doesn't have the power of eminent domain, so the funds will also go towards buying or leasing land, though he still needs to find a willing land owner. (If you know anyone, let him know.)

"We've been looking for land for four months, so as soon as we get land, we're going to start right away," he says." The problem is, everybody [with available land] gets excited and then super scared. We've asked people to lease their land, and they said no, so now we're looking into buying some land. We have feelers out all the way from one end of the border to the other. We're talking to people in El Paso, we're talking to people in Brownsville, we're talking to people in McAllen, we're even talking to a museum on the other side of the border. Everybody's trying to help, but you get people who are Trumpies or who are super scared of Trump."

One reason people might fear a "Trumpie" backlash is that the Welcome Wall will highlight what a wasteful government cash dump the Trump wall will be. 

"I think the Trump wall is supposed to cost something like $300,000 per square foot, and of course there will be cost overruns and government contracts, and I'm sure Trump Inc. will get the biggest lion's share of that," English explains. "He'll be the richest guy in the world by the time [his presidency] is over. I'm showing that I can build a wall for cheap and under budget. I believe my wall will cost $11 per square foot as opposed to $300,000 per square foot."

Last year, English famously bought a Banksy piece that he threatened to whitewash as a protest against street-art removal, but he suggests it might become part of the Welcome Wall with the British flags in the piece changed to Mexican and American flags. In fact, the idea is to build the wall (or parts of it) in 4 x 8 foot sections that will feature original art that can later be sold. 

"The idea is to pull the whole wall down after the [2020] election and auction off pieces for different charities or maybe for a political candidate as a way to put the wall to good use," he explains. "Or I could auction off my part of the wall when another artist does his or her part, or something like that."

English also designed some artistic advertisements for the wall, including one for his cannabis brand POTaganda, which includes rolling papers, trays and its mascot Punk Skunk. He hopes his ads might inspire companies to purchase their own ads on the wall. 

"I'm playing with the idea of giving Mexican companies a discounted rate to have an ad on the wall, and that's one of the ways we're trying to pay for it," he says, suggesting Mexico might actually help pay for this wall. "So I made a Tecate ad and some others just to demonstrate the idea, and I put one for cannabis on too because I still like my Mexican weed. I don't like that fancy imported Canadian leaf, you know?"

After a beat, he laughs, "I'm kidding. If this actually works out, we're talking to Canada about helping them build a wall."

Asked if he hopes a cannabis company will take out an ad, English responds, "You know, I didn't think about that. I just thought my weed company should have an ad. I might as well give myself an ad, right?"

How can people help? 

"Mostly we just need some funding right now," English says, "and if anybody lives down by the border, we'll be asking people to help us construct the wall once we have the land." 

People can follow what's happening and learn how they can help on the fundraising page here.

Image above features English's art on a Trump wall prototype and does not reflect the structure of the Welcome Wall. 

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