Slikar Mark Ryden miješa seks, nasilje, alkemijske i religijske simbole, zečiće, pčele te povijesne likove u onirički pop, u kojemu saharinske djevojčice odjevene u mesnate haljine supostoje s Abrahamom Lincolnom i Isusom u nadrealnom eteričnom svijetu nježnog užasa. I ima puuuno mesa, a ono se pojavljuje u čudnim odnosima i na čudnim mjestima. Klaonica američkog popa. Preslatko i preokrutno istovremeno.
Mark Ryden: Krv
Mark Ryden, rođen 1963. u Oregonu a odrastao u Južnoj Kaliforniji, počeo je privlačiti pozornost raznolike publike, od ljubitelja glazbe do čitatelja pop-magazina, ilustrirajući naslovnice popularnih magazina i ploče bendova kao što su Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Butthole Surfers te Michaela Jacksona (napravio je omot slavnog albuma Dangerous), sve dok 90-tih nije dopro do umjetničke publike koja je nedvojbeno presudila o njegovu uspjehu.
Rydenove slike izazivaju deja vu kod svih koji ih gledaju. Radi se zapravo o snažnoj analogiji između nadrealnog dječjeg univerzuma koji on prikazuje i ilustracija iz 50-tih (za djecu i odrasle), i nije teško pronaći jasne aluzije na američku neopop-kulturu, od estetike nacionalnog popularnog slikara Keanea do modernih holivudskih ikona kao što su Leonardo Di Caprio (koji je nezasitni skupljač Rydenovih djela) i Christina Ricci ili protagonisti uspješnih TV-serija kao što su Buffy i Teletubbies. Ostali važni umjetnički i kulturalni utjecaji koji svjesno prodiru u Rydenovo djelo, koje se ponekad pretvara u pravo veličanje povijesti, uključuju noviju psihodeličnu umjetnost Neona Parka, fantastički bečki realizam i na neki način djelo Ernsta Fuchsa, klasične francuske autore kao što su David i Ingres, čiju je Odalisku Mark Ryden preuzeo u svojrmu djelu Snow White. Obdaren apsolutnom slobodom i tim nevinim ponašanjem tipičnim za Alisu u Zemlji čuda gdje je sigurno jedino to da se sve može dogoditi, Mark Ryden prikazuje oniričku pop-raznolikost, punu alkemijskih, religijskih simbola i povijesnih likova (Abraham Lincoln, pukovnik Sander i Isus često se pojavljuju na njegovim slikama).
S druge strane, to nepredvidljivo, naoko besmisleno slaganje elemenata, odgovara upravo viziji svijeta kao divnog i čudesnog mjesta na kojemu pitanja koja nam postavlja život proizlaze upravo iz tog nepotpunog i nelogičnog supostojanja stvari.
Također, u njegovim slikama možemo pronaći neke od njegovih osobnih opsesija, kao što su odresci mesa kojima je Ryden posvetio ciklus od trinaest velikih slika pod naslovom Meat Loaf, te beskonačno mnogo infantilnih i fantastičnih stvorenja koja čini se jako voli: igračke, plišani medvjedići, biljke i cvijeće, Bunnies and Bees (što je i naslov niza slika koji je naslikao kako bi «ilustrirao BOŽANSKU ISTINU prema svetim načelima ZNANOSTI I DUŠE») – sve te slike imaju istu magičnu moć koja im omogućuje govoriti. To uopće ne iznenađuje budući da tim prizorima tog slikovitog univerzuma gotovo uvijek dominiraju velike dječje oči, veliko svjetlo koje obasjava svijet koji pulsira sa zvukom svirale, s kojim ta bića žive u nepomućenoj i nesvjesnoj empatiji.
Čini se da je ispred slike Marka Rydena moguće shvatiti da su djeca gospodari odraslih: njihova savršena usklađenost s univerzumom čini ih superiornim, bližim božanskom svijetu. Nije riječ o tome da Ryden razotkriva kako je pod snažnim utjecajem pogleda na svijet svojega sina Jaspera. On govori o tajanstvenoj čarobnoj majmunici (ušla je u moju dnevnu sobu u gluho doba noći kada je sve tiho. Ona je ta koja je učinila gotovo sve, ja sam se zadovoljio time da joj pomažem), pokušava nas uvjeriti da je njegova umjetnost nastala čudom, pod utjecajem natprirodne sile.
No, nije nam nepoznat njegov interes za alkemijsku znanost i čîni, i u vezi s tim moglo bi biti zanimljivo znati da Ryden kaže kako ima tajni recept za uljene boje kojima slika a koji je navodno naslijedio od drevnih majstora i čini se da ima transcedentna svojstva.
Krv: minijaturne slike tuge i straha, primamljiv naslov izložbe Marka Rydena postiže upravo ono što bi i trebao. Zvučeći neodređeno poput reklamnog slogana nekog horror-filma, mami te da dođeš pogledati – usuditi se zaroniti u doboke, mračne, primarne emocije. Ta je izložba vrijedno putovanje, ali nemojte očekivati više od plitkog uranjanja u blatnu baruštinu psihe.
Umjesto toga očekujte spektakl, čak i blesavost, no nikako nešto autentično kao što je tuga. Ryden slika male slike (4-6 centimetara), i slika dobro, u debelim namazima. Ne radi se o samoj slici, nego o drami iskustva.
Njegove male, pažljivo uokvirene slike saharinski slatkih djevojčica s krvi na njihovim rukama (ili licima, ili ramenima) vise na baršunastom crvenom zastoru od poda do stropa. Glazba svira, mračna izvorna partitura (koju su skladali Stan Ridgeway i Petra Wexstun) protkana klavirom, elektroničkim instrumentima i glasom. Ryden rado spominje uzbudljive utjecaje poput kabale i srednjovjekovne alkemijske prakse, no čini se da je najvećim dijelom nadahnuće pronašao u Ukletoj kući u Disneylandu.
Te slike dosljedno prikazuju krv – kao sakrament, ukras i samovoljan stimulator pulsa. Na slici »Fountain», djevojka u blijedoružičastoj haljini s ukrasom od čipke stoji ukočeno, kao da je na pozornici u nekom školskom zboru. U svojim rukama njiše vlastitu glavu snenih očiju, dok joj iz vrata šiklja savršeno koreografiran vodoskok krvi.
U Cloven Bunny slična djevojka srnećih očiju leži na podu, podbočena na jedan lakat. Njezina druga ruka počiva na krvavoj mrlji koja izlazi iz raskoljenog plišanog zeca koji leži na podu do nje.
Na drugoj slici, iz goleme ruke s prorezom na dlanu istječe krv u pehar koji drži malena djevojčica. Na sljedećoj, plava vila u pidžami, teatralno šokirana zuri u glomaznu glavu Abrahama Lincolna koja se pojavljuje na kraju njezina snježnobijelog kreveta. Slika Rose portret je djevojke s crvenom ružom u tamnoj kosi – a krv kapa ispod njezinih očiju poput maskare koja curi.
Na jednoj od tih slika pojavljuje se i dječak (kršten krvlju); inače, dominiraju djevojke – spokojne, izgledaju poput siročića, s velikim, široko otvorenim očima, poput onih na kičastim slikama Margaret Keane. One isijavaju nevinost i profinjenu, djevičansku ženstvenost. Postavljajući tu vrstu klišeizirane čistoće nasuprot nasilju dekapitacije, osakaćenja i drugih zločina Ryden pokušava svojim slikama dati naboj.
Disjunkcija ne dolazi toliko šokantno kao što je autor planirao, zbog toga što su i osjećaj svetosti i okaljanosti tako nategnuti, tako lišeni autentičnosti. Ryden miješa seks, nasilje i religiju zbog senzacionalne uzbudljivosti samog miksa, ne zato što ima nešto dubokoumno ponuditi iz njihova složena isprepletanja. Ono što on nudi jest jezovita, na neki način komična poslastica za oči – bodljikavi medenjak.
KRV: minijaturne slike tuge i straha
Ušao sam u atelje Marka Rydena. Bilo je gotovo nemoguće sve obuhvatiti pogledom. Bio je to prekrasan prostor, nešto između Prirodoslovnog muzeja u New Yorku i Vatikana, s primjesom Pee Wee's Playhouse. S moje lijeve strane na mene je režao golemi drveni kineski lav. Zdesna, sićušni Abraham Lincoln, okružen plastičnim anđelima, pruža svoju ruku. Gospodin Ryden je sjedio za stolom; meni okrenut leđima. Na stolu je bilo bezbroj bočica nepoznata sadržaja i čudna aparatura. U zraku se osjećao neobičan miris i mogao sam čuti zvuk mjehurića. Jako me je zanimalo što on to radi, no iznenada pozornost mi je privukao drugi dio sobe. Tamo sam vlastitim očima vidio poznatoga Magičnog Majmuna. Stajao je na svojemu stalku, veličanstven i istodobno krajnje strašan. Nisam mogao vjerovati da sam stvarno tamo.
Pribravši se, pročistio sam grlo. Gospodin Ryden se okrenuo. Bio je odjeven potpuno u crno, nosio je nešto poput dugačke svećeničke mantije. Ono što mi nije imalo nikakvog smisla i što će me do smrti proganjati bila je maska klauna koju je nosio. Skinuo ju je kao da je to najnormalnija stvar. Haj, rekao mi je ugodnim glasom i naš je intervju počeo.
«Zašto krv?», pitao sam ga.
«Ponekad život može biti vrlo mračan. Prošao sam kroz vrlo teško razdoblje», odgovorio je. «Prošle godine, nakon 14 godina braka, moja žena je tražila razvod. Svatko tko je doživio razvod zna kako to može biti užasno... Nade koje imaš za svoj život i za svoju obitelj razbiju se i to uzrokuje jaku duboku unutarnju bol. Bilo mi je čudno što u mojoj traumi nema krvi. Činilo mi se da bih s takvom boli trebao biti okupan u krvi. Želio sam da mogu vidjeti svoje rane, no nije ih bilo na površini moga tijela».
Zaprepastio me njegov iskren odgovor.
«Nisam želio skrivati zašto sam naslikao te slike», rekao je. «Znam da se to možda čini vrlo osobnim za podijeliti sa svijetom. Pretpostavljam da su mnogi ljudi iznenađeni, ali ja mislim da bi svijet mogao biti bolje mjesto kada veći broj ljudi ne bi skrivao svoju bol. Svi mi imamo bol. Utješno je znati da u tome nismo sami. Zato sam imao otvaranje Blood Showa u Los Angelesu na godišnjicu svojega braka».
«Vidite li svijet ispunjen samo 'tugom i strahom'?
«Postoji vrlo mračna i bolna strana života, ali to je prirodno. Ljudi u našoj kulturi misle kako nikada ne bi trebali biti nesretni. Misle da je nesreća neprirodna. Pokušavaju je otjerati. Uzimaju tablete ili idu na psihoterapiju kako bi se ‘sredili’. Okrivljuju sebe ili druge za svoju patnju. Moramo shvatiti da je tuga dio života isto kao i radost. Mogao bi lako postati samo ogorčen i hladan kada se usredotočiš na mračnu stranu, no postoji i čudesna, divna strana života. Ako je tražiš, svuda oko nas postoji istinska čarolija. Možda to zvuči banalno otvrdnjelom samozaštićujućem modernom egu, ali u ovom čudesnom životu postoji čarolija. Ako se otvoriš, postat ćeš podložan boli. No, što dublju bol iskusiš, možeš doživjeti veću radost».
«Čini se da te slike kombiniraju tamu s određenom dozom humora».
«Te slike imaju svoju ozbiljnu stranu, no isto tako postoji i strana nadahnuta diznilendskom Ukletom kućom (Haunted Mansionom). Postoji prava bol a postoji i nešto drugo što nije samo ironija. Ja uključujem utjecaje ‘niske’ pop-kulture bez zauzimanja ironičkog stajališta. Mogu vidjeti vrhunsku ljepotu u jeftinoj igrački i mogu vidjeti obilježja kiča u najuzvišenijem umjetničkom djelu u muzeju. Te stvari su-postoje u životu i mogu su-postojati i u slikarstvu. Kritičari koji drže da je ‘višu istinu’ moguće naći samo u tupoj, elitističkoj umjetnosti obični su seronje, kao i oni koji misle da umjetnici ne trebaju ići na fakultet i da trebaju biti puni tetovaža».
«Neke od ovih slika velike su samo nekoliko centimetara. Zašto ste ih naslikali tako minijaturno?»
«Namjera mi je bila postići više tišine i introspekcije. Želio sam da budu poput šapta».
«Krv obično ne može šaputati, po prirodi – ona vrišti».
«Krv je vrlo moćna. Dok je meso tvar koja održava naše živuće duše u fizičkoj stvarnosti, krv naše meso čini živim. Krv je tekući život. Kada krv istječe iz našeg tijela, uzbunjena je sama srž našeg mozga. Iz nas curi život. To je zastrašujuće, i crvenu boju čini istinski snažnom».
Možda se danas umjetnost čini frivolnim i trivijalnim zanimanjem, no ona je najbolja alkemija koja nam je preostala kako bismo transformirali tužna iskustva. Ljudi govore o metafizičkoj dimenziji umjetnosti, o tome kako vi slikate upravo uz pomoć magije, no čini se da oklijevate iscrpnije ulaziti u to, kao da bi govorenje o tome moglo rastjerati magiju i tajnu.
To je jedan dio priče, no drugi je dio da sama riječ «magija» zvuči tako banalno. Djelomice je to zbog mojeg obiteljskog podrijetla. Mi smo prilično cinični. Vrlo smo bliski i jako duhoviti ali nismo baš sentimentalni. Tako da kada govorim o tim stvarima one zvuče jeftino, kao nešto čemu se može smijati. Potrebno je neko vrijeme da prevladam taj cinizam. Također, jako mi je teško pretvoriti te misli u riječi. Zato ih pretvaram u slike. Doista sam fasciniran onim dijelom života koji transcendira normalno i svakodnevno. Zanimaju me stvari koje se smatraju svetima. Oduvijek su me privlačile stare alkemijske karte, ilustracije, mistični simboli i slike. Godinama sam ih koristio u svojoj umjetnosti bez stvarnog znanja što one znače. Što sam se više okruživao takvim slikama, ustvari sam više učio o njima. Mislim da postoji stvarna paralela između slikanja i alkemije. Uzmeš fizičku tvar i s njome učiniš nešto doista magično.
Zanima me kako uspijevate prizvati tako mračne teme tamo gdje živite, u lijepom domu u Sierra Madre u pastoralnom svijetu bijelih drvenih ograda.
Mislim da je to kao u filmu Plavi baršun: na površini to možda izgleda kao prekrasan, savršen svijet, ali ako razgrneš slojeve... Volim taj kontrast između tog dvoje. Velik dio onoga što radim je takvo supostavljanje. Mislim da umjetnici griješe radeći u potpunosti samo jednu stvar ili pokazujući potpuno samo jednu stranu. Kada je slika samo lijepa i sretna, od toga nam je muka. S druge strane, svi ti umjetnici koji su tako cool i moderni, i čiji je rad u potpunosti mračan i nasilan gube mnogoo moći u svojim djelima zato što ne uključuju nešto od one druge strane. Mnogo više snage može biti u nečemu suptilnom.
Sviđa mi se ono što ste napisali o svojim slikama mesa.
Rekao bih da sam cijelu tu stvar s mesom počeo raditi bez svjesnog promišljanja. O mesu su me pitali više nego o ijednoj drugoj stvari. I jedino zato što sam bio prisiljen odgovarati stalno ispočetka mogao sam to eventualno pretočiti u riječi. Postoje razlozi za sve što radim, samo što nije sve tako potpuno unaprijed smišljeno.
Uvijek sam zamišljao da ljubav prema iluziji i teatralnosti u vašem djelu dolazi otuda što ste proveli velik dio svojega života u okolici Los Angelesa.
To više dolazi iz alkemije i Kabale – vjerovanja da je naš fizički svijet samo iluzija, da svi živimo u nekom budnom snu koji nije stvaran. Mislim da je to vrlo intrigantna ideja. Uvijek me je privlačilo lažno. Volim diorame; unutar ovoga našeg, postoje mali lažni svijetovi. Pokušavam uhvatiti svjetlo i osjećaj diorame u svojim slikama. Privid stvarnosti je ono što me privlači. Naš svijet u kojemu živimo samo je neka vrsta fizičke iluzije, kao u diorami. Instinktivno znamo da postoji više od triju dimenzija koje naša čula mogu zapaziti, ali ne možemo izravno iskusiti ništa izvan te «diorame» u kojoj živimo.
S engleskog prevela Sanja Kovačević
"strung out on refrigerated summer, reality didn’t really exist in the way it only can’t for a certain variety of girl loosed of space and temporality. I was going to drop out of college. there was a lack of wood in the summer. there was an abundance of dress & seeming substance. or a fractal pattern broke & made its way down the 101, sliced open a shred of its substance for a sifter. a stag in a red dress felt like a fish.
at what exact point does the animal cross the line and become meat?
sometimes the color study is prettier than the thing. I was obsessed with fractal patterns then felt inherent. like a triangle was the ultimate substance it was a root. in the past tense swallowing trees makes sense. at what point does the girl cease to eat the point at which was swallowed.
the apex at which god is unspellable. only to prelinguistic ears a glyph doesn’t have to perform semantics.
This fractal structure may actually describe the very fabric of reality, meaning the invisible structure behind all existence has the shape of a tree. In this way, the tree goes beyond being a mere symbol of the universe and is actually an echo of how reality is shaped.
a mysterious vein perplexing etymology is a root of a virgin before the deadline. so shaped the decline is bound to nature; unlike the binding which is made a body is fashioned. carved from mediumicity, it is itself a sentence. congruent with a critical concept of reflectiveness we take a liberty designated reading.
so a depthless glass is deathless. this means the trauma was already concealed before being enacted upon the animal. the seam linked skin a schism. there doesn’t have to be this wall there just is. denaturing a tree is meet. metrical echoes when the scrim sweeps skyward, start the story with death, render : a dress cured of seasons doesn’t need a circle skirt : : underneath a birth cycle forgot to make ammends.
in the garden every variety except those I forget. a gate is a symbol of a great thing made. popping a skein of thigh denatured.
how to love something & how to forget. how you do art. not by answering the question but by asking or trying." - Carina Finn
"In the Pink of the Carnivalesque" - Debra J. Byrne - 2005
"Although often pink and pretty, Mark Ryden’s paintings are not for the faint of heart. In his dazzling mixmaster universe, symbols of truth and innocence intermingle with signs of adulteration and dark mystery. Among his spectacles are fuzzy bunnies ripped in half and gushing red blood; a pumpkin-headed president presiding over a bizarre paradise of toddlers, devil-dog, and chirping God; Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ joining the circus, juggling raw meat and parading balloons; and, throughout, prepubescent girls who languidly pose for voyeurs’ gazes. At once disturbingly funny, nightmarish, and obsessive, this strange vision lands Ryden squarely in the camp of the carnivalesque—a strain of visual culture rooted in such works as Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (about 1505) and Pieter Bruegel’s Peasant Dance (1565) and, more recently, James Ensor’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 (1888) and Richard Hamilton’s Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956). Ryden’s paintings stand tall in this eccentric canon.
The alternative art lineage of the carnivalesque to which Ryden belongs stems from the tradition of the Carnival, a celebration first recorded in the later Middle Ages as a pre-Lenten feast culminating in Mardi Gras. Pale now in comparison with its past, Carnival is and has been many things with its masks, monsters, feasts, games, pageants, and processions. In an atmosphere of revelry and with impertinence toward authority, the Carnival encompasses irreverent juxtapositions of popular and elite, spiritual and material, young and old, male and female, ordinary identity and masquerade guises.
Carnivalesque art, in contrast to its counterpart of the streets, has all these elements but is not so lighthearted because it ultimately refuses escapism.1 Its aim is to confront. The would-be reveler is transformed into a captive spectator who is shown his or her mortality and that all is not quite right with the world. Laughter is invoked, but not for distraction—rather to trigger anxiety. At this, Ryden is a master. He entices by setting the center stage with cotton candy colors, juvenile vixens, party hats, and cuddly plush pets. In the move from macrocosm to microcosm, however, the viewer unearths alchemical symbols, religious and political emblems, traces of past and current popular culture, as well as arcane literary and art-historical references. The initial perception of an idealized childlike dreamscape is methodically inverted step-by-step and bit-by-bit in the details. For, unlike the viewer, who starts with a broad sweep, Ryden begins by painting under magnification, structuring his surrealistic playgrounds from the inside out with layers of ominous meanings. With tiny twists of paint, he transgresses and mutates the standard themes of societal makeup. In underpinning the sweet and shiny funhouse with the bawdy and base madhouse, Ryden reminds us that both purity and existence are fleeting and ephemeral.
The twentieth-century Russian author and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) is a scholar often cited on the subject of the carnivalesque, and his point of departure was the work of François Rabelais, a French writer, monk, humanist, and physician whose novels Gargantua and Pantagruel are among the wittiest classics of world literature.2 Bakhtin divides carnivalesque art into three forms, which are often interwoven: ritualized spectacles, comic compositions, and various genres of billingsgate (abusive languages). These forms can be applied to analyzing Ryden’s imagery, for, like Rabelais, this artist has a particular talent for carnivalizing life.
In the painting Snow White, as a case in point, Ryden raises a lovely Bronzino-blue curtain on the contemporary ritualized spectacle of going to the movie theater—a place where we gain knowledge of cultural values. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated movie and the most influential film for children ever produced, was released by Disney in 1937.3 Although based on the more Gothic fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, the sugar-coated Americanized version of “the fairest of them all ... with hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow, and lips as red as a rose” has come to signify principles of purity and goodness. Ryden wryly suggests through the symbols of the rose, lily, and even more tellingly the small statuette of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we venerate the icon of Snow White as if she were the Holy Mother. Nevertheless, things are amiss in Snow White’s Edenic paradise, as indicated by the reference on the clown-labeled wine bottle (referring to the blood of Christ) to Luke 22:13. The theme of this biblical chapter, which begins Luke’s version of the Passion, is Judas’s betrayal of Jesus at the Last Supper for the love of money. Perhaps there is a capitalist’s deception in the Disney-esque scene.
According to Ryden’s magic mirror, Our Snow White Lady is not chaste, nor is she sitting primly in a traditional enclosed garden. Instead, this composition is a comic combination of Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, 1863, and his Olympia of the same year, two modern masterpieces that provoked a storm of outrage in Paris over the alleged indecency of the naked female form Snow White’s heavenly feast (alluded to on the cross held by the flame-hearted bunny) is certainly not the ambiguous picnic in the park of Manet. Instead, it is clearly a carnal affair, emblematized by the odalisque pose, slab of meat, and beast-filled primordial landscape. Is Ryden insinuating that in this land of the free and carnivorous, we worship the media prostitution of young girls who are held up for collective sexual consumption in ritualized spectacles?
Ryden doesn’t content himself to play only with the vocabularies of art history, Western religion, and American pop culture in his carnivalesque exploits. He also ventures into the arena of multiculturalism. In this instance, the book with a gold-leafed head of the Buddha is strategically placed over our heroine’s pudenda. The reference invokes a time in sixth century before the present era, when religious practices in India were in need of reform. Insincere priests duped the people in a variety of ways and amassed wealth for themselves. The masses following in their footsteps performed empty rituals. At such a critical period of degeneration, the Buddha was born and taught the people a message of equality, unity, and cosmic compassion everywhere. Like the use or abuse of Christian iconography in Ryden’s enchanted kingdom, the Buddha’s presence over Snow White’s body is questionable: saint or snake? Holy Word or billingsgate?
The carnivalesque characteristics of ritual spectacles, comic compositions, and roguish play with various genres of visual language are consistent in Ryden’s oeuvre even as his themes shift from one image to the next. The atom of gold (identified by its atomic number 79) hovering in Puella Animo Aureo (The Girl with the Golden Soul), for example, invites the alert observer into a yin and yang tale of the natural and supernatural, science and alchemy, orderly systems and chaos. “Honest Abe,” a figure closely associated with our notions of liberty and human rights, repeatedly appears into Ryden’s work and with particular frisson in The Butcher Bunny. Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday in 1865 while watching the third act of the comedy Our American Cousin. Amongst the slaughterhouse yield in this sinister bunny’s shop, the miniature president——and by implication what he represents—seems powerless and insignificant as he is guided by a doe-eyed lass. Each painting provides its own unique and engrossing journey.
In all the high-spirited suspension of hierarchic distinctions and prohibitions, the very pleasures of the Carnival are at the same time philosophical modes. So too are the delights in the Ryden’s carnivalesque paintings. His work deserves a careful reading to discover those visual threads that connect the pastiches into thoughtful reflections on culture, time, life, and death. Like going to the Carnival, Ryden’s paintings should be relished and enjoyed as festive aesthetic pleasures, the world turned topsy-turvy, destruction and creation; as theories of culture, history, and destiny; as utopia, cosmology and philosophy . . . and, as painting."
"Mark Ryden and The Snow Yak" - Kirsten Anderson - 2009
"If Ryden's previous exhibition "Blood" seemed like an inward scream, "The Tree Show" an environmental exaltation, then "The Snow Yak Show" reveals itself like a meditative exhalation. This latest body of work features an array of new scenes set in a mystical snow encrusted land populated by ghostly pale moon children and highly uncanny yet softly benevolent creatures. In these seven paintings (accompanied by a handful of drawings and sketches), the tone is less carnivalesque and more serene than previous works. The color palette is based on whites, though hardly bleached out, richly tinged with tones of grays, blues and pinks. Generally, the compositions are more iconic, and suggestive of solitude, peacefulness and introspection. Backgrounds, normally painted in representational detail, are articulated fields of monochrome. Some of the works include previously unseen abstract painting effects (like the melted snowflake background in Abominable).
The drawings are of girls, and of the amorphous snow yaks that are rendered as unlikely creatures not found in the real world - more of a spiritual companion loosely resembling a real animal. These drawings were exhibited in a separate room and indeed seem to contain a whole expression and theme unto themselves, more connected to each other than the paintings. In the drawings, girls lovingly coddle baby yaks and adult yaks take maternal turns watching over human babies, all with no real hint of the morbid humor Ryden's work can often generate. An un-ironic, sincere gentleness pervades each scene, which in these days is almost as shocking as violence.
The theme of snow infuses all of the paintings. When asked if the inspiration had anything to do with the show's Japanese location (where many folktales and myths occur in the snow) Ryden says simply that he was already inspired to go the minimalist and white route but maybe thought the link was a welcome association for people anyhow. This series, which took about a year to complete, also maintains a sparseness in its framing. Rather than the over-the-top, ornate frames Ryden usually has custom carved as an extension of each painting, this show was framed in simple, unobtrusive white frames, emphasizing their sparsity but also allowing the viewer to focus more truly on the painting.
Without a doubt, Mark Ryden is one of the biggest names in contemporary art right now. His works have attracted hordes of admirers, from celebrities to museum board members to Goth high school kids. But that is not the really interesting thing about the artist. For him, the mystery is more important than the message. In fact, mystery often is the message. When questioned about the symbolism and meaning in his paintings, which are riddled with images taken from alchemical texts, foreign languages and numerology, Ryden remains willfully obscure. He prefers the narrative to remain cryptic, and he wants to evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity within the viewer rather than producing work that can be quickly deciphered. And indeed, while his technical craftsmanship is beyond question, what causes people to react so viscerally to Ryden's work is his idiosyncratic imagery and the way he uses it. Through his looking glass lens the artist is able to imbue modern day pop artifacts and sci-fi marvels with the same sense of wonderment any 19th century fireside fairytale possesses. Some critics dismiss Ryden's work as mere pop culture kitsch just painted all fancy, a visual snake oil act. However, beyond the use of modern day cultural flotsam and jetsam (which you either get or you don't, and/or like or don't) a complex system of archetypal and mythical imagery, as well as references to the arcane, emerges.
In fact, to "understand" a Ryden painting you'd do better to read Guy Murchie's The Seven Mysteries of Life, a science textbook, or a book by Joseph Campbell before any tome on the history of art theory. Ryden himself is very Zen-like in his acceptance of other people's interpretations of his work. He says he finds it gratifying that people can see different things in the paintings. He never seems to confirm or deny any particular interpretation because what matters most is the feeling his work evokes rather than an intellectual understanding. Incidentally, Ryden himself says the show was inspired by a dream: I had an intense dream of the long creature I painted in Long Yak. In the dream, I was in the belly of one yak, while looking out an opening at the long yak. This dream was quite vivid. Dreams of ice can come from deep in the psyche. Clean white snow seems to come from the realm of the spirit.
In Long Yak, two twin-like girls ride the back of a strange toy-faced beast through a snow-covered land. Twins connote a range of symbolic meanings, while their pose on the back of this creature is reminiscent of images of Hindu deities (such as Durga, who is occasionally considered a virgin/pure goddess figure). Those deities are depicted as riding on animals, such as tigers or lions, denoting a conquering of "animalistic" desires or the mastery of the ego and willpower. Clearly, Ryden's whole raison d'etre of painting is about mystery and transcendence. He speaks freely about the Muse (in his case he flippantly refers to it as a magic monkey that squats on his shoulder in the wee hours). In "The Snow Yak Show," the muse takes the shape of a young white haired girl, tellingly named "Sophia." Sophia is also the name of a universal cosmic principle, a goddess of wisdom or God's consort depending on which version you like. She appears as a "pure virgin" according to some, whose downfall led to the manifestation of the physical world.
This sheds an interesting light on arguably Ryden's most provocative painting to date, Sophia's Bubbles. A pale young woman reclines across an abstract, highly nuanced background. This figure is an elegant and languid young female who projects the qualities of both innocence and godliness. Sophia emanates bubbles from her loins (albeit in the manner of a Thai pingpong ball show), each of which contains a symbol representing a planet in our solar system. Ultimately, this theme harkens back to perhaps the oldest of human myths, the creation of the Universe. This idea of "purity" and serenity is also evident in the sublimely beautiful Girl in a Fur Skirt. As in Sophia's Bubbles, it features an archetypal female figure in a classic Virgin Mary pose, with an open armed, passive and compassionate stance, a wistful countenance and clad in a white fur skirt which conceals her stomach but reveals her breasts. It is curious to wonder how the fur was acquired: Even a figure of high purity demands a certain sacrifice-offered willingly, or not. Ryden's consistent depiction of children, predominantly girls, as virginal figures continues to act as a foil for the surrealist circus that swirls around them.
In "The Tree Show," the girls are often wood nymphs, possessors or discoverers of secrets held within the natural world. In "The Snow Yak Show," they seem to be more like representations of a holier ideal, a personification of purity. However, pure does not necessarily guarantee complete innocence. These blonde, waiflike figures seem to carry a heavier burden and embody a more considered thoughtfulness than previous "characters" in Ryden's work. They succumb to the physicality that, at the same time, ties them to the world and to the role that elevates them above it. Grotto of the Old Mass recalls a classic "Our Lady of Lourdes" scene that has been immortalized in countless pieces of plastic, kitschy souvenirs one finds in religious gift shops throughout the world. The scene commemorates the "true" story of a young girl in Southern France who claimed Mary appeared to her in a cave, and warned her of worldly hardships to come. In Ryden's version, the apparition of Abraham Lincoln replaces that of the Virgin Mary. The 16th American president (a favorite subject of the artist who appears in many of his works) has been mythologized into a historical figure of compassionate wisdom within American culture, someone who is reverentially invoked when talking about the highest of ideals and yet whose image is also used to sell cars and "tchotckes" on national holidays. Disembodied heads recur in art from early Celtic works to the radiant pastels of Odilon Redon and they can convey an array of meanings.
In Fur Girl the enigmatic subject appears to float tranquilly within the void of the nuanced background, sporting a luxurious fall of yak-like hair. This hirsute honey has a halo of hair that frames her doll-like face, her crystal clear eyes and her direct gaze. This figure is more like an oracle than anything else, a figure that crosses between worlds to relay information, and her wooly tresses of hair suggests a feral wildness that has been somewhat tamed. In fact, one of the few paintings in "The Snow Yak Show" that exhibits any sort of palpable tension (despite pervasive unnerving imagery) is Abominable. Here, a yeti-like creature stands and squints atop another bemused Sophia-like character. Do the wild, unpredictable and uncontrollable aspects of Nature triumph over man's quest for enlightenment? Or is it the other way around?
Indeed, with all the works in "The Snow Yak Show," and in all of Ryden's paintings, one could spend hours unraveling the symbolism and references. The examples provided are merely speculations rather than certain, sanctified insight into Ryden's arcane treasure trove of historical and cultural imagery. The important thing is that beyond Ryden's formidable painting skill and singular vision is his achievement in the role of a dream merchant. He is an artist/magician who is profoundly able to express questions about the unknowable in pictorial form, and who appreciates the mysteries of science and the universal without judging it (and while having a great sense of humor about it at the same time) and unselfconsciously hoping it will ignite the spark of wonder within others. This essay first appeared in Hi-Fructose Magazine, vol. 11 People have the idea that an image must 'stand for' something else, that the "real" meaning needs to be described with language. Instead it is the image itself that is the meaning."
"Mark Ryden's Return to Nature" - Holly Myers - 2007
"The story of Apollo and Daphne is one of the first to appear in Ovid's Metamorphoses, following the story of the creation of the world and a brief account of the first four stages of mankind and the emergence of the animal kingdom-all of which the poet dispatches in the equivalent of a dozen paperback pages so as to get on to the far more entertaining business of who is sleeping with whom. In this particular story, Apollo has been giving Cupid a hard time-never a good idea-and Cupid retaliates by poisoning Apollo (also known as Phoebus) with love for an unsuspecting wood nymph named Daphne, while poisoning Daphne with an equal and opposite revulsion for Apollo. Apollo pursues and Daphne flees, the wind whipping her clothes conveniently from her body as she runs, until her father, a river god, takes pity on her plight and transforms her into a laurel tree. Undaunted, Apollo continues to love the laurel, ceremoniously consecrating the tree to himself by wearing a branch that he broke from its limbs. Most of Ovid's maidens meet with a similar fate, by way of either protection from or punishment for the lusts of their pursuers-one becomes a cow, one a bear, one a spider-but Daphne's transformation, coming so early in the narrative and producing so very elegant an image, is particularly poignant:
Even now Phoebus embraced the lovely tree
Whose heart he felt still beating in its side;
He stroked its branches, kissed the sprouting bark,
And... the tree still seemed to sway, to shudder
At his touch.
Reading the story today in an age of ecological crisis, one can't help but inscribe an element of allegory, with Apollo signifying mankind and Daphne standing in for the natural world. This relationship tends to take the form of a predatory romance as well. Like Apollo, we pursue our vision of nature with florid and often specious words ("Oh daughter of the deep green-shadowed River," Apollo pleads, "what follows you is not your enemy."), coveting that which we are almost certain to corrupt. When we fail to consummate the union, fail to penetrate the mysteries of nature and feel at one with it, we break off a piece of it, a branch, to at least partially possess and contain that which we cannot have, then wear the accomplishment like, well, a laurel wreath. What we are unable to conquer and contain, we clear-cut.
Mark Ryden, who counts Bernini's famous sculpture of Daphne among his sources for The Tree Show, is clearly sympathetic to her plight and attentive to the concerns of her kind. This body of work is filled with wood nymphs: creatures of virginal demeanor and a cool, canny gaze whose movements suggest a state of harmony with the Arcadian landscape in which they roam. They appear folded into the crevices of trees, or hovering in their branches. One is swallowed headfirst by a hoary oak; another delivered from the loins of a cedar by an obliging Abraham Lincoln.
In Allegory of the Four Elements, one of the most enchanting works the artist has yet produced, four of these nymphs gather around a tree stump with an air of ethereal poise, as if holding the energetic currents of the world in balance. Though kin to the sultry, wide-eyed waifs who've populated Ryden's work for years, these creatures have a slightly different air: younger, milder, less eroticized. They don't tend to regard the viewer. Unlike most of the damsels in his last gallery show, the tellingly titled "Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear," they bear no visible wounds. Indeed, if that show was, as Ryden professed in interviews at the time, an exploration of trauma, grief and loss, this show, by contrast, is all about life. The only trace of blood you'll find here is in the Abe Lincoln birth scene.
Having functionally banished the likes of Apollo (the only comparable figure is a devil driving a logging truck, but he keeps to the road), Ryden leaves his nymphs free to roam in a state of prelapsarian wonder. As surrogates for the viewer, they present the possibility of a kinder, gentler relationship to nature, one driven by compassion and curiosity rather than covetousness and aggression. At peace with the bears, squirrels and other animals that populate this world, they approach the trees with reverence, as keepers of secrets and sacred knowledge, their wisdom frequently connoted by the presence of a single, centralized eye-an eye that registers the devastation man has wrought with weary resignation. In an especially lovely painting called The Apology, a girl in a yellow dress sits before an upturned stump, her hands raised in a gesture of graceful conciliation. An eye at the center of the stump receives the offering with dignity. The painting's hand-carved frame, meanwhile, radiates with delicate tendrils that echo the roots of the stump, expanding its presence magically outward, into the space of the gallery itself. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne is a violent swirl of a sculpture, characterized by a tumbling forward propulsion that seems liable to lift the marble into the air at any moment; The Apology, by contrast, is the very image of equilibrium: humanity and nature in balance.
Like The Meat Show, Ryden's solo debut in 1998, The Tree Show revolves around a familiar but freighted subject, one that penetrates our lives on multiple levels and reflects much about the values by which we live. So ubiquitous is the tree as a symbol that its etymology could fill a library. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a culture into whose mythology it does not figure. The Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Enlightenment, the World Tree, the family tree, the Christmas tree, the hanging tree-its manifestations are countless. Like meat, trees also playa vital economic role in a wide and often mystifying variety of forms. A good two-thirds of what surrounds me at this very moment came from a tree: the desk at which I write, the papers that cover it, the bookshelves nearby, the books in the bookshelves, the table across the room, the fruit bowl on the table, the peaches and avocados in the fruit bowl, the frames on the wall, the rafters overhead, the walls, the doors, the cabinets-and so on. Trees play a vital role as well, of course, in the ecological health of the planet. Forests, when undisturbed, function like massive air purifiers, absorbing the carbon that traps heat in the atmosphere, while in turn producing oxygen-among countless other wise and beneficial things. When destroyed at the rate they are today, however, especially in the tropical regions around the equator, they account for nearly a quarter of the world's carbon emissions. Viewed in this light, the tree is quite literally a keeper of sacred knowledge: know-ledge of those organic processes-the balance of oxygen and carbon, for one-on which the survival of our own and many other species may very well depend.
Ryden treats the subject with the same wonder and reverence as his protagonists, but with formidable technique and a wide net of research besides. His source materials-many of which he arranged for the exhibition into an immense and lavish diorama complete with model train-run the gamut, from high to low, sacred to profane: paintings, sculpture, Americana, toys, religious figurines, souvenirs, postcards, old photographs, and scores of vintage books and magazines. This breadth, in itself, is not so unusual: the wall between high and low has been eroding in art for decades, while the Internet and other tools of the information age continue to fan contemporary art's already healthy penchant for sampling and appropriation. What distinguishes Ryden is the rigor of his commitment to historical sources in particular. The artist knows his art history and isn't afraid to put it to use, enriching both his concepts and his imagery with lessons drawn from across the timeline, not merely from the agitated debates of the last half century, where many contemporary artists' historical memory seems to taper off.
Ryden's strongest affiliation in this body of work is with the European and American landscape painters of the nineteenth century: John Constable, Caspar David Friedrich, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, John James Audubon and Martin Johnson Heade, for instance. Theirs was a period of rapid urbanization and industrialization-another era, one might say, of ecological crisis-during which the natural world came to assume an esteemed position in visual art and literature as a representation of that which cannot be tamed, an antidote to the often destructive machinations of man, as well as to the predominance, since the Enlightenment, of rational thought and scientific reason. Emulating these painters' spacious vistas, tranquil clearings and the often exquisite delicacy of their flora and fauna, Ryden emerges none the worse for the comparison. Indeed, there are few painters working today with the aptitude, the patience and the luminosity of hand to pull off such homage in earnest. From the gauzy skies to the feathery firs to the flowers and grasses that line many of the foregrounds, Ryden's rendering of the landscape is one of The Tree Show's keenest pleasures.
The French Neoclassicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is another significant influence. Ryden's manner of creating porcelain skin tones and lush, silken fabrics through extensive and repetitive glazing stems from his studious admiration of the nineteenth century French master. Similarly, the devotional paintings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are used as models of sumptuousness in some of Ryden's paintings. His Tree of Life, for instance, draws on a long tradition of depictions of the coronation of Mary, where a female figure is elevated to a stature of monarchical importance, often at the peak of a pyramidal composition. Other aspects of Gothic and baroque decorative richness emerge as well in Ryden's magnificent frames, all of which are carved to his specifications from finely detailed drawings (some of them appear in the exhibition) by a small and very talented army of artisans in Thailand. It was characteristic of the Baroque period in particular that the spirit of the artwork extend beyond the bounds of its particular form-beyond the edges of a canvas, for instance, or the reach of a sculpture-to encompass or engage the space as a whole. (Think of the reaching, tumbling quality of Bernini's Daphne.) Ryden's frames perform a similar function, filling the room with the presence of the tree itself, while lending the larger of the paintings-Allegory of the Four Elements, Apology, Ghost Girl and especially Tree of Life-an irresistible grandeur.
Though grounded in history, Ryden's approach is not without its contemporary context. The tradition of narrative figuration, seriously embattled for most of the twentieth century, has shown signs of a distinct re-emergence in the last decade through several different avenues. One is the lowbrow or pop surrealist movement with which Ryden is often-though limitedly-associated: a disparate circle of artists with roots in illustration, comics, tattooing, surf culture and car culture, working largely outside, though parallel to and increasingly within, the mainstream art market. From Japan, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and the other so-called "Superflat" artists come out of manga and anime in Japan, while Neo Rauch in Germany has adopted the social realist style of the former Soviet bloc to create enigmatic, figurative narratives. Closer to home, the painter Mark Tansey works in a similar, illustrative vein; John Currin is a painter whose art historical sources extend back to Lucas Cranach and Pontormo, among others; Lisa Yuskavage's paintings share a visual kinship with Playboy cartoons. What this amounts to is a critical mass of prominent figurative painters in contemporary art not seen for many a generation.
Ryden's closest approximation to Ovid's "lovely tree/ Whose heart [Apollo] felt still beating in its side," is Cernunnos, an eight-foot sculpture made from a hollowed trunk of polished wood, inside of which resides a small, hand-painted wax sculpture of a child with antlers and an opulently embroidered garment, holding a snake in one hand and a gold bracelet in the other. In mythology, Cernunnos was a Celtic god associated with animals and the hunt. Here he is the embodiment of that spirit that Ovid was, in some way, responding to, and that we have all likely felt ourselves, wandering through a forest, gazing up through the branches of an oak, or resting in the crook of a giant willow. The magic of art is a short step from the magic of Mother Nature herself, and this noble sculpture, like the show as a whole, encapsulates both."
"At Play in the Slaughterhouse of American Pop" - Carlo McCormick - 2001
"Confronting the seamless contradictions and provocative absurdities of Mark Ryden's paintings, the question hardly seems to be how does he think of this stuff, so much as why do they somehow make sense to us? As to the former question, this artist is far too imbued with the mystery to look for the reasons, and would rather attribute the radical extremes of his imagery to the convoluted choreography of those leaps of imagination that lie outside the bounds of intentionality. He'll call it all a dream, what we might think of rather as some lucid dream-state where Ryden can access his subconscious without filters of forethought or the constructs of analysis. As to this latter question however, we cannot answer for the method to his madness without in some way coming to terms with the collective derangement of visual language and meaning that is endemic to our cultural schizophrenia as a whole. In the lineage of visionary art, reality has been twisted and pulled, inverted and turned inside out, for any number of reasons. Today, considering the pictures of Mark Ryden, it seems quite possible that such contortions of content and context here may be as much an idiosyncratic inventory of this painter's private obsessions as it is some baroque symptomology for the greater public folly unleashed by a consumer media spectacle run amok.
Force fed on the obsessive compulsive diet of carnal indulgence and candy-coated junk that is America's great contribution to the history of bad taste, Mark Ryden expels it all from the gut, giving gastric voice to the soft-white underbelly of our manic materialism, and heaving forth the bile and the beauty of our frothy fantasies back into the great vomitorium of popular culture. And make no mistake about it, this is a thoroughly American form of art-making. Evident not simply in the iconography, a language so easy to mimic now that it approaches universal familiarity, but in our national vernacular of conjunction, Ryden grasps at a tradition of mass communication in which the linearity of pictures has been forfeited for the sake of a highly articulated form of visual compression. His insistent manner of pastiche owes as much to the Surrealists as it does to the formal appropriation of their strategies by the world of advertising. The historical confluence is of course unmistakably post-modern. What is not post-modern per se, what is elusively yet unmistakably that which we would have to call Ryden's Southern Californian sensibility, is the application of an irony that in no way constitutes a critique. If it is dark, it is still bathed in an unrelenting sunlight. If it is morbid, it still throbs with life. If it is perverse, it is so with such an unmitigated innocence that we must attribute this to our own dirty minds. Yes, Mark Ryden invites us into a slaughterhouse disguised as a madhouse, but it is also a funhouse, where the distortions of flesh and mind are there primarily for our greater entertainment.
No fairy tale is ever worth its weight in pixie dust if it doesn't scare you just a little bit. Mark may not deliver the usual troupes of ogres, trolls and wicked witches, but his Never Never land has that velvet touch of evil none the less. Oddly, this most obvious aspect of Ryden's art is in fact its most subtle as well. We may be well used to seeing skulls and devils in the work of Ryden's contemporaries, but the context here is quite different. Mark Ryden does not celebrate evil, even it's its most campy denatured form. Quite to the contrary, his art-making can be seen as an elaborate charade of avoidance towards life's grimmer realities. His is an utterly pure infantilistic escapism. This is the artist's gaze fixedly upon the sweet and shiny, the idealized and innocent, in deliberate denial of the more explicit alternatives. However, as in any emphatic effort to push the darker dimensions of experience out of sight and mind, in even Ryden's most beautiful paintings something lingers, a shadow that haunts his nostalgia infused picturesque. For this artist, who also seeks to answer in his own way those big questions of life, what this dis-ease may ultimately amount to is an awareness of mortality.
In as much as Mark Ryden's art is driven by startling and radical juxtapositions, none perhaps is as poignant and potent than the continued confrontation that takes place between the bucolic dream-scape of childhood and the innuendo of death. Much like the momento mori genre in which still lifes would be arranged in tableaus that would mimic the shape of a skull, Ryden's pastoral is indeed a nature morte infused with the bitter-sweet reminder of how precious, ephemeral and fleeting youth and existence really is. This is obviously most evident in the skulls, skeletons and Christian religious imagery, but it is just as well true in its other myriad manifestations, from the head of Abraham Lincoln (a dour almost deathly expression of not simply an assassinated president but one of the first leaders to be captured in a photograph) to the ongoing leit-motif of meat. An admitted omnivore with no particular grudge against meat per se, Mark takes a certain relish in our whole consumer-culture of carnivores, particularly the cattle cross-section graphics and advertisements of those glory days in the 1950s before we worried about such petty matters of health and diet. For Ryden there is just something special about the depiction of a slaughtered carcass, the ways in which we package it to make us think of food rather than a murdered animal, the residue of our barbaric and primal past wrapped up in apron strings and the benevolent face of a smiling neighborhood butcher. With so much meat in these paintings, you know it's not just random, perhaps more like some mythic metaphor akin to how the act of communion transmogrifies the cannibalistic act of ingesting the flesh and blood of Christ. But then again, it is also like all of Ryden's visual obsessions, something that he does for no deeper reason than that he cannot resist it. Quite simply, Mark Ryden likes how meat looks, and damn, he can paint it better than anyone else I know.
For every aspect of Mark Ryden's art, there is this split potential: on one hand the very simple explanation of his manic collector's personality in which one or once could never be enough, and on the other a wealth of readings that one can take from or attach to his archetypal symbology. We might speculate ad nauseam on what the surface sexuality he allows his depictions of children to bare might tell about humanity, society and the artist, but would prefer to think of this as a kid's book. So too is this artist's contemplation of the ideals and artifacts our recent past, his true love and fanatical devotion to the halcyon days of popular Americana, open to all sorts of insights through cultural criticism. And then, while we're at it, there are so many other ways in which the wealth of religious and art-historical references could be analyzed. But as much as one can sense how this is a painter who has taken some inspiration from the psycho-analytical legacy of Freud and Jung, he is certainly not parlaying in such currency himself. Mark Ryden has an uncanny access to the stuff that dreams are made of, and a rare capacity for sharing and baring the full glory of his explorations into this fantastical realm with us. His working process seems something of a waking dream state, a meditation on nothingness in which he can freely download all the surfeit of a life-time's media overload. He does not try to explain his pictures, and I'm not sure that he even could. What Ryden shares is his passion for the mysterious and mystical sides of reality. When we questioned him about this visionary aspect of his art, he told us that he is in fact a pretty logical person, one who if not an artist might easily have chosen to become a mathematician. By such an account, we come to understand just how it is that the illogical fascinates him so. In it he may seek the discrete synchronicities and other-worldly perspectives that invisibly bind our chaotic world, and we can take pleasure in how this rational mind has turned its attention to the archetypal language of imagination itself."
"Tracing the connections between Bunnies, Bees, and Abe Lincoln" - Mike McGee - 2001
What is it that makes Mark Ryden's paintings so engaging? At the crux of his paintings is the surrealist strategy of combining unrelated images to create scenes that could never exist in reality. Dali always claimed that his selection of subject matter was completely random and involved no conscious thought whatsoever. In 1924, when André Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, the notion of fusing the rationally unrelated was so fresh that the combination of almost any imagery or objects was provocative. Man Ray produced a startlingly enchanting object by simply putting a row of tacks on the underside of an antique iron. But as the decades have passed Dali's brand of pure surrealism has lost much of its potency. Perhaps it is because reality has become increasingly surreal, but the near ecclesiastical gravity with which the surrealists approached their work in pre-WWII Europe doesn't play the same today. In contemporary culture pure surrealism's most common, and effective, use is as a strategy to achieve humor in movies.
Ryden has trumped the initial surrealist strategies by consciously choosing subject matter for his paintings that are loaded with cultural connotation. He relies on the irrational to help him achieve intuitive leaps in his combining of subject matter: with dazzling results. The sheer amount of layered information in each painting also contributes substantially to the impact of his work. But the crowning factor with Ryden is that he is an artist in touch with his time. The overall look and feel of his paintings and the stuff he finds interesting strikes a resounding cord with contemporary everyman.
Firmly in the foundation of the look and feel of his paintings is the color pink. It is a sweet soft feminine color, it is the baby girl's counterpart to the baby boy's powder blue (another color Ryden likes to use), and it is half of the 1950s hipster combination pink-and-black. Things don't get much better than they do when you're "in the pink," it is also the color of flesh and meat, and pink is a very popular color for bunnies. Bunnies and bees are curious things. The stuffed variety of bunnies Ryden has a penchant for are generally more soothing than a cup of hot chocolate and provide almost as much security as mommy. Yet there can be something sinister about bunnies. Those frozen facial expressions can be haunting. The anatomy of bees is remarkable as evidenced by the idiom, "bees knees." Bees unquestioningly buzz around doing the bidding of a queen. And somehow they make honey.
In the midst of all this pink and bunnies and bees, Abraham Lincoln keeps popping up in Ryden's paintings. Honest Abe was a self-taught man born in the backwoods of Kentucky. Always a champion for the common folk he was a rail-splitter turned flatboatman-storekeeper-postmaster-surveyor-prairie lawyer cum on-again-off-again politician who became president with less than 40% of the national vote. He led America through its most trying ordeal, the Civil War, and emancipated the slaves. And then on Good Friday in 1865 the actor John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head in the third act of the comedy Our American Cousin at the Ford Theater. He is more icon than human: the pure stuff of legend and enduring fascination.
In the Inspirations section in the back of his book Amina Mundi, Ryden placed Lincoln's photograph aside a headshot photo of a Colonel Sanders statue. Colonel Sanders, born Harland Sanders, opened his original Sanders' Cafe in the rear of a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, in 1929 on his way to becoming the living trademark for the international fast-food empire that is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even though he died in 1980 he seems as much alive today as he ever did. Like Lincoln, he too is more icon than human.
While Ryden is interested in the two men's fame, he is also interested in their aura and super human status and the circumstances and mechanisms by which it all works. Ryden is fascinated with systems and structures. He confesses that if he weren't an artist he might have been a mathematician or an engineer. Be it fame, quantum mechanics, the Freemason's concept of the interaction of mind and matter, or the Kabala, he muses at structures and symbols and how they go together and what they mean. It is said that although Picasso loved books he never read a book cover to cover. He would just read parts here and there and fill in the blanks intuitively. Ryden, who also has a passion for books, approaches ideas similarly. He may use a detail here and there, the reference in Puella Amino Aureo to gold as the 79th atomic structure in the elemental table for example, but he is more interested in the overall structure and the way the details fit together. He is convinced that there is a cosmology that explains everything and that this explanation has been constant throughout the ages and has been codified in every age. References to the scared and the spiritual abound in his paintings. In our skeptical culture it is not fashionable to believe in anything today. Ryden avoids being dogmatic by suggesting that there are threads of truth found in a wide variety of sources. With cross-referencing and innovative combining of these sources he gives us a fresh spin to old news. Yet his suggestion that there are concrete answers to complex questions hints at old-world sensibilities.
In his book Amina Mundi there is a sepia-tinted black-and-white photograph of Ryden dressed in a suit holding a paintbrush and palette in his hand; he looks like a 19th century gentleman artist. His relationship to the 19th century is not as fanatical as McDermott and McGough, the two contemporary performance artists who have gone so far as to live every aspect of their lives as if they are in a time-warp shunning electricity, plumbing and other modern conveniences, but Ryden has roots in the 19th century.
Perhaps, his most notable characteristic suggestive of the past century is his attention to detail. It took him nearly two years to complete the eight paintings in this exhibition. Taking time to work on things is a luxury few people indulge in our fast paced culture. In the art world craftsmanship has been unfashionable for most of the twentieth century. This erosion of belief in traditional craftsmanship began with the impressionists rejection of academic canons of beauty and painterly practice and was finalized when the Dadaists concluded that after the atrocities that were WWI all Western civilization values had to be summarily rejected on principle. Ryden boldly embraces an old European regard for craftsmanship in both his paintings and the frames for his art. He sometimes uses 19th century style or older antique frames; he even traveled to Thailand to have frames he designed carved by hand. Originally trained as an illustrator, Ryden learned to paint in acrylic. With help from a friend he taught himself to use oil paint. His refined use of oil paint to create meticulous surfaces has been influenced by his observation of academic and classical painting. Another tie to the 19th century is Ryden's interest in Bouguereau.
In Stanford scholar Lorenz Eitner's textbook on 19th century painting, he retells the story of a group of prominent French artists having dinner at a dealer's house about 1890. The group debates who will be remembered as the greatest artist of the late 19th century. Adolphe William Bouguereau was their near unanimous conclusion. The quintessential academic artist Bouguereau was one of the most celebrated artists of his time, but today the impressionists are the most remembered artists of the late 19th century: Bouguereau has been relegated to a historical footnote.
Bouguereau is undoubtably appealing to Ryden as a once famous figure demoted in the shuffle of history. But Ryden also finds interest in Bouguereau's use of composition and his handling of flesh tones and light. One of the signatures of academic painting is the finely finished painterly detail, and, at this, Bouguereau was a master among masters.
Beyond the overt pop culture references in Ryden's work there are layers of art historical references. He mentions in this catalog his nod to Gauguin and Miro in The Magic Circus (Beth), but there are dozens of more subtle references in his work. Neo-classical painters such as David, one of Ryden's favorites, were noted for their shallow pictorial space, a device found in many of Ryden's paintings. Sophia's Mercurial Waters features a classic odalisque pose; Sophia's wanton direct gaze is a visual quote from Manet's Olympia. The flora in Jessica's Hope looks like transplants from a Henri Rousseau painting. Even Ryden's signature seems a distance cousin to Albrecht Dürer's stylized signature.
Another connection Ryden has with other artists is his interest in meat. It was a popular subject matter for 16th and 17th century Dutch and Spanish still life painters. Van Gogh depicted it in some of his paintings. In Un Chien Andalou, Dali and Buñuel's classic surrealist film, a man strains to tug a rope into the camera frame as the camera pans to reveal a piano, two wide-eyed priests, and two cow carcasses attached to the rope being dragged into the scene. Young British artist Damien Hirst shocked audiences with various uses of actual livestock, including a nasty sculptural installation with a real cow carcass and flies encased in thick sheet plastic.
Francis Bacon and others have painted images of cow carcasses. But the early 20th century painter Chaim Soutine's obsession with meat may be the most radical. Soutine, inspired by Goya and Rembrandt's depiction of meat, hung freshly slaughtered carcasses in his studio, much to the chagrin of his neighbors, and splashed the flesh with blood to keep it moist while he painted it - when I visited Ryden's studio I only saw plastic replicas of meat.
Ryden isn't critical of the consumption of meat; he likes to eat meat. He is intrigued by the way meat looks, its significance in the scheme of life, and by the disconnection between the consumption of meat and the reality of its preparation: the act of eating that tasty McDonald's burger occurs light years from the moment the Jersey heifer ambled into the slaughterhouse and felt the electric jolt of a stun gun to the brain. Like many things in Ryden's paintings, all this information is unstated, it just exists somewhere in the background like strange music piped into an elevator.
You're never quite sure just where that strange music is coming from with Ryden, and time references are more than a little blurry too. But clearly there is no future in the magical worlds he paints. Circa 1930s and 40s toy robots and astronauts such as Princess Sputnik are the sum total of his references to the future. Nostalgia has a great appeal today; the certainty of the past is comforting. And Ryden's reveling with the past is one of the keystones of his oeuvre.
He was born in 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated and America lost its innocence. Although his paintings defy exact time frames they are thick with allusions to a post-WWII era when the American dream was pregnant with promise: an era any child who came of age in the stark reality of the 70s and 80s would find ripe for veneration.
And for Ryden the past is a huge field begging to be plucked. Nostalgia's greatest pitfall is sloppy sentimentality; Ryden's antidote for this is edgy subject matter and over-the-top juxtaposition of esoteric references. His figure might have big Keane-like eyes and be wearing pink but there's a swastika on the little boy's armband, and next to the tiny pink skull in the background a snake is approaching, and that little girl being pulled by a bunny has a whip in her hand. Perhaps his most comforting alignment with the past is his arcing back to childhood via his rendering of toys and figures in an old-fashioned children's book illustration style. And holding it all together is a distinct sense of play. It is obvious Ryden is having fun.
In his 1928 essay Le Surréalisme et le peinture, André Breton writes, "One day, perhaps, we will see the toys of our whole life, like those of childhood, once more." The surrealists marveled at the child's mind and so does Ryden: "Children are miraculous," he writes.
In that same essay Breton wrote, "The marvels of the earth a hundred feet high, the marvels of the sea a hundred feet deep, have for their witness only the wild eye that when in need of colors refers simply to the rainbow." Ryden, who as a child would draw figures with a third eye, understands Breton's notion of "the wild eye." Ryden has a "Magic Monkey" that comes to him in the middle of the night and helps him open that eye. And what he sees is a vision uninhibited by the restraints and inhibitions of adulthood. He experiences the freedom to truly see the "rainbow."
Artist Statement - "The Tree Show" - March 2007
Trees work in mysterious ways. A branch from a tree is a miniature replica of the whole tree. It is not identical but similar in nature to the whole. This fractal structure may actually describe the very fabric of reality, meaning the invisible structure behind all existence has the shape of a tree. In this way, the tree goes beyond being a mere symbol of the universe and is actually an echo of how reality is shaped. I see this pattern of the tree everywhere. One of my favorite displays at the recent popular "Body Worlds" exhibition was a hauntingly beautiful tree of plastic blood. It was an actual human circulatory system made solid with the process called plastination. Everything else was stripped away, leaving only an intricate array of branching veins. The tree pattern is inherent in any ontological system. The many species of the animal kingdom are best organized and charted as the branches of a tree. Of course, everyone is familiar with their own family tree.
Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree because he became one with the cosmic tree. Throughout history, and in so many different cultures, trees have been connected with spiritual growth. The tree, with its roots burrowing deep down into the earth and its branches reaching high up into the sky, can be seen to connect heaven with the earth. The Kabbalist Tree of Life is a guide to how an individual can connect to the divine source. The Maya call their Tree of Life Yaxche. It unites the three realms of the underworld, earth and heavens. In Norse mythology, Yggdrasill is the World Tree, a great ash tree located at the center of the universe and joining the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.
Ancient peoples felt an intimate connection to trees. They saw how their lives were interwoven with the natural world around them and so they instinctively respected and cared for nature. When they cut down a tree, they would say a prayer to the indwelling spirit. One of the very first deities humans ever depicted was a forest spirit. There are cave paintings of a figure with the shape of a man and the horns of a stag believed to represent this divinity. In the ancient Celtic world, this forest spirit was named Cernunnos. He was a very important god to the people and his representations were widespread. Cernunnos was guardian of the forest, and the trees were guardians of both life and death. Trees were so significant in ancient people's lives that the beginning of all religious and social life took place under trees in sacred groves. When the Christians began systematically destroying the sacred groves, a monumental shift in our thinking began. We went from believing we are a part of nature to seeing nature as something to conquer and control, something we are above.
The mysterious spirits and essence of trees, plants and animals have become more and more obscure to us. While in the midst of working on my California Brown Bear painting, I was with my 8-year-old daughter Rosie at the American Rag store here in Los Angeles where they happen to have a 9-foot-tall, taxidermied bear. The bear is majestically standing on his hind legs with an impressive expression. While looking at this striking sight, Rosie was taken aback. She said until that moment she had never realized a bear could be scary. She has been so immersed in a culture whose concept of "Bear-ness" is a Disneyfied, computer-animated cartoon that she hardly knew what a bear truly was.
Today our relationship with nature is more like that of a tourist. We load up the kids in the family car and look out the window at trees like they are animals in a zoo. (Of course, no family trip is complete without bringing home a souvenir. I wanted to make a souvenir of The Tree Show just like the pennants I collected in my childhood. I had to make it the way I remembered them with real felt and ink you could feel.) I grew up in South Lake Tahoe where nature truly functions as a tourist attraction. As I worked on my ideas and sketches for my paintings, I found myself coming back to the trees I am most familiar with, the conifers of California. If you look for trees that rank as the oldest, the tallest or the largest, you can find each one of these record holders right here in California. General Sherman, a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park, is the largest by volume. Methuselah, a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, is the oldest at 4,700 years. Hyperion, a coastal redwood in the Redwood National Park, is the tallest at 379 feet. While any humble tree can inspire contemplation into the mysteries of life, when a tree grows to an extreme of size or age, it is difficult not to be filled with philosophical introspection in its presence. When you stand before these ancient trees, you can almost feel their mystical aura. They appear immortal. It is difficult to really comprehend the thousands of years they take to slowly grow, one thin ring at a time. It is a marvel that one individual tree can overlap so much human history.
It is perplexing to me how some can look at these extraordinary trees and see evidence of a spiritual power while others only see a commodity. The history of the California redwoods poignantly illustrates the contrast between these different ways of relating to nature.
Hyperion, the record-breaking tallest tree, was only recently discovered in 2006. What was remarkable about this tree was that it survived at all. In the late 1970s, logging companies were working around the clock, using lights to work at night. They were trying to clear-cut as much virgin forest as possible before a deadline. Legislation was eminent to expand the Redwood National Park and protect the last tiny remaining scraps of virgin forest in this area. They came within a few dozen yards of cutting down the tallest living thing on earth. Amazing as it seems, with so little virgin forest left, logging still remains a constant threat to the small number of remaining ancient trees.
I believe that if there is indeed a secret to the universe and a meaning to life, I am sure it would be found inside of a tree. William Blake said, "The tree that moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way … some scarce see nature at all, but to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself."Mark Ryden
Artist Statement - "Wondertoonel" - October 2004
IN 1706 THE DUTCH MERCHANT Levin Vincent published a book titled Wondertoonel der Nature that features etched images of his collection, which included preserved and taxidermied animals, skeletons, mysterious fossils, fantastic corals, and beautiful seashells. Beginning in the 1500s, Europeans began assembling individual collections of natural and man-made objects and filling their “cabinets of curiosities” with specimens that gave them a sense of wonder about the world and satisfied their fascination with oddities. Wonder chambers, Wunderkammen, like those of Levin Vincent evolved over the centuries into modern museums.
When I walk around the halls of a museum, I have experiences like those of learning about the world I had in childhood. It is an inspirational feeling. Beyond the great art museums of the world, some of my favorites include medical museums and museums of natural history. The Museo la Specola in Florence, Italy, with its rooms full of eighteenth-century wax anatomical figures, is breathtaking. The surreal atmosphere of the mysterious old rooms is exhilarating to me. There is a medical museum in Thailand containing some of the strangest displays I have ever seen. (Things I find to be “strange” I also often find to be elevating.) I frequently go to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, where a death trap for prehistoric mammals has become a treasure trove of fossils. I could spend days walking around New York’s natural history museum with its Hall of Biodiversity, where on a single wall you can see the range of life forms on earth from diatoms to monkeys. I stand there in humble awe of the variety of strange creatures that coexist on this planet. Museums are places any person can go to quietly contemplate and be filled with a sense of wonder. When I am in these places, I feel like making paintings.
In the same spirit as those earlier collectors filling their cabinets of curiosities, I feel compelled to collect quite a variety of things. I draw artistic inspiration from the treasures I find at the flea market. I like old toys, books, photographs, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skeletons, religious statues, and vintage paper ephemera. It is interesting how, from the endless sea of stuff out there, certain things jump out. They evoke a feeling of mystery in me and I am powerfully driven toward them. It is an obsession. I collect, arrange, and display them. Pieces from my collection end up synthesized or juxtaposed in my paintings.
This visual debris from contemporary pop culture contains the specific archetypes that formed my consciousness while living in this particular period in history. I often find archetypes in old children’s books and toys, so these things make up a large part of my collection. I am attracted to things that evoke memories from childhood.
It is only in childhood that contemporary society truly allows for imagination. Children can see a world ensouled, where bunnies weep and bees have secrets, where “inanimate” objects are alive. Many people think that childhood’s world of imagination is silly, unworthy of serious consideration, something to be outgrown. Modern thinking demands that an imaginative connection to nature needs to be overcome by “mature” ways of thinking about the world. Human beings used to connect to life through mystery and mythology. Now this kind of thinking is regarded as primitive or naive. Without it, we cut ourselves off from the life force, the world soul, and we are empty and starving.
I believe in letting imagination thrive in my art. I am not afraid of nostalgia or sentiment. I value taking the time to make a painting “beautiful.” I want to breath life into my paintings.
I would like to thank my love Marion, my wonderful kids Jasper and Rosie, and my supportive family: Steven, KRK, Janine, Lori, and my Dad. Gratitude is also due to Alyson Ryan, Kevin Sparks, Alix Sloan, Debra Byrne, Wesley Jessup, Midge Bowman, Ted Mendenhall, Earl McGrath, Sean Riley, Jolene Myers, Brian Wakil, and Long Gone John. I would also like to give special thanks to all the collectors who generously loaned their paintings to the museums for this exhibition.
- Mark Ryden
Artist Statement - "Anima Mundi" - September 2001
I still remember the joy I got out of drawing, painting and building a world of my own when I was a child. I was free. I try to recapture that feeling I had making art as a child and to believe in magic, to play, to dream. Children see things and feel things that adults don’t.
As an adult, there are many barriers to being in this creative state of mind. I feel constantly challenged by these barriers. It is very difficut to let go of responsibilities and enter a creative fantasyland. It’s hard to stop looking at the clock and our bills. It’s hard not to drown in relationship problems and all the negative thoughts that deflate our motivation to create. If you can summon the strength to get past all these things and trust your heart, creativity can be miraculous. You can be transported to another existence.
There are two very different parts to the brain. There is the logical side and the creative side. To make art you have to stop thinking in a linear way. You have to bring to life the part of your brain that finds mystical wonder in life and nature. There is a part of your soul that can spend hours admiring the subtle colors and shapes in an old raccoon skull. You have to find the particular things that bring out your spirit. It may be to get up at the crack of dawn to explore the flea market in search of treasure. Perhaps light incense and listen to music that would embarrass you if anyone knew about, and wonder about alchemy, astrology and the secrets of the universe. It is the part of your spirit that still feels like a kid, and is awe-inspired and fascinated by the world.
My goal in art is to get past literal conscious thought and try to let my uninhibited subconscious mind make my art. I can feel it when this is working. I have heard many artists describe the same feeling. Some think it is the hand of God using them as an instrument of creation. Some describe it as the creative energizing force that permeates all nature creating through them. It is like being helped by some unknown mysterious force, Anima Mundi, the Spirit of the Universe.
You must trust your subconscious and the unknown sources it can tap into. There is so much for our minds to sort out. Millions of images and thoughts spinning around. If it were all there right the front of your conscious thinking your head would explode. My subconscious mysteriously sorts through this sea of thoughts and images and somehow synthesizes pieces from here and there and brings together paintings. They are the exclusive product of my unique mind. There is only one of each of us and our visions are the special product of our experiences and special unique thoughts.
I am drawn towards certain images and icons with a strong instinct. I feel I just have to paint certain things. I try not to question that. I can get just as much inspiration from a classical painting by Jacques-Louis David as a comic book cover by Daniel Clowes. I try to not judge one to be more legitimate than the other. The mystified gaze of a Keane girl can provide as much inspiration as the penetrating stare of a Rembrandt portrait.
I find it so much easier to be creatively free at night. Daytime is for sleeping. Nighttime is the best time for making art. The later at night it gets the further into another world you go. A few years ago while working very late one night, the distinct smell walnuts in the air broke my concentration. It was very quiet. A strange breeze gently blew through my studio. I suddenly became aware of something on my shoulder. Surprisingly, I was not startled to find a wee Abraham Lincoln sitting right there on my shoulder. We looked at each other for just a moment. Then he very softly whispered in my ear “paint meat.”
-- Mark Ryden, 2001
Artist Statement - "Meat" - October 2001
I've been asked over and over why I paint meat. I suppose I have to admit one of the reasons I like to paint meat is because people do wonder about it so much. There are actually many reasons.
We are creatures of pure energy and "Meat" is the element that keeps us here. I think about how "Meat" was once part of a beautiful living creature that has then become an inanimate "substance" that we treat with little regard or awareness of what it once was. It was once alive. Recently the Austrian artist Flatz made the news when he dropped a dead cow from a helicopter in Berlin. I don't care much for this kind of "shock" art but there was a very interesting part of the story. An animal loving teenager attempted to legally stop the performance. The court rejected the complaint because the cow had the legal status of food. That fascinates me. At what exact point does the animal cross the line and become meat?
From the Bible, Matthew 26:26 "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body." I have found this Bible verse the source of much curiosity. It is a bizarre ritual Catholics partake in each Sunday as they eat the body of Christ in communion. The literal interpretation of this can be the source of endless visuals from the humorous to the horrific.
There is an obvious horror connected with the meat industry: the blood, the gore, the inhumane butchery. So many of us indirectly participate in this with our ravenous consumption of meat. Sue Coe has explored that arena exquisitely in her work and writings. In my own art I am not personally making a statement or judgment about the meat consumption in our culture. I feel more like I am just observing it. Just like T-rex, I myself am a passionate meat-eater. I feel that the consumption of animal flesh is a natural primal instinct, just like sex and making paintings. But there is that paradox of knowing how that scrumptious porterhouse made it to my dinner plate. We have lost any kind of reverence for this. It would be interesting if people would have to kill an animal themselves before they earned the right to eat it.Beyond the conceptual impact, meat simply has a very strong visual quality. The wonderful variety of textures and patterns in the marbling of the meat is sumptuous. Subtle pinks gently swirl around with rich vermillions and fatty yellow ochres. These visual qualities alone are seductive enough to make meat the subject of a work of art. Meat is glorious to paint. It is so easy to transcend the representational to the abstract. Meat has been a subject for painters from Rembrandt to Van Gogh.
Artist Statement - "The Meat Show" - October 1998
Well, I have to admit I don’t really paint my paintings; a Magic Monkey does. He comes to my studio late at night, when it’s very quiet. Mysterious things happen late at night when most people are asleep. I help the magic monkey, but he does most of the work. My big job is to get him to show up. I’ve been learning just what that takes. He is very particular. The right frame of mind is important; I have to switch my brain from linear, logical thinking to creative, free feeling. If I start to think too much, then it’s time for a nap or perhaps build a fort out of blankets with my son. Things have to flow from a place that is more subconscious and uninhibited. When you believe and have faith things will flow. You can really feel it. It’s like magic. The Monkey comes tapping at the door, we get the paint and brushes out of the treasure chest and we have a great time making art.
When I was a child in school my teachers would wonder why my drawings of dogs would have their intestines showing or why my self portraits had a third eye. They disapproved, but I got a lot of support from my family and I learned to really enjoy confusing my teachers and even scaring them. Children have no inhibitions when making their art. I’ve never seen my 4 year old son have a creative block; and his art is much more interesting than most adult’s art. Children are miraculous.
I believe to get ideas you have to nourish the spirit. I stuff myself full of the things I like: pictures of bugs, paintings by Bouguereau and David, books about Pheneous T. Barnum, films by Ray Harryhausen, old photographs of strange people, children’s books about space and science, medical illustrations, music by Frank Sinatra and Debussy, magazines, T.V., Jung and Freud, Ren and Stimpy, Joseph Campbell and Nostradamus, Ken and Barbie, Alchemy, Freemasonary, Buddhism. At night my head is so full of ideas I can’t sleep. I mix it all together and create my own doctrine of life and the universe. To me, certain things seem to fit together. There are certain parallels and clues all over the place. There may be a little part of Alice in Wonderland that fits in. Charles Darwin, and Colonel Sanders provide pieces. To me the world is full of awe and wonder. This is what I put in my paintings.
It seems to me that everything I am going to paint I have already painted. Something will “click” and an entire image will flash in my head. I then just have to remember what all the specific details of the image are supposed to be. I will often get stuck on a minor detail like the pattern on a curtain or the species of a background animal. It is very clear when I have the correct answer and resolve all the pieces of a work successfully. I just come as close as possible to what is supposed to be there.
I believe if you follow your heart and do what you love, success will follow. If you enchant yourself, others will be too.
-Mark Ryden - October, 1998