Mark Ryden is a veteran of the Pop-Surrealism style, having been at the forefront of this genre since the late 1990’s when it was first taking roots in the artistic community. A curiosity cabinet personified, Mark Ryden’s works are often presented in thematic groups where one major theme is explored throughout the series, further interacting with Ryden’s main influences, including: Post world-war toys to historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, meat, dogma, religion and symbolism, and into numerology, mysticism and occultism.
Ryden’s primary medium is oil on canvas or panel, with each piece beautifully and precisely encased in its own unique frame, many of which are original designs by Mark Ryden himself, with the remainder coming from restored antique frames. The frames are an artwork of and to themselves, and when married with the artwork, transports the viewer through the looking-glass and into a most surreal vision of the 19th century.
Artworks from Ryden’s 1998 “The Meat Show” series contemplate meat and the idea that we, stripped of our humanity, are ourselves meaty creations. Ryden also explores the relationship we have to meat as food, in comparison to the living creatures the meat was originally taken from, and also how the viewing of meat has changed over the centuries to a point where to see it depicted in contemporary artwork is almost absurd and strange. Such is our modern-day relationship with meat in much of western society.
“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.”
Ryden is also a proficient writer and includes artist statements and review essays for each of his artistic series, which can be found at his website here. Reading through the writings, one is immediately drawn to the open frankness Ryden has when discussing his method, as described in his statement for “Wondertoonel” 2004, (which roughly translates as “wondrous theatre”) which gives the viewer an insight into the mind of the artist whilst also providing a guide to navigate his breathtakingly surreal artworks by:
“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.”