Mark Ryden


Mark Ryden (b. 1963) is an American painter. Ryden is one of the most well known artists of the Pop Surrealist movement, an underground, pop-culture-infused art scene with its origins in 1970s Southern California. He was dubbed ‘the god-father of pop surrealism’ by ‘Interview Magazine.’ Ryden’s aesthetic is developed from subtle amalgams of many sources: from Ingres, David and other French classicists to ‘Little Golden Books.’

Ryden also draws his inspiration from anything that will evoke mystery; old toys, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skeletons and religious ephemera found in flea markets. According to ‘The New York Times,’ ‘Ryden’s pictures hint at the psychic stuff that pullulates beneath the sentimental, nostalgic and naïve surface of modern kitsch.’

Ryden was raised in Southern California by Barbara and Keith Ryden. His father made a living painting, restoring and customizing cars. He has two sisters and two brothers, one a fellow artist named Keyth Ryden, who works under the name KRK. From 1988 to 1998, Mark made his living as a commercial artist. During this period Ryden created numerous album covers including, Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous,’ Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘One Hot Minute,’ and Aerosmith’s ‘Love in an Elevator.’ Also during this time, Ryden created book covers including Stephen King’s novel ‘Desperation’ and its ‘mirror novel’ ‘The Regulators.’ Ryden made a living as a commercial artist until his work was taken up by Robert Williams, a former member of the ‘Zap Comix’ collective, who in 1994 put it on the cover of ‘Juxtapoz,’ a magazine devoted to ‘lowbrow art.’

Ryden’s solo debut show entitled ‘The Meat Show’ was in Pasadena, California in 1998. Meat is a reoccurring theme in Ryden’s work. Ryden observes the disconnect in our contemporary culture between meat we use for food and the living, breathing creature it comes from. ‘I suppose it is this contradiction that brings me to return to meat in my art.’ According to Ryden, Meat is the physical substance that makes all of us alive and through which we exist in this reality. All of us are wearing our bodies, which are like a garment of meat.

A midcareer retrospective, ‘Wondertoonel,’ which refers to a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ or ‘Wunderkammer’ (‘wonder-room’), was co-organized in 2004 by the Frye Museum in Seattle and the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Debra Byrne, curator at the Frye at the time of Ryden’s exhibition, placed Ryden’s work in the camp of the carnivalesque—a strain of visual culture rooted in such works as Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights.’ According to the Russian author and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, there are three forms of carnivalesque art—the ritualized spectacle, the comic composition, and various genres of billingsgate (foul language)—all three of which are interwoven in Ryden’s work.

In 2007, ‘The Tree Show’ opened at the Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles. In this show Ryden explores the modern human experience of nature. Ryden explains, ‘Some people look at these massive trees and feel a sort of spiritual awe looking at them, and then other people just want to cut them up and sell them, they only see a commodity.’ Ryden has created limited editions of his art to raise money for the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy. In 2009, Ryden’s exhibition ‘The Snow Yak Show’ was shown at the Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo. Ryden’s compositions at this show were more serene and suggestive of solitude, peacefulness and introspection than many of his previous works. In 2010, ‘The Gay 90’s: Old Tyme Art Show’ debuted at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. The show referenced the idealism and sentimentalism of the 1890s while addressing the role of kitsch and nostalgia in our current culture. Here Ryden explores the line between attraction and repulsion to kitsch. According to Ryden, the ‘Gay 90s’ is a thematic genre that pushes sentimentality and kitsch to its utmost limits.

Ryden’s ‘The Tree of Life’ painting was included in the exhibition ‘The Artist’s Museum, Los Angeles Artists 1980-2010’ at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). The exhibition showcased artists who have helped shape the artistic dialogue in Los Angeles since the founding of MOCA over 30 years ago. Ryden hung on the same wall as Robert Williams. The infinite levels of high, low and hypothetical on which Williams is operating and the rigorous realism in the service of fantasy that is Ryden’s trademark underscore where art is fearlessly going outside of the academy. These two artists mine fertile territory in the visual and conceptual sphere that also finds its outlets in popular culture .

In 2009, Ryden married longtime partner, artist Marion Peck.

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