Mark Ryden - Artist in front of his movable art feast Memory Lane - Image Via Huffington Post

Mark Ryden

United States 1963

Pop Surrealism

Mark Ryden
Mark Ryden
United States
May 26, 2016
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A master of subtle contradictions and general cuteness, Mark Ryden is an American painter and a key individual of the Lowbrow art movement, more commonly known as Pop Surrealism. Alongside his talented wife Marion Peck who is also an important element of the Pop Surrealism art movement, the duo is one of the most important art couples in Portland, OR. Ryden’s mixes of classicistic and modern pop elements have reached an iconic status and his impact on the concepts of Lowbrow art is so impressive that Mark actually garners the nickname of The godfather of Pop surrealism!

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Mark Ryden – Jasper Ridin’, 1994

Before Ryden Was the Godfather of Pop Surrealism

Mark Ryden was born in Medford, Oregon, on the January 20th of the year 1963. However, the artist was raised in Southern California after his parents Barbara and Keith Ryden decided to move to sunnier lands. Mark had two sisters and two brothers, with one growing up into a fellow artist named Keyth Ryden (who now works under the name of KRK). His father made a living in an interesting way – by painting, restoring and customizing vehicles. Inspired by Keith’s freedom to express himself while working, Mark wanted to pursue similar opportunities. Keeping that in mind, Ryden graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1987. Right after he wrapped up the college days and left them behind him, Mark started working as a commercial artist available for hire. During that time, most of his profits came from the music industry as he used to design the album covers for numerous bands and singers – including Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, the 4 Non Blondes’ Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute and Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator. He found another source of income in designing book covers. Among his most notable clients, Ryden created covers for Stephen King’s novels Desperation and The Regulators. Mark made a living as a marketable artist until his work was taken up by Robert Williams, a former member of the Zap Comix collective, who in 1994 put Ryden’s reproductions on the cover of Juxtapoz, a magazine devoted to lowbrow art.

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Mark Ryden – Heaven, 2008

The Birth of Lowbrow

From the year of 1994 and the cooperation with Robert Williams, Ryden devoted all his efforts to the development of the Pop Surrealism, a movement that was really booming at the time. Mark’s solo debut show entitled The Meat Show was in Pasadena, California in 1998. In this display, the motif of meat was a reoccurring theme in his work, taking central stage in most paintings. Ryden desired to emphasize the disconnect in our contemporary culture between meat we serve as food and the living, breathing creatures it comes from. This contradiction brought much attention to the exhibition, as well as the peculiar style Ryden applied to his paintings. Years that followed after that were a real cornerstone both for Ryden’s career and his style which he managed to establish. Ryden became popular for blending themes of pop culture with techniques reminiscent of the old masters – he developed a unique style that blurs the traditional boundaries between high and low art. For those reasons, Pop Surrealism is also known as Lowbrow art, an ironic name that truly explains the movement’s identity. Ryden would paint fairy tale creatures, historical figures and pop cultural icons in same compositions – such concepts were genius at the time and really brought on a revolution amongst the art scene and the way people perceive art. Ryden’s paintings in oil are not only clever mixes of what is considered to be traditional and not, they are also incredibly beautiful to behold. However, a subtle disquiet always inhabits his paintings – the work is achingly pretty as it hints at darker psychic stuff beneath the surface that is shown to us. His visual vocabulary ranges from cryptic to cute, treading a fine line between what Mark himself likes to call nostalgic cliché and disturbing archetype.

Although Ryden’s paintings are obviously beautiful to behold, they can get quite disturbing from time to time when you analize their content

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Mark Ryden – 61 Fetal Trapping in Northern California, 2006

Ryden’s Later Work

As was clued earlier, Mark Ryden’s aesthetic is generated from subtle combinations of many sources, from Ingres, David and other French classicists to Little Golden Books, a popular series of inexpensive, well-illustrated, high-quality children’s books. One of the rare rules Mark keeps to when drawing inspiration it that anything he uses must evoke mystery on some level – with that in mind, Ryden chooses to incorporate elements such as old toys, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skeletons and religious ephemera. Ten years after Ryden became The godfather of pop surrealism, he had already established an amazing personal mythology and symbolism, as well as an incredible dedication to small details and hidden messages. Ten years after Ryden became The godfather of pop surrealism, he had already established an amazing personal mythology and symbolism, as well as an incredible dedication to small details and hidden messages. In his more mature work, Ryden explored the modern human experience of nature – underlined by the The Tree Show exhibition. 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, Mark explained. Another cornerstone and a midcareer retrospective came during the year of 2004, in a form of an exhibition titled Wondertoonel (a reference to a cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer) co-organized by the Frye Museum in Seattle and the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It was the best-attended exhibition since the Frye Art Museum opened in 1952 and also broke attendance records in Pasadena, both information indicating the importance and popularity of Mark Ryden. In 2009, Ryden’s exhibition The Snow Yak Show revealed more serene compositions and suggestive of solitude, peacefulness and introspection unlike anything Mark showed before. In 2010, The Gay 90’s: Old Tyme Art Show seen Ryden find a central theme that referenced the idealism and sentimentalism of the 1890s while addressing the role of kitsch and nostalgia in our current culture. Here Mark explored the line between attraction and repulsion to kitsch, an important segment of the Pop Surrealism movement. An album titled The Gay Nineties Old Tyme Music: Daisy Bell from the year of 2010 was similarly called but was not connected to the 2010 show. It featured artists such as Katy Perry, Stan Ridgway of Wall Of Voodoo, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, Nick Cave, Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Everlast, bringing in much critical acclaim.

Mark Ryden became famous for his aesthetics from the nineties, but his style continued to develop all through the next decade

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Mark Ryden – A Dog Named Jesus, 1997

If You’re Interested into Viewing the True Pop Surrealism…

To truly understand Pop Surrealism, one must experience the art of Mark Ryden. A bold statement, yes, but also a true one. Since Mark’s concepts and style have dragged a good number of followers in his wake, if you desire to analyze the works of the Lowbrow, literally every road will somehow take you to Ryden’s doorstep. Through his macabre motifs like meat grinders and disembodied presidents with eye-pleasing ingénues and seductive landscapes, Mark Ryder and his work serve as a true example of artistic independence and an inspiration for all the aspiring artist who wish to create something new and completely their own.

The artist is represented by Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York and Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo.

Mark Ryden lives and works in Portland, OR.

Featured Image: Mark Ryden – Artist in front of his movable art feast Memory Lane – Image Via Huffington Post
All images courtesy of Mark Ryden

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Mark Ryden - DodecahedronPaul Kasmin Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2014Mark Ryden - The Gay 90s West Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
2014Art Truancy: Celebrating 20 Years of Juxtapoz Magazine Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Mortal Reflections (2012-13) IKON Ltd, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2012Stay Foolish! Dorothy Circus Gallery, RomeGroup
2012At home I'm tourist me Collectors Room Berlin, BerlinGroup
2012Juxtapoz Turns 18Copro Nason Gallery, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2012Toykio Loves GolToykio Gallery, DusseldorfGroup
2012Happy New YearBergamot Station Art Center, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2011Mark Ryden Editions Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2011Paris Forever 100th exhibition of the galleryGalerie Magda Danysz, ParisGroup
2011Paid To Play At Bergamot Station Arts Center, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2011Private Collection Carnival Dorothy Circus Gallery, RomeGroup
2010"The Gay 90's Olde Tyme Art Show"Paul Kasmin Gallery , New York, New YorkSolo
2010"The Artist’s Museum, Los Angeles Artists 1980-2010" The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), LA, CAGroup
2010"Art Shack"Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaGroup
2009"The Snow Yak Show" Tomio Koyama Gallery , Tokyo, JapanSolo
2009"Naked",Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2009"Pictopia - Festival of New Character Worlds," Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2008"Prints from the Cal State Fullerton University Collection II"Cal State Fullerton Main Art Gallery, Fullerton, CAGroup
2007"The Tree Show"Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
2007"Charity by Numbers"Corey Helford Gallery, Culver City, CAGroup
2006"Drawn to Expression"Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CAGroup
2005WondertoonelPasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CaliforniaSolo
2005"Au Pays de Merveilles"Galerie Magda Danysz, Paris, FranceGroup
2004"Innocence Found" DFN Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2004"Wondertoonel"Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WashingtonSolo
2004"100 Artists See Satan" Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CaliforniaGroup
2004"Age of Aquarius" Copro-Nason Gallery, Culver City, CaliforniaGroup
2004"Modern Love"M Modern Gallery, Palm Springs, CaliforniaGroup
2004"From Your Valentine"Copro-Nason Gallery, Culver City, CaliforniaGroup
2004"Juxtapoz 10th Anniversary Group Show" 111 Minna Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2003Blood Earl McGrath Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
2003"Insalata Mista"Mondo Bizzarro Gallery, Bologna, ItalySolo
2003Dark Fairytales Roq La Rue Gallery, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
2003"Group Show" La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2003Raising the Brow Earl McGrath Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2002"Bunnies and Bees"Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CaliforniaSolo
2002HelloPressPop Gallery, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2002"Gods and Monsters Roq La Rue Gallery, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
2002"Group Show"La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2002DrawRoq La Rue Gallery, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
2002"Von Dutch an American Original"Northridge Art Galleries, Northridge, CaliforniaGroup
2001"Bunnies and Bees"Earl McGrath Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2001"Amalgamation"Outre Gallery, Melbourne, AustraliaSolo
2000"Margaret Keane and Keaneabilia" Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaGroup
2000"Luck of the Draw" La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2000RetrospectiveMendenhall Gallery, Pasadena, CaliforniaGroup
2000"Invitational III" La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2000"Up From the Underground" Hollywood Arts & Culture Center, Hollywood, FloridaGroup
1999"Group Show"Copro-Nason Gallery, Culver City, CaliforniaGroup
1999"Six Forms of Love and Despair" Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1999"Tiki Group Show" Huntington Beach Arts Center, Huntington Beach, CaliforniaGroup
1999"Invitational II"La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1998"The Meat Show"Mendenhall Gallery, Pasadena, California
1998"Kittens’n’Kads"Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1998"Custom II"Acme Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1998"No Red Ribbons" Julie Rico Gallery, Santa Monica, CaliforniaGroup
1998"Tribute to La Luz de Jesus" Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1998"Group Show"La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1997"Calivera Kustom"Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1997"The Secret Society of Dog Art"Random Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1996"21st Century Tiki"La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1994"Side Show"Tamara Bane Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup