Mark Ryden
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Art Prostitute
Issue No. 08, 2006

What/who would you cite as influences in your painting?
I think what most characterizes my art is a diversity of influences. I look everywhere lor inspiration, from Flemish painters of the Renaissance to packages in the grocery store.

Planning the execution of your paintings is seemingly paramount. How much derivation is there from your drawings to the final canvas?
I do many preliminary drawings and gather a great deal of reference for my paintings. I do quite of bit of preplanning. However, I allow for changes as I execute the painting. It is really important to me to be able to feel creatively free throughout the entire process. Sometimes I change things extensively in the middle of a painting.

How do you go about constructing a narrative for a piece? Is there an underlying one from piece to piece, that tie your exhibitions together?
That is something for the viewer to wonder about, not for me to spell out. I think an important part of experiencing art is for a person to figure out what is going on for themselves. Everyone has different ideas and interpretations, and that is the way it should be.

What is the preparation like when creating work for an exhibition?
My paintings take a very very long time to make. I need to have long stretches of uninterrupted time. It requires peaceful time free of distractions. The challenge is to take care of the many other things in my busy life (like answering these questions) and carve out enough time to paint. I have trouble with transitioning from other things to painting. It is hard to switch gears.

You were once quoted in Juxtapoz [Sept/Oct, 2003] in regards to your then recent divorce that, "I found 3 it curious that there was no blood with my trauma. It seemed like with so much pain I should be covered in blood." Seemingly the show had a lot to do with what you were going through at the time, how has life changed for you since then?
My life most certainly has changed! I was in an unhappy 14 year marriage that ended in a very painful divorce. It was such a difficult time in my life. It is hard to believe how different everything is now. I have joy and peace in my life. Most of all, I have love. I met artist Marion Peck shortly after my divorce. I never knew it was possible to connect so deeply with another person. I never knew life could be this wonderful.

What was the impetus for creating such small pieces for that show, rather than the large lush, more complex works that you are known for?
I felt that the tone of the paintings would not be right unless they were very small. I did not want to make big loud paintings about blood. My intention was much more quiet and introspective.

What was the reaction to that body of work, being that harm had finally come to your once innocent subjects?
The responses I received were very positive. Most people have gone through something painful in their own life and can relate to the images. It is something we all share that can matte people more compassionate and accepting of each other.

In respect to the review you received from the LA Times for the Blood Show, mainly comments like, "The show is worth a trip, but don't expect more than a shallow dip into the psychic mud puddle. Come instead for the spectacle, for the silliness even, but not for anything as genuine as sorrow," do you feel that contemporary art critics have difficulty relating to your work and that of your contemporaries?
I never expect anything other than a shallow dip from a critic. They are usually far behind what is going on. Their consciousness tends to be rather small, and they often cannot see beyond their limited circle of thought, or past their own egos.

Talk about the Wondertoonel experience and what that meant for you personally and professionally?
Wondertoonel was wonderful. I have always loved museums of all kinds; there is a certain feeling looking at things in a museum, it is a special experience. The quiet, clean, otherwise empty rooms of a museum bring contemplative focus to whatever you are looking at. Seeing my own paintings in the museum context was amazingly rewarding. There was a great deal of work and difficulty gathering the originals for the Wondertoonel exhibition. It probably won't happen again for a long time.

You have been championed by the "Lowbrow" art movement. Have you ever felt that this moniker has limited people's perception of your work? How do feel that the "Highbrow" crowd is somewhat starting to vindicate it?
"Vindicate" is an interesting choice of words. Obviously the term "lowbrow" has negative connotations. I think many of us in this so called movement do not particularly identify with the term "lowbrow", or to being grouped with each other. Yet there is definitely something going on, something many diverse artists feel. It is interesting to observe the phenomenon. There is a weariness towards the old, stale ways of thinking about art, a return to figuration and a dissatisfaction with the sterile intellectual elitism which modernism created.

What were some of the key moments, perhaps exhibitions, coverage or people that really were a springboard for your career?
"The Meat Show" at Mendenhall gallery in 1998 was my first real art show. There was such excitement with it being my "first time." I will always have fond memories of it. It really did launch my career.

Reflect a bit on your days doing commercial work and the journey that you have gone on to where you are as a fine artist now...
I did many album covers. I preferred them to other commercial projects because with an album cover I could make a painting that was the most like my fine art paintings. I was more free to to create my own personal images. But I did illustrate everything from corporate annual reports to advertising. I did it all. My work became pretty well known through the album covers which helped me make the move into fine art. The mass reproduction of commercial projects can be very rewarding. An artist's work can reach so many people when it is reproduced in the millions on an album cover and distributed around the world.