Mark Ryden
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Black + White
Issue No, 08
October 2001

In a land far away, artist Mark Ryden finds macabre pleasures in flesh and fantasy.

MARK RYDEN LIVES in a strange world. A world of mad dreams where dead presidents, Christina Ricci, Leonardo DiCaprio, bunnies and bees dance happily with chunky cuts of raw, red meat. He also claims that he doesn't actually paint his paintings. Instead, a monkey aptly named "The Magic Monkey" knocks on his door at night and performs the miracle. "Painting meat is his obsession," Ryden assures.

The 38-year-old Californian's work is collected by kings of spookiness Stephen King and Chris Carter, as well as subject DiCaprio. Ryden is uncomfortable trying to explain the complex and stupendous imagery which consumes his work. Its mystery is sacred. "The reason a hunk of meat, Abraham Lincoln, or a bee is in a painting is more for the fact that it makes you wonder - more than my personal reason for putting it in there."

Ryden does, however, like to talk about the abundance of chops, steaks and haunches in his paintings. He is a "passionate meat eater" who rates carnivorousness as one of our most primal instincts. "There is a fascinating aspect to meat in that it once was part of a beautiful living creature and then becomes just an inanimate substance." Ryden adds, "The wonderful variety artist pleasures fantasy of textures and patterns in the marbling of the meat is sumptuous. Subtle pinks gently swirl around with rich vermilions and fatty yellow ochres. Meat is glorious to paint."

As well as being inspired by raw flesh and his Magic Monkey assistant, Ryden draws on his large personal collection of old children's books. "I think that the visual part of my brain (and others') was formed with the visual archetypes of childhood. I like to try and pull up the images that are buried deep in our subconscious."

Ryden and his Magic Monkey's channelling powers are far reaching. Recently, an Australian butcher e-mailed Ryden claiming she looked exactly like the girl in one of his paintings. "She is sure I must have been painting her in supernatural cosmic connection. I am completely open to that possibility! She has a print of the Angel Of Meat hanging in her shop. I smile when I think of a beautiful girl cutting up an animal carcass right under my painting."

Mark Ryden's work is available from Outre Gallery, Melbourne.