Mark Ryden
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Mark Ryden Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear
Issue No. 52, May, 2003
By Simon Herbert

Mark Ryden's exhibition at Los Angeles' Earl McGrath Gallery, following on from his sell-out show at the East Coast equivalent, marks his continuing rise as the poster boy for the culty alternative California art scene. Since editor and painter Robert Williams - himself a previous wearer of the mantle of West Coast mixmaster of cultural references - championed him in the pages of Juxtapoz magazine, Ryden has steadily drawn ahead of the pack of painters that apply superb technique to pop culture subject matter.

Perhaps Ryden's success is in part due to a certain gentility distinct from the usual jugular of hotrods, Universal monsters and depraved Disney characters for which his more instinctively iconoclastic peers lunge. Each of Blood's ten miniature paintings is a meditation on an internal world of wounded emotional life and painful withdrawal, and portrays a child alone within a surrealistic landscape of American Gothic. Large-eyed like the inhabitants of cheap velvet paintings, yet etched in an immaculate fumble of oil paint, they worldlessly contemplate the horrors of their dreamscape: Abraham Lincoln's head badgering them mid-oration on the end of a bed; a stigmatic hand gushing blood into a goblet; a bunny rabbit cut in half, trailing a bloody smear across the wooden floorboards.

The Victorian-era references evoke the work of Gorey and Carroll, yet Ryden doesn't suffer from the comparison (although it is interesting to note that Gorey's essential darkness is predicated on a humour that Ryden lacks). The imagery may not be anything new, but there's nothing wrong with exciting every little Goth chick that walks into the gallery, is there? One false note though: either McGrath (who, normally familiar with the Naumans of the world, is taking a leap into uncharted territory by taking on Ryden) or the artist has 'installed' the miniatures within a gallery covered in blood-red drapes. This may count for novelty in a space more used to showcasing the cool conceptual heavyweights of the art world, but this type of window-dressing was deemed tacky years ago in the lowbrow galleries in which Ryden launched his career. Ryden's work is easily strong enough without recourse to such theatrics.

Mark Ryden Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear
18 September - 18 October, 2003

Earl McGrath Gallery
20 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019