MARK RYDEN'S POP ALCHEMY
by Gloria Bazocchi
All the children are artists. The problem is how to remain children when we grow up.
- Pablo Picasso
Mark Ryden, with his prolific career as artist and illustrator, has recently crashed into the doors of official art's world finally initiating that same world to the new and vital neopop figuration that has been engaging, for more than 10 years, a lot of European and American artists. Mark Ryden who was born in 1963 in Oregon but grew up in the south California, began to attract attention of a varied public, from music listeners to readers of pop magazine, illustrating cover of popular magazines and records of band such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Butthole Surfers and Michael Jackson (it's his own work the cover of the very famous Dangerous), until he reached, in the 90's, the art public that decreed definitely his success.
Ryden's pictures arouse a "deja vu" to everyone watch them. There is in fact a strong analogy between the surreal and childish universe which he represents and the illustrations (for children and not) of 50's, as it's not difficult to find explicit references to the American neopop culture, from the aesthetic of national-popular painter Keane to the modern hollywoodian icons such as Leonardo Di Caprio (a greedy collector of Ryden's works) and Christina Ricci or the protagonists of the lucky TV series such as Buffy and Tele-tubbies. Others important artistic and cultural influences that consciously penetrate into Ryden's work, to make it sometimes a real historical celebration, imply the recent Neon Park's psychedelic art, the fantastic Viennese realism and in a particular way Ernst Fuchs' work, classic French authors such as David and Ingres, whose Odalisque is resumed by Mark Ryden in the work called Snow White. Gifted with an absolutely freedom and that innocent behaviour typical of Alice in the Wonderland where the only certainty is that everything can happen, Mark Ryden performs a surrealistic oneiric pop diverse, full of alchemic, religious symbols and historical characters (Abraham Lincoln, colonel Sander, Jesus often appear in his pictures). This unpredictable apparently senseless matching of elements corresponds, on the contrary, with an exact vision of the world as a wonderful and miraculous place where the questions life puts to us are just in that scrappy and illogical co-existence of things.
We can also find in his Pictures some of his personal passions/obsessions, such as steaks to which Ryden dedicated a cycle of thirteen great paintings called "Meat Loaf", and an endless set of creatures, infantile and fantastic he seems to love very much: toys, teddy bears, plants and flowers, "Bunnies and bees" (moreover title of the last series of picture painted specially to "Illustrate the DIVINE TRUTH according to the secret principles of SCIENCE AND SOUL") all endowed with the same magical power that enable them to speak. This is not a surprise at all because to dominate the scene in this pictorial universe are nearly always children's big eyes, big light broadened on a world pulsative of fife with which they live a serene and unaware empathy.
In front of a Mark Ryden's picture it seems possible to recognize children as adult masters: their perfect tuning with the universe makes them superior, up to divine creation. It's not a case that Ryden reveals to be deeply influenced by the visions of his son Jasper. He talks about a mysterious magic monkey (she comes in my living room at dead of night when everything is silent. She does the most of the work, I limit myself to help her), he tries to make us believe that his art miraculously comes from a supernatural force.
However, it's not unfamiliar his interest about alchemic science and spells and in this connection can be interesting know that Ryden says to have a secret recipe for his oil painting that is supposed to be inherited from ancient masters and it seems to have transcendent qualities.