Mark Ryden
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Juxtapoz Magazine
By Carlo McCormick
November 19, 2004 - February 13, 2005
The Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA

Nostalgia, debauchery, animals, religious iconography, mysticism, and childhood are all fodder for dissection and contextualization within the umbrella sphere of art history. Is true originality possible as time marches on? Is every art form derivative of one before it? And where does Mark Ryden fit into today's discourse about the significance of modern, even "underground," art? He is not only enthroned, albeit humbly, in the pantheon of the greatest living painters today; he is also leading the charge toward a second coming of art, an edenic dreamstate of sugar and spice and everything nice, blended in the pastels of the ice cream parlor, the mood of the circus ridiculous, the reverent tones of ancient cathedrals, and a touch of the sinister.

In his early forties, Ryden is already enjoying his first museum retrospective, Wondertoonel, debuting at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and then traveling to Los Angeles this spring. It is a collection of most every painting he's ever done, of which there are about 30, and symbolically, it is a bridge across the chasm between formal museum imagery and the "outsider" aesthetic. Who better than Ryden to act as an ambassador from the realm of the Other?

Technically, creatively, and spiritually, his planets are aligned; the cosmos opens its arms gleefully to this painter, who drinks deeply from the cup of the unknown, who relishes hidden meanings, dead languages, and the siren song of mystery. Ryden mirrors the practice of alchemy with which his fascination is well documented, the transmutation of base metals into gold. If, at its core, the process is a quest for and a tribute to the miraculous, Ryden has succeeded. This is a man who, in only two dimensions, ties up our origins and our destinies with a silk ribbon, in frozen moments that are oceans deep, on a temporal stage that knows no divisions between past, present, and future. He nods to sacred rituals, family values, the silver lining, the pathos of mythology, secrets.

Happily refusing to offer up any one universal key to unlock the grand mystery of his ethos, Ryden teases us, makes us guess, even encourages us tacitly to do a little research on our own-study some Latin, numerology, animal symbology, religion-for he has the soul not just of a painter, but of a scholar as well. His gifts to us are his single-bristled brush strokes, his cathartic palette, his loving wisdom, his respect for all God's creatures. The universe he paints is his own, but it is for us, too, and it is our responsibility to reward his efforts by attempting to unravel it, by getting off the proverbial couch and looking at, really seeing, what others have known before, but never like this.

The Frye Art Museum is located at 704 Terry Ave, Seattle, WA. For more information, contact

Keep yer eyes peeled for a special edition of Ryden's Blood book, including a special "ucky" version which comes with a vial of his actual blood.