Mark Ryden
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Juxtapoz Magazine - Influences

Mark Ryden's Divine Dozen - February 2016

Mark Ryden's newest exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery in NYC features his first monumental bronze sculpture and an ongoing exploration of Jungian archetypes in porcelain and paint. Ryden graciously discussed his personal philosophy and current influences exclusively for Juxtapoz.

"Dymaxion Principle", Oil on canvas, 44” x 18”, 2015

A Life in Bronze
Mark Ryden: I had thought about doing a bronze sculpture for a while. The idea for this piece came to me during a conversation with my wife, Marion. We were discussing what kind of grave marker we might want for ourselves and what our graves might look like, a subject we find interesting. The vision of a dodecahedron covered in my own iconography came to me. I thought what a wonderful bronze sculpture it would be and decided to create it for this exhibition. I titled the piece Self Portrait as a Dodecahedron because the subject is a reflection on myself and the imagery I often return to in my work.

It is fascinating to think that this sculpture could possibly be around a couple thousand years or more from now. For the patina of the sculpture, I was inspired by a visit to a recent exhibition of bronzes from the Hellenistic period, in the first few centuries BC, at the Getty Museum. The sculptures beautifully showed their great age on their exquisite surfaces: deep hues of black covered in gorgeous turquoise corrosion. I tried to emulate this surface on my sculpture.

The sculpture was created by a wonderful group of artisans at Foundry Guastini in Vicenza, Italy, using a traditional lost wax technique. These people are masters at classical traditional bronze casting and sculpting. It was wonderful to work with them. They beautifully brought my vision to life.

“Aurora” Oil on canvas, 58" x 112", 2015

The Dodecahedron
Even before I fully understood the significance of the dodecahedron, I was instinctively attracted to it, and it began to show up in my paintings. The dodecahedron is a very special geometric form, permeated with mystery and connotations of divinity. It belongs to a small group of five geometric solids that share a simple set of parameters: the same polygon on every face, and the same number of faces at each vertex. It is interesting that there are only five shapes that belong to this very limited group. They each have a mathematical beauty and perfect symmetry that have given them tremendous significance to mathematicians and philosophers since the times of antiquity. They became known as the Platonic Solids because they figured prominently in the philosophy of Plato. He associated each shape with one of the four classical elements: earth, air, water and fire. The fifth solid, the dodecahedron, he nebulously associated with God and the heavens. Aristotle alleged that the heavens were made out of an element he called "ether" and he attached the dodecahedron to this element. The dodecahedron symbolizes a bridge between the physical world and the intangible realm.

The images on the twelve sides of the sculpture are the icons or symbols that I most often use in my art overall. These include things like the bee, the tree, meat, the eye, etc. I embrace the symbols and icons that return repeatedly in my art. I have a long relationship with each of them and feel great affection for them. On the top pentagon surface of the dodecahedron, I have incorporated my own astrological birth chart.

I think that when the alchemists played around with substances, it was not unlike an artist playing around with paint. They liked to see what would happen with various substances as they tried different things with them. They were interested in the connection between a physical substance and the spiritual realm. In that way, I do feel a kinship to alchemy. I love to play with paint and see what magical thing I can make happen with it.

Spirit Guides
I think the more an artist tries to have complete control of their work, the more lifeless the work will be. I feel an artist has to give themselves over to "other forces" to get some real numinous power in their work. One of the most important things an artist needs to do is learn how to get their guiding spirits to show up and help them in their work.

Mark Ryden in studio, Portrait by Ann Cutting | "Chroma Structure 113", Oil on canvas, 30” x 20”, 2015

I had certain thoughts about the paintings I would do for this show rolling around in my head for quite a long time, and then the vision of the large piece, Aurora, came to me. Initially, I resisted. It seemed a bit off on a tangent from what I originally thought was the theme of this body of work. She also needed to be epic in scale, and I knew it would take up most of my time and prevent me from doing many of the other pieces I had planned. But I felt strongly compelled to do the piece, and in the end, she became the very piece that best defined the theme of the show, which could be described as "the soul confronting its physical form."

Feeling The Mystery
In my work, I am not attempting to communicate a narrow, specific meaning. I would hope my work is more open and provides an opportunity for the viewer to think their own thoughts, form their own ideas, and draw their own conclusions. I want my art to be enjoyed without rational analysis. I'm not dealing with literal, ordinary, daytime thought that can be put into an identifiable container. I would hope my art moves people on a different level, something more to do with the subconscious and more mysterious.

Jungian Archetypes
With Anima, I was referring to the Jungian school of thought in which anima is the feminine aspect of the male unconscious mind (the counterpart to animus, the masculine part of the feminine unconscious mind). At some point, my wife, Marion, conjectured that the recurring female figures in my paintings were really self-portraits. This was very insightful and I had to agree. In that way, the recurring figure is my anima. In a more general way, she is simply anima, the soul, relating to anyone looking at my paintings.