By Long Gone John - Winter 1998
Renowned for his obscenely prolific dual careers as fine artist and illustrator - a stint which has produced work for nearly every pop culture magazine with a pulse (and some without), and album covers for, among others, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Butthole-Surfers, and Michael Jackson - Mark Ryden finally unveils his newest body of work: The Meat Show. On the brink of his opening at LA's Mendenhall Gallery, the artist paused to speak with Sympathy For The Record lndustry's CEO and longtime patron Long Gone John about the virtues of Abe Lincoln, Colonel Sanders and USDA Grade A beef.
Make no mistake. This is no gratuitous, rectum-licking, whitewashed account of Mark Ryden's importance in the world of art. Yes, Mark is a friend of mine, and yes, I have in the past and will continue in the future to spend ludicrous amounts of money purchasing his artwork. This does not necessarily make my opinions biased one way or the other, and none of this has much bearing on the undisputed fact that Mark Ryden is a shining light at the end of the proverbial tunnel of art mediocrity. You see, Mark still paints the old fashioned way: the hard way. The process is long and involved, but when a painting is finished it is a masterpiece miraculous revelation to behold. Mark Ryden is, among many other things, a bit of an enigma. He's a classic example of what I like to refer to as a "thorn in the side of a wildebeest of a different color." The following is a true and factual account of my interrogation of Mr. Ryden to the best of my considerably limited capabilities.
So what makes you think you're so much better than everyone else?
Actually, on the contrary, I never really feel like any particular painting is good enough. It always seems like I could do more. If I didn't have the deadline of the gallery opening I guess I would labor on the same paintings forever.
Which artist do you feel you've stolen the most ideas from?
My son Jasper. He comes up with great ideas. His work contains a certain rudimentary abandon rarely seen outside of grade school and he is too young to know what plagiarism is.
Have you ever had an original idea?
When I painted Abraham Lincoln lying on the ground giving birth from his cheek to the baby Venus delivered by Colonel Sanders I thought that was pretty original. I had at first envisioned it as Colonel Sanders giving birth to Abraham Lincoln, but upon the realization that had been done several times I cleverly added my unique twist.
What is it about Abe Lincoln that intrigues you so? Is it the big mole on his face or his demented chickenhawk gaze?
He was the "King of Presidents."
Speaking of kings, can you tell us something about your encounter with the King of Pop?
He was most concerned with my depiction of Bubbles on the Dangerous cover. He commented on my first attempt: "You made him too wrinkled. He's cuter than that." Eventually Michael preferred I paint him from life to capture his true inner soul. Bubbles was secretly brought to my studio by limousine at midnight for a one-night painting session. Michael liked how in the new depiction Bubbles' eyes seemed to follow him around the room.
What is this unholy fascination you have with raw meat?
Brisket, chuck roast, angus beef, lamb, chicken, and the other white meat. Meat: it's what's for dinner.
Can you explain why your paintings are so vibrant and exciting and you, in contrast, are quite boring?
I know I disappoint many people by my lack of tattoos, leather, hair, etc. What can I say? Would some body piercing help?
Religious icons are recurring themes in your paintings. Are you a religious man?
I truly think the world is a wondrous and miraculous place. I don't think any of the world's religions have really figured it out accurately, but if you pick and choose pieces from many sources you can find the answers to life's questions.
Your paintings fetch rather phenomenal prices; how do you rationalize that and what are you personally doing to help put an end to poverty and starvation in this country?
I paint with very tiny brushes and spend inordinate amounts of time on each painting. After I have everything I've ever wanted in every color available and enough money to bring to reality my visions in an amusement park ten times the scale of Disneyland, only then will I consider the less fortunate and downtrodden.
What's the deal with this "magic" element that I keep hearing you put in your paint?
I've always been intrigued by alchemy and the mystical side of science. I have a recipe for an oil painting medium used by the old masters that is supposed to have transcendental qualities. I don't know if it's magic but the medium works like no other I've tried.
If you could have one wish involving Christina Ricci, what would it be?
If you tell a wish it won't come true.
In as few words as possible, please comment on the following artists: Salvador Dali...
I know a guy with Dali's name tattooed on his neck. If someone tattooed my name on their neck, I would know I have made it.
After 500 years no one has ever come close to depicting such a unique personal vision.
He said "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." This quote eloquently expresses my philosophy of art and life.
Are there any lower life forms on earth than gallery owners?
If you could go in and add something to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, what would it be?
My gallery owner buys all my paints and supplies for me and delivers them to my studio himself. He insists on Kolinsky brushes. Each year he pays for me and my family to go on a two-week vacation. And he absolutely refuses to take any commission whatsoever.
What question have you never been asked that you would most like to answer?
I've always wanted to tell the story of the very first painting I ever sold, and how it changed my life. It's a great story.
Perhaps a mirror-disco ball, or how about some of those new, glow-in-the-dark stars?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I love chicken, especially the Colonel's; never cared much eggs, though.
-Long Gone John, Mark Ryden