Mark Ryden Looks to the Trees For His Latest Exhibition
By Steven Psyllos - photo: John Dragonette - May, 2007
There is such detail in Mark Ryden's work that the viewer is mesmerized for long moments absorbing all that the artist has placed there before him. It's almost overwhelming, to be honest. And it is not just the artist's mastery of his craft that will lull the viewer into these dream-like states, it is quite often the subject matter; Ryden portrays the space between what is and what can be, between what we call reality and what is just beyond. Mark Ryden fathered the West Coast style once known as Lowbrow, now called Pop-Surrealism. But the jacket never quite fit the artist and has neglected to capture all that Ryden is capable of. The old guard in the art market has always shied away from popular forms of artwork, thinking they might fail to stand the test of time. But the critics have certainly zipped their lips and accepted Ryden as the work itself progressively reveals greater depths of this artist's vision. It is as if we are watching a contemporary genius flourish before our eyes, as he manipulates the mundane canvas into something sacred. Ryden's latest exhibit "The Tree Show" opened at the Michael Kohn Galley in Los Angeles.
How did this latest series come into being? Well, it just started to happen, I felt myself being pulled towards trees, and more specifically California trees, the Sequoias. There are so many different aspects to the subject of trees but initially I was interested in how trees have had such a prominent place in religion, mythology, and are truly connected with our human history. Trees are living extensions of the world's soul.
They are almost ancient, mythical entities living amongst us. I was interested in the paradox of how these giant Sequoias inspire spiritual awe in some people, while other people just want to chop 'em down and cut 'em up. [Laughter.]
Describe the creative process that led up to this latest exhibit. For "The Tree Show," I acquired so many books on trees and tree mythology and folklore. Usually, I fill up my head with information and then I start to sketch. I have piles and piles of drawings, quick little ideas on paper. Slowly, I pick Mark Ryden, Allegory of the Four Elements, 2006. Oil on canvas, 13" x 20". Courtesy of Michael Kohn Gallery. some of them to take further. Often, it's hard to decide because I know I can only do a certain number of paintings because it takes so long to execute them. Once I start, I draw out as much of it as I can without locking myself into one set composition, and I try to get to actually painting. Then it's a long process, which slows down as you go along. At first, things change very dramatically within a few days, but the steps you take later on are hardly visible but very important.
How close to your initial idea does the final work come? Well, I usually see something that will spark an idea, and usually the idea is pretty complete, but kinda blurry, the details are not real clear. So, I try to discover what the details are supposed to be. It feels to me that there is a "right" answer, like the painting already exists and I'm Just there to figure it out. There does seem to be this "right or wrong" definitive answer to a lot of the details.
Sounds like part of your work is channeling from the subject matter. Do you feel like you're tapping into something larger when creating? I think you really have to let go of your ego and realize that it's not you yourself making this, it's something much bigger and you have to let go of feeling responsible for it.
You present these worlds as if through the eyes of one of your subjects, which are often little children. Why is childhood so attractive to you, and how does it relate to your work? That's the time when we develop the picture of what the world is. That's where the archetype of everything is formed. Many times, the images in children's books are the first time we see certain things.
How would you describe your style? I think it's good for an artist not to think about that and analyze that because that's when you become very self- conscious and you freeze up your ability to create things.
But isn't it also dangerous to allow another person for another to define it? But that's what people love to do. They love to put stuff in categories, in its place in society or in history.
Sad, isn't it?