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Mark Ryden is known for pop surrealist canvases that display a genuine, earnest fascination with historical kitsch. His nostalgic, cryptic compositions allude to scenes from the fantasies of children’s fairytales, but the people and woodland creatures appear to be ageless, ethereal and completely ensouled. Mixing the aesthetics of tawdry illustrations with narrative compositions and masterful, traditional painting techniques, Ryden’s works are linked to both low-brow popular culture and the works of William Blake, seamlessly transcending cultural divides and conceptual boundaries.
His two recent books, Pinxit (Taschen) and The Gay 90s (Rizzoli) trace the development of his cryptic oeuvre. The Gay 90s documents his recent exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery, a show of mature paintings of eclectic, masterfully defined personas that ignite the viewer’s imagination. Pinxit is a large format retrospective that documents his career from its beginning, outlining the evolution of his diverse inspirations and cultural philosophy. His devoted interest in Wunderkammer, cabinets of curiosity display collections of objects whose categorical bounds are yet to be defined, is clearly illustrated.
Whitewall caught up with Ryden at a recent book signing in New York at Paul Kasmin Shop.
WHITEWALL: You chose an eclectic and fascinating group of contributors for your book – Yoshitomo Nara, Anthony Haden-Guest, and Amanda Erlanson. How do their words and perspectives complement your art?
MARK RYDEN: It seems good to have diverse ways of looking at things, which I would hope might inspire the reader to have some new insights and thoughts about my work they might not get with a single point of view. Anthony’s essay is very astute and intelligent, while Amanda has a more spiritual way of looking at art. Nara’s viewpoint is that of a fellow artist, which is nice to have included as well.
WW: What are you most excited about from the elaborate Taschen limited-edition retrospective?
MR: Because of its grand scale Pinxit, more than any other book I have done, gives a good appreciation of the minute detail I put into my paintings. Since so many people don’t get a chance to see my originals in person, this book gives them an opportunity for the next best thing.
WW: What’s next?
MR: I have a major exhibition at Michael Kohn Gallery scheduled for this September. There will be several new paintings, including the largest painting I have ever done, The Parlor, as well as some previous works from my first “Gay 90’s” exhibition. I will be including two new porcelain editions as well as a large scale diorama with mechanical motion that I am currently working on.
Mark Ryden was born in Medford, Oregon in 1968 and received his BFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasedena in 1987. His solo debut show entitled “The Meat Show” in Pasadena, California in 1998, featured works such as The Birth of Venus, and The Pumpkin President. Recent exhibitions include a mid-career retrospective “Wondertoonel” at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and the Pasadena Museum of California Art (2004-2005); “The Gay 90’s: Old Tyme Art Show” at Paul Kasmin Gallery April 29th through June 5th, 2010; “Art Shack,” Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, 2010; “WONDERFUL – Humboldt, Krokodil & Polke”, me Collectors Room, Berlin, 2012. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.