The Little Girl in Mark Ryden

The first thing someone might be interested to know about Mark Ryden is that in the 90s when he was still working as a commercial artist, years before he was to became “the grandfather of pop-surrealism”, he was acquainted with Michael Jackson and did the album cover for Dangerous. Mark is unfortunately mum about the time they spent together.

Mark Ryden - album cover Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" (1991)

Mark Ryden – album cover Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” (1991)

Ten years later, Mark was on a new career path. Having shifted from commercial to fine art, he rose to Art World superstar—selling his paintings for six figures and having his exploits followed by celebrities like Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.

“His work had become increasingly popular through mass exposure, particularly in the Low Brow Art publications HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz.” (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART)

Mark Ryden - Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover "Juxtapoz" December '11

Mark Ryden – Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover “Juxtapoz” December ’11

Lowbrow Art emerged in the 70s and its unofficial spokesman is Robert Williams, who coined the phrase. But by the late 90s the movement was splitting in two. In one camp were the loud, sarcastic, anti-establishment originators while in the other were a new breed of artist who painted with exacting technique, referenced the Old Masters and began to appear in major galleries, being accepted by the canon. The term “Pop Surrealism” was first used by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum for their 1998 show. Mark, and others like him, who had been educated by the very artists the early Lowbrow artists rejected, brought figurative art back to the fine art scene for nearly the first time since Abstract Expressionism had wiped it out almost a century ago.

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden names as his own classical artistic inspirations: David, Ingres, Bougereau, and Bronzino (BL!SSS Magazine). Girl art fans will realize that Bougereau painted Before the Bath, The Little Thief, The Nut Gatherers and so on, while Bronzino immortalized Bia de’ Medici. Contemporary artists who inspired Mark include Marion Peck, James Rosenquist, Loretta Lux, Ana Bagayan, Julie Heffernan, John Currin, Darren Waterston, Neo Rauch, and maybe not surprisingly, Balthus (Brian Sherwin, Fanny Giniès, HI-FRUCTOSE, The World Observer).

Marion Peck is none other than Mark’s ex-wife. They were powerfully inspired by one another.

Marion Peck - Peaceful Slumber (2007)

Marion Peck – Peaceful Slumber (2007)

The same clean, cutesy sentimentality often pervades both their paintings.

Mark Ryden - Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark Ryden – Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark attributes his deep realizations about philosophy to Marion: “he had been asleep; his spirituality was ‘isolated, and…progressed slowly’ before they met” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - The Apology (2007)

Mark Ryden – The Apology (2007)

Not a few of Mark’s little girls on wood panels are reminiscent of another artist who graced the covers of HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz: Audrey Kawasaki.

Mark Ryden - Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Or from this series painted on wood slabs:

Mark Ryden - Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark Ryden – Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark is trying to evoke wonder. His paintings are laden with metaphysical allusions and all sorts of things which are puzzling and ponderous: Cyrillic and Chinese script, numerology, religious iconography, meat and little girls and on and on. Of meat, Mark explains, “it’s dualistic: it’s just a packaged product, and at the same time it is a symbol of the other side, meat is our living avatar in the world.”

Mark Ryden - The Meat Train (2000)

Mark Ryden – The Meat Train (2000)

But Mark’s signature inspiration, which gives his work it’s idiomatic style, is swap-meet junk: kitsch, sentimental, nostalgic, melodramatic camp such as figurines of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, big eyed bobble-headed dolls, old toys, and taxidermied animals. Mark’s flea-market finds define his painting—a regular cast of which appear in nearly every one of his works.

Mark Ryden - The Piano Player (2010)

Mark Ryden – The Piano Player (2010)

Mark has also been influenced and inspired by his daughter Rosie.

Eric Minh Swenson - Marion, Mark, and daughter Rosie (2014)

Eric Minh Swenson – Marion, Mark, and Daughter Rosie (2014)

He included Rosie in many of his paintings, one of which later appeared on the cover of HI-FRUCTOSE.

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 - Mark Ryden - Rosie's Tea Party (2006)

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 – Mark Ryden – Rosie’s Tea Party (2005)

“I photographed my daughter Rosie for the Tea Party painting several years ago. It was the first time she ever modeled for me. She took to it with unbelievable skill even at the age of three. Now she is almost eight and she still loves to pose for me. I usually have a sketch that she imitates. She instinctively understands the expression and gesture needed for a pose. I use her as a model even when the figure is not going to be a likeness of her. The little girl in Rosie’s Tea Party is an actual portrait of her. It is fun to have her face in the painting but it is more difficult and very different creatively than the faces I invent. Rosie enjoys being in my art. She and Jasper (my son) seem to understand my art better than many adults. They respond to it instinctively and they don’t over-intellectualize it. Unlike adults they don’t get stuck, they just experience it. Children in general respond well to my art. I feel I have been successful when a child is captivated by one of my paintings” (Annie Owens, HI-FRUCTOSE, 2006).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark sees a special relationship between children and art and has often mused on the topic:

“One of my favorite quotes is by Picasso: ‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ I think this is very true. When making art, children can be so much more imaginative than adults. I think a quality that defines many successful artists is that they never lose a sense of wonder of the amazing world around us. I think it comes rather automatically when one is young” (Nate Pollard, Verbiside Magazine, 2013).

“It is only in childhood that contemporary society truly allows for imagination. Children can see a world ensouled, where bunnies weep and bees have secrets, where ‘inanimate’ objects are alive. Many people think that childhood’s world of imagination is silly, unworthy of serious consideration, something to be outgrown” (Artist Statement – “Wondertoonel”, 2004).

“Children have no inhibitions when making their art. I’ve never seen my 4 year old son have a creative block; and his art is much more interesting than most adult’s art. Children are miraculous” (Artist Statement – “The Meat Show”, 1998).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Children appear often in Mark Ryden’s artwork, but it is especially female children–little girls–who haunt his canvases and sketch pads.

Mark Ryden - Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark Ryden – Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark talks plainly and directly about the value he puts on the feminine and of the danger of ignoring it:

“As you look back into what has gone on in western civilization, you can see that patriarchy has been the cause of much strife and suffering in our world. It is the masculine dynamic that has caused our society to place money and corporate profit above human beings. It has allowed the earth to be viewed only as a commodity to be exploited. The feminine perspective sees things differently. She sees the earth and all its inhabitants as entities to be revered and cared for. She sees individual human beings as more important than the relentless advance of capitalism and competition. It is my hope, perhaps indirectly expressed in my work, that the divine feminine is reawakening”(Gachman, Interview Magazine).

One critic, Elliott David, has suggested likewise of the little girl in Mark Ryden, “Hidden in these girls’ oversized eyes is the imperialism and the blood of heritage aristocracy, a sort of false innocence that might imply evil but is really coy subversiveness lurking within.”

Mark Ryden - sketch for Pine Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Sketch for ‘Pine Tree Nymph’ (2006)

Mark is himself mostly elusive about the meaning of the little girl in his work:

“There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of.  The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery.”  (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART).

Or,

“I like for viewers of my paintings to feel presence of meaning and story but I like for them to come up with their own interpretations. I think if I explain too much of a painting away the painting loses a sense of mystery and curiosity” (Kitty Mead, Art Beat Street).

Mark Ryden - Sophia's Bubbles (2008)

Mark Ryden – Sophia’s Bubbles (2008)

While Amanda Erlanson observed that, “Languid girls who exude both a doll-like innocence and a knowing sensuality appear in nearly every painting.” None-the-less, when asked by Maxwell Williams: “[a]nother leitmotif of your paintings are young girls. Why do you feel your world is populated by these waifish little girls, and how did this evolve?” Mark replied, “A lot of people can’t get past the sexual part of a girl. For me, there’s truly nothing sexual at all” (Juxtapoz; Hollywood Reporter).
Mark Ryden - from "Pinxit" (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark Ryden – From ‘Pinxit’ (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark is so coy about the meaning of the little girl in his work because she is mysterious to him too.  He says, “I’ve had to think about that myself and work backwards.  My wife actually said something really funny, and I think she’s right, in that they’re sort of self-portraits. They’re anima figures; they’re soul figures… They’re sort of everybody. They’re you when you’re looking at the painting.”

Marion Peck expands on the little girl as self-portrait idea: “each of the girls Mark paints is in one sense a self-portrait. In his paintings, the anima manifests as Sophia—the muse, the fount of creativity, and the goddess of wisdom” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

Mark Ryden – Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

But not everyone loves the little girls in Mark Ryden. Robert Williams satirized them in a drawing in which the cartoon girl’s head is so big she can’t hold it up; Joseph R. Givens explains, “Mocking Ryden’s sentimental themes, Williams drew a banner above the melancholy figure with the words ‘caring, nurturing, fawning.’ As a slight to Ryden’s childlike persona, Williams signed his drawing ‘Bobbie Wms.'”

Robert Williams - Pop Surrealism (2011)

Robert Williams – Pop Surrealism (2011)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine what is actually anti-establishment as opposed to conformist about Robert Williams’ pornographic ultra-violence. Sexualization of women, callousness and blood are almost the most monotonous things someone could paint, perfectly in step with the patriarchy.  Elliott David’s perception that the girl in Mark Ryden “is really coy subversiveness [of] imperialism” is a keen one.  Mark’s work and his portrayal of the little girl is personally vulnerable, sensitive, and touching—precious qualities to be sure.

Mark Ryden - Yak Dream (2008)

Mark Ryden – Yak Dream (2008)

Pip Starr did a post on Mark Ryden a couple years back as well so visit here to see more. It includes a closeup of the girl in the Dangerous poster and a couple of interesting comments. -Ron

Mark Ryden’s personal site

Mark Ryden: The Album Covers

I’ve already pointed out that Mark Ryden was one of my favorite contemporary artists, and I’m not alone. I have seen his work everywhere, including on many album covers. One of Ryden’s favorite subjects is the young girl, which he often paints or illustrates in the so-called baby doll style. In the introduction to this site I mentioned how a lot of artists—particularly those in the lowbrow movement—place nude and/or erotic children (girls especially) in a surreal, comedic or horrific context, or sometimes all three together, and Ryden is no exception. Dariusz SkitekAndrew PolushkinTrevor BrownDino VallsCaitlin KarolczakYummyKitty and Beth Moore-Love are all artists I’ve posted here who have followed this trend, but Ryden is, hands down, the king of it. Hell, he’s practically an artistic movement unto himself.

So, without further adieu . . .

I bet a lot of you didn’t know that Ryden did this memorable cover for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album, huh?

michael-jackson-dangerous

Mark Ryden – Michael Jackson – Dangerous (cover)

Mark Ryden - Michael Jackson - Dangerous (cover) (detail)

Mark Ryden – Michael Jackson – Dangerous (cover) (detail)

Michael Jackson – The King of Pop (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Michael Jackson

Mark Ryden - Red Hot Chili Peppers - One Hot Minute (cover)

Mark Ryden – Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute (cover)

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Wikipedia: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Mark Ryden - Jack Off Jill - Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers (cover)

Mark Ryden – Jack Off Jill – Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers (cover)

Jack Off Jill (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Jack Off Jill

Several of Ryden’s works show up on Scarling albums and posters:

Scarling - Band Aid Covers the Bullet Hole [cover]

Mark Ryden – Scarling – Band Aid Covers the Bullet Hole (cover)

Scarling - So Long, Scarecrow [cover]

Mark Ryden – Scarling – So Long, Scarecrow (cover)

Scarling - Sweet Heart Dealer [cover]

Mark Ryden – Scarling – Sweet Heart Dealer (cover)

Mark Ryden - Scarling - Curiosa Festival postcard

Mark Ryden – Scarling – Curiosa Festival postcard

Scarling

Wikipedia: Scarling

Mark Ryden - Various Artists - Alright, This Time Just the Girls Vol. 1 (cover)

Mark Ryden – Various Artists – Alright, This Time Just the Girls Vol. 1 (cover)

Mark Ryden - Various Artists - Their Sympathetic Majesties Request (cover)

Mark Ryden – Various Artists – Their Sympathetic Majesties Request (cover)

Mark Ryden (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Mark Ryden

Comments:

From xavier raby on May 30, 2012
I am a big fan of Mark Ryden
My favorite is “goodbye bear”, so sad but so emotional
Currently I create a painting inspired by one of his paintings
it is not yet online
you can see my works here: http://xavierraby.com
facebook page link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/xavier-raby/188993831167757

From pipstarr72 on May 30, 2012
Nice work! Quite pleasantly creepy. The tree creatures sort of remind me of Nirvana’s Incesticide album cover, but I think my favorite is the Phacochoerus Zebra. Thanks for sharing!

Eye on Alice: Alice-Themed Album Covers

There is literally enough Alice in Wonderland and Alice-related items to fill an entire blog or website in itself, and I’ve even happened upon a few.  So it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are several album covers that feature either direct or indirect nods to Lewis Carroll’s heroine and the fantastic world she found herself in.  Here are the ones I could find online, and no doubt there are many that I’ve missed.  Frequently these are rather dark, though not always.

Annihilator is, as you might expect, a heavy metal band, and they have had more than one reference to Alice both on their album covers and in their lyrics; and these definitely fall on the dark end of the spectrum.  And the young lady on the cover of the first one looks a bit like Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire, doesn’t she?

annihilator-alice-in-hell-cover

Annihilator – Alice in Hell (cover)

This one manages to reference both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan:

Annihilator – Never, Neverland (cover)

Annihilator – Never, Neverland (cover)

Wikipedia: Annihilator

Buck-Tick is a weird Japanese band (I know, I know, that’s almost redundant) and apparently their song “Alice in Wonder Underground” was released as a single.  It has a music video which also plays with Alice symbolism, and some images which technically aren’t cover art (at least, I don’t think so) but are associated with the single somehow.  If I could read Japanese I’d be able to find out for sure.

Buck-Tick – Alice in Wonder Underground (1)

Buck-Tick – Alice in Wonder Underground (1)

Buck-Tick – Alice in Wonder Underground (2)

Buck-Tick – Alice in Wonder Underground (2)

Buck-Tick (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Buck-Tick

The following album by the jazz band David Hazeltine Trio is called Alice in Wonderland, though the cover references the story only vaguely and obliquely.  The nude female on the cover, seen from the back, is probably an adult, but the size and style of her hair makes it difficult to judge her age, so the cover is going up here.  I rather like the image anyway.

Edit: I have since discovered that this is a Jan Saudek photo.

Jan Saudek - David Hazeltine Trio – Alice in Wonderland (cover) (1)

Jan Saudek – David Hazeltine Trio – Alice in Wonderland (cover) (1)

David Hazeltine Trio – Alice in Wonderland (cover) (2)

Jan Saudek – David Hazeltine Trio – Alice in Wonderland (cover) (2)

John Entwistle started out as the bassist for The Who, but he also released several solo albums, including arguably his best one, Whistle Rhymes.  Among the musicians who contributed to the album was the then-relatively unknown Peter Frampton.  The album’s cover art without a doubt draws on Alice in Wonderland: a little girl in Victorian dress is seen wandering through woods inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, most of which show up in the Alice books (mice, hedgehogs, and a turtle.)

John Entwistle – Whistle Rhymes (cover)

John Entwistle – Whistle Rhymes (cover)

The John Entwistle Foundation

Wikipedia: John Entwistle

Nolwenn Leroy – Le Cheshire Cat & Moi (cover)

Nolwenn Leroy – Le Cheshire Cat & Moi (cover)

Nolwenn Leroy – Bretonne (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Nolwenn Leroy

Here’s another one with a dark theme. Paice, Ashton & Lord consisted of two former members of Deep Purple—Ian Paice and Jon Lord—Tony Ashton, Paul Martinez and Bernie Marsden. Malice in Wonderland was their only studio album.  This image is in fact from a Graham Ovenden-illustrated version of Alice.

Graham Ovenden – Paice Ashton Lord – Malice in Wonderland (cover)

Graham Ovenden – Paice Ashton Lord – Malice in Wonderland (cover)

The image for the above cover is from one of Graham Ovenden’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1969/70).  The image was published in his monograph published by Academy Editions in 1987. -Ron

Wikipedia: Graham Ovenden

Wikipedia: Paice, Ashton & Lord

I know very little about Randy Greif or this album, other than that it was considered quite tedious and pretentious by the author of the single review of it I read; take that for whatever it’s worth. The cover has little to do with the original source material, but it does have an image of a young girl on it.

Randy Greif – Alice in Wonderland (cover)

Randy Greif – Alice in Wonderland (cover)

Wikipedia: Randy Greif

Finally we get to a band I really love—Screaming Trees! Not only is this a great grunge band, this creepy album cover was created by one of my favorite artists, Mark Ryden (we’ll see more of him here very soon, I promise.) Awesome.

Mark Ryden – Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia (cover)

Mark Ryden – Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia (cover)

Mark Ryden (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Mark Ryden

Screaming Trees (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Screaming Trees

Goth band The Birthday Massacre has drawn heavily on the Alice in Wonderland mythos both lyrically and aesthetically. The following covers reference Alice to varying degrees.

The Birthday Massacre – Looking Glass (cover)

The Birthday Massacre – Looking Glass (cover)

The Birthday Massacre – Violet (cover)

The Birthday Massacre – Violet (cover)

The Birthday Massacre – Walking with Strangers (cover)

The Birthday Massacre – Walking with Strangers (cover)

The Birthday Massacre (Official Site)

Wikipedia: The Birthday Massacre

Finally, we have the cover for an actual audio recording of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, produced by Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre.

Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre Presents ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (cover)

Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre Presents ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (cover)

Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre

Edit: the following was included at the suggestion of a commenter and is thus a late edition to the article. – Pip

Nazareth - Malice in Wonderland (cover)

Nazareth – Malice in Wonderland (cover)