Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 5

Now we are in the home stretch of the Sublimated Sexuality series (only one more post and it will be completed). If you haven’t already perused them, or you wish to review the series, you can find the other parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

15) Anthropomorphism of animals and objects – With respect to anthropomorphic animals, much of what was said in the animals, masks and monsters categories applies here as well, but I think this separate category is warranted, especially as it includes non-living objects. Anthropomorphism is a common characteristic of children’s media, so it’s natural that it would also occur in pop surrealist art in which children are subjects, particularly in a darkly satirical context.

There’s something a bit leering and creepy about that moon, no?

Ana Bagayan – Moon Babies

Ana Bagayan (official site)

James Jean can always by counted on to produce excellent dreamlike imagery. Anthropomorphic flowers? Where have we seen those before? Ah, yes: Alice in Wonderland. I suspect it’s no accident that that particular story is frequently referenced,  overtly or otherwise, in this work!

James Jean – Aurelians (2016)

James Jean (official site)

Food is another thing which is often anthropomorphized in this type of art, usually with some rather morbid implications. The title in this next piece is a disturbing pun. The adorable little girl might be regarded as “eye candy” in the symbolic sense, but the cupcake’s eyes are literal eye candy, and one of them is about to be eaten!

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Eye Candy

Nicoletta Ceccoli (official site)

Kokomoo – (Title Unknown)

Deidre L. Morton (Peemonster) – Eden Dream

Rabbits are a commonly anthropomorphized animal in this art. Again, could this be an allusion to Alice? This first image certainly feels quite reminiscent of Carroll’s creation. Note too the resemblance of the rabbit’s pair of pendulums to dangling cherries.

Masaru Shichinohe – (Title Unknown)

Artnet: Masaru Shichinohe

Stephen Mackey – Magic Uncle

Stephen Mackey (official site)

16) The presence of death and decay – It makes perfect sense that references to death would also appear in this work, serving as a memento mori to remind viewers that life is short and fleeting, and that there may be an eternal afterlife in which we are judged and dealt with according to how we lived our lives, so we had better not harm anyone, especially the vulnerable . . . such as children. Furthermore, death is disgusting and frightening, so its juxtaposition with children works as another example of dissuasion by association.

Hiroyuki Mano – Stone Mirror

DeviantArt: DensenManiya

Nils Karsten – Heaven in Orange

Nils Karsten (official site)

Ana Bagayan – Heaven

Timothy Cummings – Sudden Scenario

Timothy Cummings (official site)

Audrey Kawasaki – Isabelle (2006)

Audrey Kawasaki (official site)

Jackie Skrzynski – Cold Comfort (2007)

Jackie Skrzynski (official site)

Juniper trees have a fascinating association with death and misfortune. Some may recall the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Juniper Tree, which involves the murder of a mother and her young son. In Welsh legend cutting down a juniper tree meant the feller was bound to die, and many dream interpreters believe that dreaming of juniper trees is extremely unlucky, especially for those who are ill. Modern horror author Peter Straub also penned a story called The Juniper Tree, about a young boy who is sexually abused by a stranger at a movie theater.

Cornelia Renz – The Juniper Tree (2006)

Cornelia Renz (official site)

17) Subversion of religion and the sacred – Complimenting themes of death in this work (or in some cases contrasting against or satirizing them) is the subverting of religious themes, particularly Christianity.

Generally I try to feature only one work per artist in each category, since there are so many worthy artists, but these two paintings by Amy Crehore absolutely have to be featured together as they tell an amusing/disturbing little story. While you’d think it’s the demon who is the true threat here, the second piece in the series reveals who really wields the power!

Amy Crehore – Story of Lolita, Part 1

Amy Crehore – Story of Lolita, Part 2

The Art of Amy Crehore (official site)

Scott G. Brooks – The Heavenly Virtues: Bravery (Girl with Pet Goat) (2004)

Scott G Brooks Studios (official site)

Teiji Hayama – Ekho

Asia Contemporary Art: Teiji Hayama

Stu Mead – First Communion (2004)

Stu Mead (official site)

Heidi Taillefer – Sovereign Side (2008)

Heidi Taillefer (official site)

Mike Cockrill – Nativity (2004)

Mike Cockrill (official site)

Mark Ryden does religious satire so frequently that I had a tough time narrowing it down to just one piece. Nevertheless . . .

Mark Ryden – The Angel of Meat

Mark Ryden (official site)

This next piece is both a subversion of a well-known biblical event (Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac) and a commentary by the artist on the nature of his own work, since dolls feature prominently in his paintings and sculptures. We will definitely see him again in the final installment of this series.

Mikel Glass – Sacrifice of Subject Matter

Mikel Glass (official site)

Jana Brike – Two Wounded Angels on the Beach

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 3

In the third part of our Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art series (Parts 1 and 2 are here and here, respectively), we’re taking a look at three more identifying characteristics of this kind of art.  We’ll number them nine through eleven. Let’s get right to it.

9) The presence of creepy, exotic or overly cute animals – This element stands in contrast to more straightforward images of kids and animals together, which tend mainly to feature commonly domesticated beasts like horses and dogs.  Frequently these animals become metaphors for or pointers to, if not direct participants in, youthful sexuality.  There are a number of ways we can read this, and not all of these images are based on the same motivation, but I think it’s safe to say that the main idea here is tying child sexuality to something disgusting and inhuman.  The important takeaway, however, is that such artworks do not ultimately deny the existence of child sexuality; they simply seek to oppose it by associating it with the vulgar and off-putting parts of nature, the critters that horrify and disgust us.

Notice that the walking stick is dangling from the girl’s unusually red and fleshy lips. Subtle, no?

Ana Bagayan – Phasmida

Ana Bagayan (Official Site)

Like moths to a flame . . .

Jana Brike – I Am Your Moonlight and Flower Garden

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Take note of the serpent in the background here, very much reminiscent of a certain devious tempter in a certain garden. If the crocodile devours her vine-like tears, do they then become crocodile tears? Don’t feel sorry for this little fairy. She’s deceiving you.

Hsiao Ron Cheng – Crocodile Is Eating My Sorrow

Hsiao Ron Cheng (Official Site)

Nothing at all Freudian about this image, right?

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Incanto

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Incanto (detail)

Nicoletta Ceccoli (Official Site)

Fish and other slimy sea creatures appear often in these artworks. I propose they are both a sign of corrupted (and corrupting) femininity and a symbol of the subconscious mind, which generally manifests in this work as murky water. But we’ll get to that in time.

KuKula – The Little Tailor

KuKula (Official Site)

Melissa Haslam – Girl with Fish

Melissa Haslam (Official Site)

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Lorelei

Ana Bagayan – Undersea Moon

Even when the fluffier, cuter animals (domesticated or otherwise) do appear, often they still become unwitting tools in the child’s sexual awakening, thus undermining the myth of perfect childhood innocence.  This would be a more mature approach than the disgust-by-association method of the images above, if not for the fact that all too often the artists tend to play these as humor or satire.

Rats are another animal usually associated with disease and corruption.

Audrey Kawasaki – Ratgirl (2005)

Audrey Kawasaki (Official Site)

Lola Gil – Punchy

Lola Gil (Official Site)

Gilles Vranckx is mostly known for serious images of women in erotic poses. This little girl and her rabbit companion have a noticeably different effect than his usual work.

Gilles Vranckx – Innocence

DeviantArt: Vranckx

Cats have a longtime association with feminine sexuality, but here that association becomes satirical.

Jana Brike – Aphrodite with Kitten

Mike Cockrill – Kitten Cuddle (2006)

Mike Cockrill (Official Site)

KRK Ryden – Double Talk

KRK Ryden (Official Site)

10) General sense of unease and nonreality – This one perhaps should’ve been number one, as it really is applicable to almost all of these works, but I’m providing them in no particular order.  One thing I’ve noticed about many of these pieces is that they often juxtapose cuteness or beauty against the more somber or horrific elements, which creates a sense of unease, or cognitive dissonance, which I suspect is entirely the point.  When we think about child sexuality, cognitive dissonance can arise in the friction between unsolicited (and unwanted) sexual feelings and the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany them, or that we believe should accompany them.  This is a difficult dynamic to depict in a straightforward way, hence these various symbolic interpretations. Because this description encompasses pretty much the entirety of this artistic movement, I’m going to keep the examples to a minimum here.

There’s something reminiscent of Donnie Darko in those hanging rabbits, which, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know has a subplot in which a prominent character is revealed near the end to be a pedophile. I’d again like to point out that many of these images feature more than one of the traits I’ve been outlining, such as the animals and the suggestions of violence in some of the following examples.

Ramis Kim – Where is the Bunnyman That I Saw Yesterday?

Flickr: Ramis Kim

Hiroyuki Mano – Mofumofu

DeviantArt: DensenManiya

Hsiao Ron Cheng – Dinosaur Is Eating My Friend

KRK Ryden – A Sunday Drive to Hell (1998)

Finally, a nice pared-down example of the sort of juxtaposition I’m talking about: this cute cartoonish little girl wouldn’t be out of place in a children’s book if not for the (I assume) menstrual blood gushing down her leg.

Cornelia Renz – Sunny Side Up

Cornelia Renz (Official Site)

11) Confusion of adult and child roles – Another recurring characteristic of this art is the placement of adults in the role of children and the placement of children in the role of adults, especially the latter.  These pieces often covertly delineate the fear many modern adults feel of being supplanted (sometimes violently) by younger generations and the dread of the physical and sexual vitality of youth. Children become powerful in these images, while adults are depicted as weak.

Caleb Weintraub – Down with Escapism

Caleb Weintraub (Official Site)

Mark Ryden – Sophia’s Mercurial Waters

Mark Ryden – Sophia’s Mercurial Waters (detail)

Mark Ryden (Official Site)

Scott G. Brooks – Little Lyndie Lou Hoo Plays Army (2005)

Scott G Brooks Studios (Official Site)

Mike Cockrill – An Artist with Flair (2008)

Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 2

In the second part of our series (you can read the first part here; if you haven’t already, I recommend doing so now) we’ll be looking at a few more of the common traits to this work. Let’s get to them, shall we?

(5) Partial or full nudity – As I’ve said before, it may be difficult for Americans to comprehend, living as we do in a society where casual nudity even of very small children is considered highly taboo, but nudity and sexuality are not always coincident. America is actually an anomaly in that regard. We have fetishized nudity by regarding it as inherently sexual, which creates undue problems when it’s a child that’s nude. Thus, nudity in the context of subversive girl art is more potent than it would be otherwise, as these artists are certainly well aware. There are so many good examples of this sub-category that I simply couldn’t limit it to three or four.

Aleksandra Waliszewska – (Title Unknown)

Flickr: Aleksandra Waliszewska

Carmen Roig – Untitled

Chamber Art: Carmen Roig

Much of the work of Cornelia Renz—again not a Lowbrow artist, but a sister in arms, so to speak—reminds me in some respects of Henry Darger’s stuff. This piece is a bit unusual for her in that it’s dominated by a single central figure.

Cornelia Renz – Hobby Horse (2007)

Cornelia Renz (official site)

Cristina Vergano is not a Lowbrow artist per se, but much of her work would fit naturally into that movement. Incidentally, the Latin phrase at right of the image reads something like “Sweet laughing petty Venus and envious bitch.” The goddess Venus being recast as a child is not new (I’ve done it myself) but it’s always interesting and provocative, given that she is essentially a sex goddess.

Cristina Vergano – Untitled

Cristina Vergano (official site)

Mark Ryden – Pet Yak

Mark Ryden (Official Site)

Dariusz Skitek is another artist I’ve featured before on Pigtails.

Dariusz Skitek – Seven Sleepers

Deviant Art: Dariusz Skitek

Mike Cockrill – Electra (2006)

Mike Cockrill (official site) – Cockrill’s website also appears to be getting an overhaul, but for now it’s still available.

There are no angels in her underwear, proclaims the title of this next piece. Well, it’s really no wonder, since she doesn’t appear to be wearing any!

Nils Karsten – No Angel in My Underwear

Nils Karsten (official site)

(6) Aliens or monsters; references to alienness and monstrosity – This goes back to the idea of monsters being the Evil Other, the great existential threat symbolized in strange and terrible forms. In associating them with the eroticized child, the artist is clarifying the danger in following this mental thread too far, and the fear of becoming the monster themselves: the socially reviled pedophile. By projecting it into their work, they effectively distance themselves from it. These images and all their associated weirdness stand in direct contrast to the accepted paradigm. Monsters in themselves define the natural paradigm by being rare and antithetical to it. As the essay What is a monster? at the Cambridge University site makes clear:

It might seem counter-intuitive, but beasts that seemingly mixed the characteristics of different natural groups were not troubling. Rather, they reinforced categories by clarifying the defining criteria for these groups. By transgressing, they helped to determine boundaries. To define a deviant form, such as a ‘deformed’ baby or calf, or a ‘monstrous’ exotic creature, you have to define ‘normal’.

Pedophilia, whether carried out or not, is the consummate modern monster, the most unnatural and deviant of sexualities in the collective consciousness. The desired children must therefore be shown in context with all that we find detestable, including monsters . . .

Jana Brike – Girl and a 7-Headed Hydra

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Alex Kuno – The Miscreants of Tiny Town – Sally and the Serpent

Alex Kuno (official site)

Candice Tripp – My Favorite Monster

Candice Tripp (official site)

Mark Ryden – Abominable

. . . even if that means the children themselves become the monsters.

Ana Bagayan – Reptilian Hybrid

Ana Bagayan (official site)

Nicoletta Ceccoli – Dangerous Liaisons

Nicoletta Ceccoli (official site)

Cristina Vergano – Lisbon, July 1652 (Their Voices)

Deidre L. Morton (Peemonster) – (Title Unknown)

(7) Acts of violence or suggested violence – Violence has a long tradition of being a stand-in for sex in art and media. Stabbing in particular can symbolically represent an act of rape. But any violent act can be a means to end unwanted sexual desires, as violence serves as both a psychological mechanism for the desirer to emotionally distance himself from the desiree (lashing out violently at the desired person or persons sharply and instantly alters one’s emotions, as well as removing the object of desire, temporarily or permanently) and, like monsters, a way of associating that which repulses us with something we wish to be more repulsed by. Little girls are both the agents and recipients of violence in these images; it’s tough to decide which is more disturbing.

Alex Kuno – The Miscreants of Tiny Town – The Grisly Discovery (2009)

Caleb Weintraub’s work is filled with an apocalyptic vision in which children become agents of chaos and perpetrators of violence against adults. He slyly references the popular childhood game of Operation in this next piece, but it doesn’t take long to realize this is actually a cannibalistic feast. Notice the genital mutilation of both the man on the table and the woman lying on the floor at right, as well as the snack being munched on by the girl in the green checked shirt. These references cannot be accidental.

Caleb Weintraub – (Title Unknown)

Caleb Weintraub (official site)

In Carmen Roig’s Happy B-Day, a little girl who looks distressingly like Marlier’s Martine is pierced through by several swords. Recall what I said earlier about stabbing and rape, and notice the clergy paper doll outfits to either side of the girl. There are exactly nine swords in the image. Anyone passingly familiar with the Tarot will immediately see the implication: many Tarot experts consider the Nine of Swords to be one of the worst cards in the deck, a representation of mental anguish, feelings of worry and guilt. Taken all together, these clues seem to add up to a commentary on sexual abuse by priests. The priests then are appropriately headless and faceless, not individual abusers but symbols of a much larger problem.

Carmen Roig – Happy B-Day

On the other end is Jana Brike’s The Cain Complex, the title of which refers to a psychological phenomenon of extreme hatred and jealousy of, and rivalry with, a sibling, usually a brother. This is of course based on the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. That the aggressive sibling in this image is a female is interesting, and there is an unmistakable sexual implication in the nudity and positioning of the figures.

Jana Brike – Book of Taboo – The Cain Complex

Mark Ryden – The Cloven Bunny (2003)

trevor-brown-bloodsucker-forbidden-fruit-1996

Trevor Brown – Bloodsucker (1996)

Baby Art (Trevor Brown official site)

(8) Twins and doppelgängers – Twins, doppelgängers, mirror image characters or otherwise very similar figures appear frequently enough to be notable. Twins and lookalikes can be cultural markers of the strange or alien (think of the Grady twins from The Shining).  The appearance of creepy twins in art and media is frequent enough to have become a trope.  In the context of this erotic (or perhaps anti-erotic is a better descriptor) girl art, it is simply yet another element of the uncanny being coupled with the desired to render them undesirable.

Cristina Vergano – I Love and I Hate

Jana Brike – Milk and Blood – Weavers

dariusz-skitek-my-little

Dariusz Skitek – My Little Hell

LostFish – (Title Unknown)

LostFish (Official Site)

Triplets count too, even if they are much rarer.

Jana Brike – The Day When Time Stood Still

Mark Ryden – The Piano Player

Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art, Part 1

I said in my post on Arwassa that I would do a series on Lowbrow artists with a focus on young girls, and I have every intention of honoring that. However, I’ve been mulling it over on how best to approach this, and I’ve decided that rather than focus on individual artists who fit within that movement, I’m going to do this another way, at least for the first few posts (the Arwassa post aside). What interests me most about this type of art, and art in a similar vein, is that there are several recurring elements and themes throughout, and I propose that they are ultimately in service to an important psychological phenomenon currently proliferating through Western culture. To put it euphemistically, now that it’s been well-established that children and sex don’t mix very well, what do we do with the sexual insecurity caused by the inappropriate feelings towards children that I believe almost all adults are prone to from time to time?

Now, please note that I am not suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is a pedophile or potential pedophile. Pedophilia is a medical designation with a fairly specific set of criteria, and it clearly doesn’t apply to most people. But it is my contention that nearly everyone has had the occasional thought, fantasy or impulse to be sexual with someone who is physically and/or emotionally immature. Despite what detractors may say, human sexuality is primal and complex, with a lot of gray areas, unplanned quirks and latent motivations we don’t always understand, and these deep-rooted devils can result in some fairly convoluted mental gymnastics to repress or deny to ourselves what we have felt. I think such feelings, as much as they may disturb us when we face them head-on, are fairly common and normal. Nevertheless, they are obviously not discussed in the open and give rise to psychological phenomena such as projection and sublimation, including into artistic expressions.

But given how controversial and taboo such feelings are in today’s world, we rarely see these expressions presented as is. What happens instead is that these impulses are somewhat disguised or transmuted into safer or less objectionable representations, or they are thematically linked with other things or events which thoroughly repulse the artist (and by proxy the consumers of his or her artistic output), a bolstering of the desired reaction to such a verboten concept. This is not a new occurrence, of course, but it’s ongoing—and rising—popularity, despite its fringe nature, can only be explained as a growing awareness of the ways in which a phenomenon built on the back of a moral panic is processed both by individuals and by society as a whole, so that the feedback loop becomes self-reinforcing, which is how I imagine an otherwise marginal movement becomes mainstream, or at least no longer on the social periphery.

At any rate, having examined a huge range of this art, I have determined that there are twenty-one recurring themes that link this “movement” (like Symbolism, the erotic girl-child in modern surrealism is not so much a movement of its own as it is mainly a trans-movement that happens to be largely contained within a movement yet is not limited to it), and I shall present examples of each from an assortment of artists over the course of several posts. This is not to say that individual artists will not get their own posts. Some will, particularly those with a large range of applicable pieces and important artists in the pop surrealist movement overall. But it’s important, I think, to familiarize ourselves with the common symbols and themes that link these images, and to examine their relevance with respect to my thesis.

One last thing: I am not at all saying that these trends are always a conscious goal to sublimate unwanted pedophilic desires. In fact, I suspect it rarely is, and it’s entirely probable that the artists are barely aware of the instincts they may be sublimating. That does not, however, decrease their power. Alright, so let’s get started.

(1) References to sexuality or sexual acts – It’s essential in comprehending this work that we recognize that not all of the sexual features of this art are entirely rendered into symbolic or allegorical form. Indeed, it is our first and foremost clue as to what purpose the art serves for its creators and fans. Thus . . .

An eye can become uncomfortably vulvic if arranged perpendicular to its normal orientation, especially if said eye isn’t paired with another. Speaking of eyes, Ana Bagayan’s works fits comfortably in the big-eyed waif/baby doll tradition, but we’ll get to that.

Ana Bagayan – Vega

Ana Bagayan – Fae

Ana Bagayan (official website)

Children confronting adult sexuality shows up occasionally in this work. There is an interesting connotation here. Could “Sebastian” be a homosexual who was persecuted by the 50s-style father, who has turned his children against LGBT folks as well? In any case, the resemblance of the nude male to Michelangelo’s David is unmistakable, and the Amors caught in the crossfire of the little archers suggests love is also a casualty of this execution.

Scott G. Brooks – Sebastian of the Suburbs (2008)

Scott G. Brooks (official website)

Stu Mead – Bedroom Dance (1998)

Stu Mead (official website)

Often it is animals that bring attention to the girl’s sexuality, either as harbingers of it or as direct participants.

Jana Brike – Book of Taboo – Five Sins of Amelia

Squarespace: Jana Brike

Notice the cherries on the ground here:

Rene Lynch – Icons – The Messenger (2006)

Rene Lynch (official site)

Fetishistic outfits and accoutrements become satirical when worn by children.

Jana Brike – The Wet Dreams

trevor-brown-bondage-bear-rubber-doll-2005

Trevor Brown – Bondage Bear – Rubber Doll (2005)

Baby Art (Trevor Brown official site)

There is also a male companion piece by Taillefer for the little female cherub below. You can see him here. Incidentally, an oenophile is a lover of wine. I have no idea what that has to do with the image though, other than a suggestion of general hedonism.

Heidi Taillefer – Oenophile

Heidi Taillefer (official site)

(2) Humor and satire – But most of the child sexuality in these works isn’t nearly so overt and confrontational. That it surfaces directly from time to time is perfectly understandable. Sexual instincts are messy. But even when such blatant eroticism makes its way into these works, it tends to be packaged as satire, as is the case with all of the above images. Without its most provocative side showing, much of this young girl art remains satiric in nature, and we can therefore add this as the second of our common characteristics.

Ron English’s clown kid art is the prime example. Clowns serve basically two purposes in modern culture: as satire and as fodder for horror. English embraces the former by presenting clowns as children who indulge in adult pursuits like drinking, smoking and gambling. Sex is merely subtly implied (by the extremely short dress worn by the girl clown in this image).

Ron English – Clown Kids Smoking

Ron English’s Popaganda (official site)

On the other end of the spectrum (but no less absurd) is Mike Cockrill’s clown-murdering Lolitas. Underlying this theme is the pervading fear of many modern parents that they are little more than ineffectual clowns in the face a society where their children are becoming increasingly more worldly and empowered, and the kids will eventually replace all of us hidebound fuddy duddies with their New World Order.

Mike Cockrill – Gossip Girls (2010)

Mike Cockrill – Target (2009)

Mike Cockrill (official site)

Another satirical angle is the adoption of light pop culture elements like cartoons and classic comics juxtaposed against general weirdness. This style was of course exemplified by Robert Williams, founder of pop surrealism, but as his work rarely features little girls, we will instead focus on the work of KRK Ryden (older brother of Mark Ryden, who may be better known, but KRK, ten years Mark’s senior, became an artist well before Mark did). Both brothers’ work is laden with little girls, but for different reasons. In KRK’s work they serve as the moral and spiritual center of an otherwise out-of-control culture, though they certainly aren’t spared KRK’s satiric touch.

KRK Ryden – Rendevouz (2007)

KRK Ryden – Shitzville

KRK Ryden (official site)

(3) Cartoonish body exaggerations, particularly of the head, face and eyes – This leads naturally into our third common trait. You should have realized by now that much of this art features more than one of these traits, but of them all, this may be the most universal. Of course, not all of the figures in the art have this trait, but a solid majority appears to. Cartoons are cute and nonthreatening, and that’s partly the point here. Does it become more troubling when the cartoon girls are behaving more humanly? More… grown-up?

Audrey Kawasaki – Lick Face (2005)

Audrey Kawasaki (official site)

LostFish – My Melody Dolly (2011)

LostFish (official site)

The references to Orwell and the modern surveillance state gives this next piece even more relevance in light of our thesis. One common fear among those who have had erotic thoughts about the underaged is that if they aren’t careful and pursue the thoughts too far on the internet, they might be exposed and labeled for life. Overcompensation is common, but these fears still manage to be expressed in symbolic ways, even if several steps removed from their original aspect.

Mario S. Nevado (Aégis) & Liran Szeiman – Big Brother (2013)

Aégis Strife (Mario Nevado official site)

Liransz (Liran Szeiman official site)

Mark Ryden’s name has of course become synonymous with this style.

Mark Ryden – St. Barbie

Mark Ryden (official site)

(4) Girl-women; actual age or maturity level of figures difficult or impossible to discern – And finally for this post, another recurring theme in this work is the girl-woman, a being not quite child and not quite woman but something in-between, and not necessarily adolescent either, but rather an almost alien or mutant form that could be either but feels almost ageless. The cultural value here is similar to that of the kawaii concept in Japan: it is the ability to give anything, including adult sexuality, a sheen of child-like innocence and cuteness without surrendering entirely to a pedophilic instinct. Not that it would be a problem for most people anyway, if only they accepted it for what it was and moved on. But as a species we seem doomed to never move beyond our sexual hangups. How fortunate for fans of subversive art!

Audrey Kawasaki – Horsegirl (2006)

Jana Brike – Parallel Lives – Beekeeper’s Bride

Pay attention to the details of this John John Jesse piece:

John John Jesse – Petit Lapin

Instagram: John John Jesse

Kukula – Wind-Up Girl

Kukula (official site)

Most of these artists will appear again in future installments of this series.

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 [This site is now restricted]

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)