Mark Ryden – Master of Meat and Madness

The Ringmaster.

It is an undeniable fact, that human beings are drawn to the strange, the bizarre, the macabre and so forth, just look at newspapers or news websites, no one cares for good news as for the most part, it’s just plain boring.  No, people want to read about tragedies, disasters, the weird and wonderful, these are the things that hold our interest.  Mark Ryden meets the aforementioned criteria, in that his work is disturbingly bizarre and deliciously creepy.

Ryden’s fascination with the macabre has been with him since childhood, and during his youth, his teachers would be puzzled as to why his drawings of dogs would be depicted as having their intestines showing…

Pine tree nymph.

Raised in Southern California, Ryden studied illustration and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1987 and made his breakthrough debut in 1998 with The Meat Show, an extensive list of his work can be viewed here.  A modern-day surrealist savant, using oil paint to bring his creations to life, his subject matter of choice includes, monsters, religious icons, animals, medical implements, movie stars and more, but his style is perhaps best recognized for the excessive use of engorged heads, large eyes and porcelain doll-type features in his work, oh, and not forgetting the inclusion of meat…lots of it.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a distinct lack of information on Ryden as apart from his home page, and a Wikipedia entry, there isn’t a hell of a lot about him, which is weird because he has a rather extensive repertoire including album cover design for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Jackson, Ringo Starr, Scarling and Jack Off Jill (sadly, defunct), as well as book covers for Stephen King’s novels –  Desperation and The Regulators and painted portraits of well-known celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Christina Ricci (Ryden’s style compliments the latter’s Gothic features wonderfully).

Mark Ryden is an avid collector of many things, and hoards items of interest which he incorporates into his work, and likes to frequent the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles for inspiration and possibly more collectibles;

I do seem to gravitate to old toys, religious items, medical items, old children’s books, and strange characters in the form of an old decrepit stuffed animal or other toy.  I like toys that are supposed to be cute but actually look a bit strange or scary, it is interesting how, from the endless sea of stuff out there, certain things jump out – cited from Bizarre Magazine, March 2006.

I can only imagine the amount of depth and hidden meanings in a picture like this, riddled with so many symbols and oddities...

Ryden does his work at night (not too hard to imagine) and on one such evening he remarks;

The distinct smell of walnuts in the air broke my concentration.  It was very quiet.  A strange breeze gently blew through my studio.  I suddenly became aware of something on my shoulder.  Surprisingly, I was not startled to find a wee Abraham Lincoln sitting right there on my shoulder.  We looked at each other for just a moment.  Then he very softly whispered in my ear, ‘Paint Meat…’  – cited from Bizarre Magazine, March 2006.

Well, seems legit, after-all, it certainly explains the weird subject matter and his affinity for bovine products and Abe Lincoln.   I shall definitely be keeping a close eye on any future releases that Ryden may have, and I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on some of the merchandise available, though, expectantly, a lot of it isn’t easy on the wallet with items such as The Snow Yak Show Print Portfolio fetching for $4750.00 USD, ouch.

This time-lapse video, shows Ryden at work painting Incarnation.  Its mesmerizing to watch him paint especially considering that he starts with the background, carving out a silhouette for the central figure to be painted in last, amazing.  If you like your weirdness with a slice (or two) of meat and madness, Mark Ryden is the perfect inspiration for aspiring artists fascinated by the surreal and the creepy.  Think it’s about time I dust off the old pencil myself and see what I can come up with.

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