I wrote an article for his website - lifelounge (WELL worth a visit) quite some time ago. It was about Mark Ryden and I'm rather proud of it.
So a few minutes ago, under the cover of darkness, I made a night time raid, stole the banner he made and reposted the entire article here.
Here it is:
Remember that scene in The Sixth Sense when the kid who sees dead people asks Bruce Willis if he ever feels ‘the prickly things’ on the back of his neck?
That’s how I feel when I look at a Mark Ryden painting.
LA based Ryden is a masterful painter whose technical skill is as brilliant as his subject matter is … well, just plain creepy. Don’t get me wrong, these paintings are utterly captivating. But Ryden’s work has more layers upon layers upon layers than a Sara Lee Apple Strudel. And when you start scratching beneath the surface, prepare to be alarmed.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘perfect for the nursery!’ – after all, Ryden’s art looks much like the old fashioned illustrations that would have adorned your parent’s bedrooms and books when they were children.
Take The Ecstasy of Cecelia for instance.
It’s a sweet painting of a little girl in a pretty party dress playing a pink baby grand piano. But hang on, why is the giant bunny jack-in-the-box grinning like that? And is that a naked baby leaning on a leg of lamb in the corner? And then there’s the lab equipment and Abe Lincoln and … there go those prickly things on the back of my neck.
Or how about Butcher Bunny?
Yeah, I know, the title sets off alarm bells.
But there’s a real sweetness and innocence in the face of the little girl who’s leading a tiny Abe Lincoln by the hand into a butcher shop where a giant bunny plush toy is cutting up hunks of meat with a … prickle prickle prickle.
'Weird, but nice'
So by now you’re probably wondering what sort of messed up childhood this guy must have had.
Sorry to disappoint you – it was pretty normal. Mark’s dad made ends meet by painting, restoring and customising cars. His mum devoted herself to raising her five children and encouraging them in creative pursuits.
Of course, Little Mark took great delight in freaking out his teachers by drawing dogs with their intestines showing and self portraits with a third eye. And, yeah, almost all of his yearbook signatures are to a ‘weird, but nice’ guy.
Today this ‘weird, but nice’ guy’s distorted fairy tale images are exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, and his clients include Stephen King (no surprises there), Leonardo DiCaprio and Ringo Starr.
Mark Ryden deserves every success. Trained as an illustrator, he originally learned to paint in acrylic, and then taught himself to use oils. Legend has it that there’s a secret ingredient in his oil paint, but when asked about this, Ryden’s reply was a cryptic, ‘I have to keep that in the cone of silence’.
The amount of effort and care he puts into each piece is phenomenal. Do you know, it took him almost two years to complete the eight paintings in his Bunnies and Bees exhibition. That’s unusual these days where everything has to be done right NOW. But Ryden refuses to be rushed. He paints slowly, he takes his time and gets it right. Truth be told, there’s a touch of nerd about him – who else uses a magnifying glass to get every detail right? But when all’s said and done, it’s these details that make the difference between a nice painting and a spellbinding Ryden masterpiece.
So make sure you take a good look at these details. Then look again. That way, when you see a painting like Swap Meet Man you’ll notice the bunny riding a deer.
And then realise it’s actually a baby in a bunny suit riding a deer. Oh, hang on – a baby in a bunny suit sitting on the skeleton of a deer while holding its mounted head in the appropriate position.
How could I have been so mistaken?