Mark Ryden

Mark Ryden

Mark Ryden at his studio.
Born Mark Ryden
(1963-01-20) January 20, 1963
Medford, Oregon
Education Art Center College of Design
Known for Painter
Notable work The Creatrix
Snow White
The Birth
The Parlor

Mark Ryden (born January 20, 1963) is an American painter, part of the Lowbrow (or Pop Surrealist) art movement.[1] He was dubbed "the god-father of pop surrealism" by Interview Magazine.[2] Artnet named Ryden and his wife, the painter Marion Peck, the King and Queen of Pop Surrealism and one of the ten most important art couples in Los Angeles. [3] Ryden's aesthetic is developed from subtle amalgams of many sources, from Ingres, David and other French classicists to Little Golden Books.[4] Ryden also draws his inspiration from anything that will evoke mystery: old toys, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skeletons and religious ephemera found in flea markets.[1]


Early life

Ryden was born in Medford, Oregon on January 20, 1963,[5] but was raised in Southern California. Ryden is the son of Barbara and Keith Ryden. His father made a living painting, restoring and customizing cars.[6] He has two sisters and two brothers, one a fellow artist named Keyth Ryden, who works under the name KRK.[7][8] Ryden graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1987.

Early career (1988–1998)

From 1988 to 1998 Ryden made his living as a commercial artist. During this period he created numerous album covers including Michael Jackson's Dangerous, the 4 Non Blondes' Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' One Hot Minute, Jack Off Jill's Clear Hearts Grey Flowers, and Aerosmith's Love in an Elevator. Also during this time, Ryden created book covers including Stephen King's novels Desperation and The Regulators. He made a living as a commercial artist until his work was taken up by Robert Williams, a former member of the Zap Comix collective, who in 1994 put it on the cover of Juxtapoz, a magazine devoted to "lowbrow art".[8][9]

Exhibitions (1998–present)

Ryden’s solo debut show entitled "The Meat Show" was in Pasadena, California in 1998.[10] Meat is a reoccurring theme in his work. He observes the disconnect in our contemporary culture between meat we use for food and the living, breathing creature it comes from. “I suppose it is this contradiction that brings me to return to meat in my art.” According to Ryden, meat is the physical substance that makes all of us alive and through which we exist in this reality. All of us are wearing our bodies, which are like a garment of meat.[11]

A midcareer retrospective, "Wondertoonel," which refers to a cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer ("wonder-room"),[8] was co-organized in 2004 by the Frye Museum in Seattle and the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It was the best attended exhibition since the Frye Art Museum opened in 1952,[10] and also broke attendance records in Pasadena.[12] Debra Byrne, curator at the Frye at the time of Ryden’s exhibition, placed Ryden’s work in the camp of the carnivalesque—a strain of visual culture rooted in such works as Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.[8] According to the Russian author and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975), there are three forms of carnivalesque art — the ritualized spectacle, the comic composition and various genres of billingsgate (foul language) — all three of which are interwoven in Ryden's work.[8]

The Tree of Life by Mark Ryden

In 2007, “The Tree Show” opened at the Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles. In this show Ryden explores the modern human experience of nature.[12] Ryden explains, “Some people look at these massive trees and feel a sort of spiritual awe looking at them, and then other people just want to cut them up and sell them, they only see a commodity”. Ryden has created limited editions of his art to raise money for the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy.[13][14]

In 2009, Ryden's exhibition "The Snow Yak Show" was shown at the Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo.[15][16] In this exhibition his compositions were more serene and suggestive of solitude, peacefulness and introspection.

In 2010, "The Gay 90’s: Old Tyme Art Show" debuted at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. The central theme of the show referenced the idealism and sentimentalism of the 1890s while addressing the role of kitsch and nostalgia in our current culture.[17] Here Ryden explores the line between attraction and repulsion to kitsch. According to The New York Times, "Ryden’s pictures hint at the psychic stuff that pullulates beneath the sentimental, nostalgic and naïve surface of modern kitsch."[1]

Christina Ricci and Jessicka Addams are listed in several art publications as Ryden's muses. Ricci's image has appeared in over 10 of his oil paintings and numerous sketches. Addams has colaborated with Ryden and been the inspiration of many paintings and has appeared in photographs in his several published books. Singer Tove Lo has a prominent tattoo along her left upper arm with Addams harnessed to the back of a bumblebee, which is from the cover of the album Clear Hearts Grey Flowers by Jack Off Jill, the album design by Mark Ryden. [18] [19][20]

Ryden's The Tree of Life painting was included in the exhibition "The Artist's Museum, Los Angeles Artists 1980-2010" at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).[21] The exhibition showcased artists who have helped shape the artistic dialogue in Los Angeles since the founding of MOCA over 30 years ago.[21] Ryden hung on the same wall as Robert Williams.

On May 13, 2014, Ryden released an album entitled The Gay Nineties Old Tyme Music: Daisy Bell, featuring Tyler the Creator, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Katy Perry, Stan Ridgway of Wall Of Voodoo, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, Nick Cave, scarling., Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and Everlast, all giving a different rendition of the same song, "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)." The proceeds from the signed and limited edition record benefited Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit that supports musical education in disadvantaged elementary schools.[22][23]

Selected solo exhibitions


Personal life

Ryden has two children, Rosie and Jasper.[5] In 2009 he married artist Marion Peck in the Pacific Northwest rainforest.[24] He currently lives in Eagle Rock, California, where he shares a studio with his wife.[25]


  1. 1 2 3 Ken Johnson, "Mark Ryden: ‘The Gay 90s: Old Tyme Art Show", The New York Times, May 6, 2010. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  2. Interview Magazine
  3. New York Times
  4. 1 2 Mark Ryden Biography
  5. Los Angeles Times -Jan 4, 2002
  6. KRK Ryden Biography
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Wondertoonel Exhibition Book
  8. "The King of Old-time Kitsch", The Daily Beast, April 29, 2010.
  9. 1 2 The Japan Times - February 2009
  10. New York Times Magazine April 2010
  11. 1 2 LA Weekly - March 2007
  12. Porterhouse
  13. Porterhouse
  14. " Mark Ryden's "The Snow Yak" show in Tokyo" February 12, 2009
  15. The Snow Yak Show (Mark Ryden) in Tokyo Opening Night February 11, 2009
  16. Interview Magazine
  17. Velik, Karl (3 June 2014). "Tov Lo's 'Truth Serum' reveals turmoil of love". Reading Eagle. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  18. Anderson, Kirsten. Opening Night: Marion Peck's "Animals" at Michael Kohn Projects. Hi-Fructose April 5, 2013
  19. Anderson, Kirsten. Report from Mark Ryden's "The Snow Yak" show in Tokyo, Hi-Fructose February 12, 2009
  20. 1 2 MOCA
  21. Williams, Maxwell. May 02, 2014 "Katy Perry Featured on Pop Artist Mark Ryden's $100 'Gay Nineties' Album (Exclusive)" The Hollywood Reporter (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved May 3, 2014.
  22. The Gay Nineties Olde Tyme Music - Daisy Bell
  23. Ryden Peck wedding
  24. "Ryden and Peck," Bizarre, June 2009.
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