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Flaunt Magazine
February 2005

Upon initial viewing, every object or character in any one of Mark Ryden's paintings seems like it is in exactly the right place. After realizing that these things happen to be, for example, garlic, the green skeleton of a two-homed quadruped, and the Devil holding some raw meat, it's tempting to have second thoughts. But still, everything fits which usually leads to attempts to decipher what's going on, to figure out the exact meaning of every image: why it's there, what it's doing, what it's supposed to make us think, and where it comes from. Daunting as it is, this may prove an exceptionally monumental task when faced with Wondertoonel," a retrospective that mixes paintings from "Blood," "Bunnies & Bees," and "The Meat Show". Each of these series explores a different theme, but together, they retain a sense of visual consistency It's natural to try to figure it all out, of course.

People have been in the business of classifying and assigning names for a long time now It's one of the things we do best. And while we have much to be thankful for - encyclopedias, days of the week, verbal communication - plenty gets in the way creating a name for something is always a translation, and rarely is each and every detail brought across in the process. It's usually the ideas that seem to make perfect sense in your head that lose everything when put into words. This is usually the result of attempting to analyze what's going on in these pictures.

For art sleuths bent on decoding the true cryptic messages of his work, "historical, personal, and whatever" are a few categories that Mark Ryden offers for the origin of his images. If that doesn't help, then consider how first impressions may be the right ones: each of those things are in there because they're supposed to be, because the painting wouldn't look right without them. There's an overwhelming sense of appropriateness of placement in Ryden's paintings. Every element, from the size of the painting (often very very small) to the way it is painted (slowly) to the place where it is seen (in a museum, obviously though Ryden imagines that maybe a more ornate, church-like setting might also be fitting) is important.

The truth is, "historical, personal, and whatever" describes perfectly what goes on in any of Ryden's paintings, although any other number of explanations would work, too. That's because the world they depict is not a foreign one, really (they're full of familiar images), but their precise source is a place as hard to pin down as anything else. You could call it anima mundi, zeitgeist, some kind of collective consciousness, the wide world of "art," or "whatever," but these are just approximations. They come from the same wellspring as religious icons, pop icons, comic books, cartoons, encyclopedia illustrations-but they are also direct representations of these things. Chances are that everything that appears in the art is something you've seen somewhere before, or at least feel like you have. The stumbling block is trying to articulate what ties them together, if you're unsatisfied by the fact that they are all just things to look at: bunnies, skulls, Abraham Lincolns. Undeniably these are aesthetically appealing objects. And that's it. Right?

No, not quite. There are distinct moods that accompany the first reaction, which is often aided by the painting's size. The small ones are the bloody ones, miniature to keep the gore in the realm of personal pain, to minimize the horror-movie screaming, yelling connotations, and to remain more introspective. Blood is, after d , designed to draw your attention immediately.

"If you see it, there's probably something to be concerned about," Ryden says. Keeping these paintings small calls that funny fluid's less disastrous qualities to mind-even if you're looking at a picture of a young girl bleeding from her eyes. Not all of Ryden's paintings are small. The size of each reflects its content.

"When I think of an image," he says, "it is supposed to be a certain size." Ryden has been working on his largest painting yet, and it's a wildly different creature than the saucer-sized "Blood" portraits, though he is painting it with the same meticulous attention to detail as he does his tiny pictures. In spite of its size, chances are it won't be screaming bloody murder- Ryden's paintings always seem to speak calmly, even though they speak about astonishing things.