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Mark Ryden
Mark Ryden

HI-FRUCTOSE
Spotlight on Mark ryden - Dodecahedron
By Jennifer De La Cruz

A dodecahedron is a three-dimensional symmetrical structure with twelve flat faces outlined by straight edges and cornered with sharp vertices. It is one of five Platonic solids, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who theorized that such solids were the substance upon which anything and everything is based.

Dodecahedron also happens to be the name of Los Angeles-based pop wizard Mark Ryden's latest show, on view from December 10, 2015 to January 23, 2016, at New York's Paul Kasmin Gallery. In his newest body of work, Ryden embarks on a scientific expedition, exploring the governing principles of the universe in search of being, essence, and enlightenment. In a newly imagined world, sprawling hills, budding plants, and fern forests form the picturesque coastline of a mysterious sea—the stage for Ryden's latest tale. Ryden depicts his subjects in the midst of unexpected encounters with shapes, structures, and beings that seem to have been transported from some futuristic realm into this vast, beautiful habitat for further study and contemplation. With new muses, like geodesic dome super-backer Buckminster Fuller and famed Austrian physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Erwin Schrödinger, Ryden presents viewers with advanced lessons in anatomy, biology, and quantum theory as he surveys the natural principles that connect us all.

Subtle and muted, Dodecahedron features natural hues and earth tones, a departure from Ryden's saltwater taffy-colored pastels that marked his nearly five-year time warp to the 1890s—a highly productive period for the artist, which resulted in bicoastal showings of The Gay '90s. Dodecahedron reminds us somewhat of Ryden's 2009 Tree Show, but less cutesy woodland fairytale and more Darwinian specimen study of scientific amazement. With a majority of its pieces set against lush natural backdrops, Dodecahedron recalls the landscape style that characterized much of the Northern Renaissance, with its use of aerial perspective and sweeping panoramic views of the Flemish countryside. Ryden's intense focus on scientific process and species classification evoke the painstaking detail of biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel and yield a more controlled composition from Ryden than we've seen in recent years. Even with Dodecahedron's sophisticated simplicity, Ryden still incorporates a mélange of iconography and symbols that his fans have come to know and love.

As Ryden's use of symbols continue to be an important visual component, so then does his trademark casting of inspiring and key historical figures. In Dodecahedron, Ryden trades in his usual Hollywood starlets, dead presidents, and religious deities and inducts an unassuming Buckminster Fuller and Erwin Schrödinger into his corps of muses.

In "Dymaxion Principle," the geodesic dome's favorite uncle Fuller can be seen cloaked in brown Franciscan monk robes set directly across from an earnest young girl, who plays the role of aspiring pupil to Fuller's wise, old master. Between them floats a neon green atomic nucleus, unlike any other color in the natural setting—and no doubt conjured up by Fuller for the day's lesson. In the background, a subtle homage to Fuller can be seen: a geodesic dome hut.

"Quantum Entanglement," a diptych-structured painting, showcases two young children, awestruck as they each encounter a hovering vision of quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Schrödinger coined the term Verschränkung, which translates to entanglement, during his famous thought experiment, where he uses a cat to illustrate the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. Ryden presents his own quantum paradox, depicting a traditional, upright headshot of Schrödinger juxtaposed with its inverted counterpart. "Chroma Structure" reveals a similar encounter of the Ryden kind, as a girl and her dog appear mesmerized by the mummy-like configuration of color blocks situated before them.

Additional pieces expose other surreal happenings in the mystical landscape. "Aurora" is dominated by a glowing, ghost-like figure, half-emerged from the water as she illuminates the fascinating creatures that live just beneath the glassy liquid surface. The water quickly proves to be home to more than just sea and plant life. Human ears, cosmic symbols, and scientific matter drift aimlessly amid the water's dark nothingness. Even human eyes are embedded into the rocky and shell-filled ocean floor, peering back at the strange onlookers who have infiltrated their world.

Smaller pieces portray more intimate scenes while continuing Ryden's theme of chance scientific encounters. "Experiment," for example, shows a tabletop of preserved specimen, subatomic particles, mineral formations, and liquid matter, ready for the testing.

It's befitting, given Ryden's affinity for symbols as a means of narrative and association, that he named his latest show after one.