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New York Art World
"Mark Ryden"
By Lily Faust
December 2001
MARK RYDEN, Earl McGrath Gallery: Retaining the plush fuzziness of a magical world, these paintings and drawings mine our collective subconscious through the use of imagery rooted in childhood stories. Yet, Ryden includes disparate elements, such as atomic weight symbols, slabs of red meat and semi-narrative texts; pushing the work towards the threshold of Absurdist Theatre.

Each piece is named for the sequence order of its creation. In the painting, 29, the sparse composition consists of a curvaceous pink column, with three watchful eyes. Two of the eyes are focused on a young girl who has a puzzled look on her face, while the other stares directly out at the viewer. It is labeled "YHWH", code name for God. This pink, surrealist totem pole is fitted with two bunny ears at the top of its head. In the logical terrain of the outdoors, (depicted here with a golden maple tree on the right, and a slender cypress on the left background) one would not expect to see such a convincing oddity. It is at this point that Ryden strikes at our belief system. Our sense of coherency is shattered by this juxtaposition; we loosen up. We understand how it feels to be a child again.

In other paintings, the toys mingle with artifacts of adult life. In 35, the doll is eroticized, emerging as a platinum blond, with milk spewing from her left nipple into the mouth of a toy elephant who leans delicately on her pelvis. In 33, a puppy-eyed figure stands atop leather-bound volumes of Chaos, The Grand Unified Theory, Kabbalah and Alchemy. A TV set wrapped around the girl's body spells out "CORPUS" in colorful block letters. A bumblebee rests on the pink screen, and from this innocent looking TV set pours out a thin stream of what appears to blood (or is that cherry juice?) right into the mouth of a furry little bunny rabbit who climbs a ladder that leans against the volumes of books. Beyond the literalness of these images, we arrive at the uncharted territory of the subconscious. The transcendent emotional charge of the paintings is heightened by Ryden's superb technique. Idiosyncratic and unsettling, their sources go as far back as Bosch; paralleling artists, such as Ernst Fuchs and Takashi Murakami, whose imaginations were also driven by the bounty of our visual culture.

In this depiction of a strange and tightly wound-up world that approximates a kind of childhood heaven, these images constitute an unlikely yet convincing fusion of reflections and references. Reality is held together by simple and steady factors, such as horizon lines that lie flat on horizons, trees that grow upward and rooms that do not lose their Spatial coherence. Yet Within the accustomed logic, we witness sprouts of fantasia that become convincing; reflecting the delightful ensemble of our own imagination. And we believe it.