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Meat Lover | Mark Ryden’s Cool Cuts
Culture, Food
By CHRISTINE MUHLKE
April 30, 2010, 4:42 pm

Attention amateur butchers, meat lovers and hungry aesthetes: At the Paul Kasmin Gallery, the artist Mark Ryden is doing wonders with off cuts at his new show, “The Gay ’90s: Olde Tyme Art Show.” The paintings of a Gibson girl riding a bicycle built for two with Jesus and a brooding beauty in period finery are spooky and lovely, but it’s his meatier images that steal the show -- a wispy girl in a gown of hams, hindquarters and sausages, or Abraham Lincoln grinding fresh chuck for a tea-drinking demoiselle. Surreally delicious.

The Moment caught up with Ryden at his studio in Sierra Madre, Calif., before the opening and learned why meat was such a joy to paint and why there were no good butchers.

Q. What’s the idea behind the “Olde Tyme Art Show”?
A. “The Gay 90s” refers to the 1890s era of barbershop quartets and bicycles built for two. I am interested in exploring the line between attraction to and repulsion from kitsch. I find the “Gay 90s” to be a thematic genre that pushes sentimentality and kitsch to its utmost limits.

Q. What’s the idea behind depicting a beautiful girl wearing sausages?

A. That painting is called “Incarnation,” which literally translates from the Latin to “in the meat.” I think it is more important for an image to maintain some mystery. I leave it to the viewer to interpret the images how they will.

Q. Why does meat factor into your work? You did a “Meat Show” in ‘98.

A. There seems to be a complete disconnect between meat as 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. It surprises many people to learn that I am actually not a vegetarian. I don’t think it is morally wrong to eat meat. What I do personally is to try to remain aware of what I am eating and where it came from. I am not trying to preach a moral stance on anything in my art, but I find that juxtaposition of imagery can create a kind of distance and then an ensuing heightening of awareness.

Q. What’s the hardest thing about painting it?

A. Meat is a joy to paint. The wonderful variety of textures and patterns in the marbling of meat is sumptuous. Subtle pinks gently swirl around with rich vermilions and fatty yellow ochers. A representational painting of meat easily becomes an exercise in abstraction. I find myself playing with the paint, smearing, scraping, staining and doing things I wouldn’t be so inclined to with other representations.

Q. What’s your favorite meat dish in Manhattan?

A. I am on the hunt, and open to suggestions.

Q. Who’s your butcher?

A. That is a funny question, as there is really no such thing as a butcher anymore, is there? Since Reagan, the meat industry has been consolidated (like so many other industries) into just two or three gigantic corporations whose myopic interest is profit. The result is that the animals we use as food live a life of indescribable torture, because this generates a tiny slice more profit for these corporations. Our daily diet is tainted with this torture, and it really doesn’t have to be that way.