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Mark Ryden
Mark Ryden

The Creator Studio
A text by Jose Carlos Suarez about Mark Ryden, Marion Peck and Ray Caesar.
"I like the theme of duality very much... I worked for 17 years in a Children's hospital in Toronto and was overwhelmed by the kindness and cruelty of man and nature. Much of my work is a self portrait... a small heaven for that innocent child within me and a 'turning on' of the lights in all the dark rooms where my fears try to hide. I learned one thing in all those years ... If you can look ... truly look... then you can see things without fear ... without pity... without hate and if you can find within yourself 'Empathy' then all that's left to see is something quite wonderful".

During those seventeen years as a medical artist in the Department of Art and Photography at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ray Caesar had to describe it all from child abuse to reconstructive surgery, from the image of enormous equipment overshadowing tiny premature babies to visual instruments for brain-damaged children. Even animal experimentation. His dreams still take him back to those hospital corridors and he has the certainty that he is living the dreams of all those who never had the chance to live their own.

That is why his work always contains a dual component, the virtuous and the malignant: the angel in the demon, the demon in the angel. Definitively, good in evil, evil in good. This polarisation also forms one of the pillars for two other artists' work in this content piece: Mark Ryden and Marion Peck. The text is by Jose Carlos Suarez, Doctor in History of Art, full-time professor at the Universidad Rovira i Virgili, director of its Film Studies class and member of the International Association of Art Critics.

The attraction of the abyss. Sometimes the communications media assault us with news, as occurred recently in the case of the five British children who had attempted to kill another, where the idea of childhood as an angelic state crumbles, not without a certain horror, before our very eyes. This is when another perverse side of childhood be- comes patent in all its morbid splendour. As Baudrillard said "In the end. parallel worlds are the consequence of a disassociated reality because we have exceeded in our wish to unify, to homogenize it". So the dialectical good / evil confrontation is what enables a morality on which to base choice between one and the other. Sentiments are therefore contained within this dialectic, the contradictory nature of which provokes, in a child's case, a situation of panic and anxiety motivated by that ambivalence, conflict that has no place in an adult's world because he or she has learnt to integrate these feelings. From there it is a short distance to accepting that fairy tales describe the world as a duality, the structure of which is aimed at ordering the interior chaos. As an example of the symbolic fight 10 integrate personality in spite of chaotic disintegration, the celebrated child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim quotes the Brothers Grimm tale "The Queen Bee".Yet on the other hand, this animal represents duality since its sting can produce not only honey but hurt.

It is also a bee, a computer-animated one, which appears as an identifying symbol on the web of Oregon-born Californian artist. Mark Ryden (1963). His work is populated by girls, boys, bunny rabbits and a whole class iconographic elements that unequivocally push us towards that dream world which fairy tales are made of. It seems like he has made a parallel universe his own, full of fantasy and surrealism, complicit with Lewis Carroll’s work in "Alice in Wonderland" (1864), whose dreams were the waking inventions of a shy, repressed Anglican preacher. In a highly methodical, mannered style, his art stands out by its predominant use of pastel shades and by its peculiar evanescent light. His painting, full of religious and alchemical allusions, draws us towards 1950s children's book illustrations, these being the source, along with references from classical painting, old photographs, magazine images and an entire catalogue of diverse objects that accumulate in his Sierra Madre (California) studio, on which he bases the vision of his unique creative world.

Yet what at first may appear sweet and innocent, is revealed as disturbing while it fills us with stupefaction. His children, round-eyed, placed amid scenery and situations evoking a touch of the macabre or the perverse, lean towards that "dark side" of childhood.

One example that magnificently translates Ryden's universe into images where we can observe that ambivalence and sinister nature, is in "The Adams Family" (1991) by Barry Sonnenfel (inspired by the characters personified in the film, yet based more on the comic than on the later television series) and especially, more specifically based on the character of Merlina played by Christina Ricci, of whom Ryden made a portrait as a reference of US pop culture. His rising artistic career has been complemented by recognition as an illustrator, where his work for the LP cover of "Dangerous" (1991) by Michael Jackson stands out as well as the cover of “Desperation” (1996) by Stephen King. Also worth commenting on is his later jump towards painting, where his work, with formats ranging from ten centimetres wide to a square metre, are sought after and collected by personalities such as Bjork or Robert De Niro. Along the same lines and sharing many elements that characterise what has been called the Ryden brand, we find Marion Peck (1963), born accidentally in Manila, living between Seattle and Los Angeles. Her work is perhaps soberer and therefore more explicit. Highlighting her fine finish and bright palette, combined with her themes working on dreamlike and magical associations, she provokes a fascinating visual impact in the spectator. Continuing with the aesthetic connections, there is Ray Caesar (1958), born in London yet educated in Toronto (Canada), where he worked, for more than fifteen years, in the Department of Art and Photography of the Hospital for Sick Children. This experience, the amazing miracles and sadness he saw there, indelibly marked his art. His imagination is populated by fantastic personalities and animals, whose enormous heads and biomechanical limbs generate an uneasiness that contrasts with his creations' serene gaze. He creates a perverse, disquieting ambiance, halfway between science fiction and a Kafka tale.

Yet there is a formal characteristic that sets him apart from the above artists, in spite of many similarities. His working method is totally digital, from its technical execution to final printing. The computer is his tool, where he uses 3D digital software, specifically the highly versatile application called Maya, of recognised prestige. For printing he uses Giclee, a process that provides an exceptional image quality and durability, which gives this impeccable finish to his work.
All these artists, as we have seen, belong to a generation born among pop art. Its influence at all levels is undeniable. With underground and street roots you would have to seek in the worlds of comics, rock music, tattooing, B-grade films and a whole collection of sub-cultural products that have formed what has been called "low culture" in counterpoint to the so-called "high culture", the limits of which, and - no doubt - its chaotic duality, were formed by Pop Art.

They form part of a movement of illustrators / narrators who owe a lot of their success to Robert Williams, who founded the magazine "Juxtapoz" in 1994, the true platform for launching these new artists, who have been grouped under labels such as "Lowbrow Art" and "Pop Surrealism". Labels apart, they represent that constant which in art history we call fantasy and which spills over temporal classifications and categorisations. Bosch offered us such extravagant, disquieting images in the fifteenth century, and more recently Dali, without forgetting Goya, whose roots in art we should search for in ''caprice and invention". Reality always surpasses fiction 'in terms of its fantastic and invented content. In response to criticisms that Mark Ryden, Marion Peck and Ray Caesar's art is merely provocation or transgression of an otherwise romantic conception of childhood, it is worth remembering: fairy tales are cruel because life is.