Alumni Stories

Mark Ryden

BFA 87 Illustration

Mark Ryden was named “the godfather of Pop Surrealism” by Interview in 2010. He first garnered attention in the 1990s when he ushered in this new genre of painting with a host of followers in his wake. He has created a singular style that blurs the traditional boundaries between high and low art and blends pop culture themes with techniques reminiscent of the old masters. By choosing subject matter loaded with cultural connotation, Ryden has distinguished himself from the earlier strategies used in surrealist art.

Ryden’s artistic vocabulary ranges from cryptic to cute, treading a fine line between nostalgic cliché and disturbing archetype. He seduces the viewers with his infinitely detailed and meticulously glazed surfaces and confronts them by juxtaposing childhood innocence with the recesses of the soul. In Ryden’s world, cherubic children rub elbows with strange and mysterious figures. Ornately carved frames lend the paintings a baroque grotesqueness that also adds gravity to the enigmatic themes within the art. His work can unsettle and comfort at the same time, the beauty hinting at darker psychic elements beneath the surface rubbing up against the cultural kitsch.

There are a lot of artists who are gifted painters, technically, yet they’re not as resonating as Mark, and that means there’s something else at work, besides his skill as a painter. His work is insidious because it’s seductive . . .

Michael KohnMichael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles

Mark Ryden received a bachelor’s degree in Illustration in 1987 from ArtCenter. For a decade after, he was a successful commercial artist, creating album covers for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, Oingo Boingo’s Skeletons in the Closet, the 4 Non Blondes’ Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute and Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator.

Since then, his paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the retrospective Wondertoonel at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and The Artist’s Museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Books with collections of his artwork include Mark Ryden: Pinxit, Mark Ryden: The Gay ’90s, The Snow Yak Show, Blood, Fushigi Circus and Bunnies and Bees.

He lives and works in Los Angeles.

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