The original was created using oil on panel with a hand-carved frame
"There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package."
American painter, Mark Ryden received a BFA in 1987 from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Given his success and incredible artistic output, he is considered the godfather of Pop Surrealism also known as Lowbrow art. Pop surrealism is an underground visual art movement that began in Los Angeles, California in the late 1960s. It began as an underground art movement with its roots in comix, punk music, tiki culture, graffiti, and hot-rod cultures of the street. Because of its roots in popular culture, pop surrealism made itself easily relatable to a large number of artists and followers alike. Lowbrow art often shares a playful and sarcastic sense of humor and is dedicated to mocking high art and convention.
Combining themes of pop culture with techniques influenced by the old masters, Ryden’s personal style consists of highly polished imagery inspired by anything that evokes memories from his childhood, such as cartoon characters, scenery, found kitsch items that he collects from flea markets, and imagry from traditional artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Jacques-Louis David. Unlike his Surrealist predecessors, Ryder depicts culturally charged subject matter rather than simply the stuff of dreams. He combines the dream imagery of Surrealism with the mainstream, superficial imagery of Pop art to create images steeped in fantasy and satire that often comment on both political and social issues.
According to Angie Kordic of Widewalls magazine, “In his masterfully executed oil paintings, Mark Ryden featured a hauntingly beautiful kind of mythology that takes place in a fairy-tale world filled with historical figures and icons of pop culture. With a strong sense of eerie, carnivalesque sense of humor, he draws our attention to certain issues of contemporary society, such as our treatment of animals and nature at large. His artworks are technically impeccable and highly detailed, which only further emphasizes the alluring power of his scenery and the seductively macabre existence of his calm, at times disquieting characters. Mark Ryden’s art is a true commercial success and his creations can also be found on numerous music album covers such as Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute, and book cover designs like Stephen King’s Desperation.”
Ryden’s paintings mix wonder, nostalgia, beauty and classic iconography combined with a childlike innocence and a sense of mystery that leaves the viewer wondering what lies just below the highly glazed surface. In Queen Bee, Ryden’s doe-eyed figure stares blankly ahead while a giant bee is busy at work building a nest from the girl’s hair, grass and leaves, giving new meaning to the beehive hairdo! Ryden commissioned artisans to create the ornate golden frame which continues the narrative beyond the canvas.
Queen bees are the heart and soul of a honey bee colony. The queen bee is the only bee without which the rest of the colony cannot survive. The same can seemingly be said of the oft-dreaded high school queen bee. Throughout film and television history, queen bees have mercilessly reigned over their minions while creating envy, chaos and drama among their peers. What do you think Ryden is saying about his queen bee? Is she a Regina George from Mean Girls? Is she someone who cares about leading a pack? We would love to hear what you think!
Spend some time really looking at how Ryden depicts this young queen bee then write a short story about who you think she is and what she’s all about. Be creative! Send her on a grand adventure or spend a day in her shoes. Submit your stories to: email@example.com
*iconography – The visual images and symbols used in a work of art or the study or interpretation of these. As a branch of art history, iconography studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style.
*kitsch – A low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons. Kitsch is the German word for trash, and is used in English to describe particularly cheap vulgar and sentimental forms of popular and commercial culture. Kitsch is regarded as a modern phenomenon, coinciding with social changes in recent centuries such as the Industrial Revolution, urbanization, mass production, modern materials and media such as plastics, radio and television, the rise of the middle class and public education, all of which have factored into a perception of oversaturation of art produced for the popular taste.
*pop art – Art which makes use of the imagery of consumerism and mass culture, with a finely balanced mixture of irony and celebration. Pop art began in the 1950s with various investigations into the nature of urban popular culture, notably by the members of the Independent Group at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in London. Pop Art was at its height in the U.S. during the 1960s, where it came as a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and in fresh response to Dadaist notions. The basic concept was that mass-produced consumer goods were taken as the materials of a new art and a new aesthetic of expandability.
*pop surrealism – Also known as Lowbrow art, describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California area in the late 1960s. It is a populist art movement with its cultural roots in underground comix, punk music, tiki culture, graffiti, and hot-rod cultures of the street. There are still some art critics that are in doubt that Pop Surrealism is a legitimate art movement and they are uncertain as to the status of this movement in relation to the fine art world, however Pop Surrealism and Lowbrow became so popular that some art critics started to pay attention to this movement. Today many pop surreal artists exhibit their works in galleries specialized in pop culture art all over the world.
*surrealism – An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
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*The Emergency Art Museum claims no ownership, or copyright to any materials found here, or on-site. The Emergency Art Museum functions solely as a non-commercial, non-profit, educational resource for the community. All artwork represented or reproduced, has been done so for educational purposes only under the fair use act.
-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator