Mark Ryden's 'The Meat Show' [food art]

Mark Ryden, 'The Angel of Meat,' Oil on Panel, 1998

Everything old is new again, and the same couldn’t be more true for artist Mark Ryden. Probably more nationally recognized for his work of album covers (cough, cough Michael Jackson’s "Dangerous" album cover art) than his studio work, his twelve-year old exhibit "The Meat Show" recently came to my attention.

Mark Ryden, 'Snow White,' Oil on Panel, 1997

Commonly associated with the genre of pop surrealism or lowbrow art, this first show combined images of innocent, angelic “creatures” with butcher shop settings and whimsical Alice in Wonderland backdrops. With that, crosses, Abraham Lincoln, literal “devil dogs,” and even, yes, third eyes – all among a dancing fury of porterhouses, bacon slabs and whole sides of beef.

Mark Ryden, 'A Dog Named Jesus,' Oil on Panel, 1997

In a quote from Juxtapoz magazine back in the day, Ryden explains his reason for incorporation meat into his work:

There is an obvious horror connected with the meat industry. The blood, the gore, the inhumane butchery. So many of us indirectly participate in this with our ravenous consumption of meat. Sue Coe has explored that arena exquisitely in her work and writings. In my own art I am not personally making a statement or judgement about the meat consumption in our culture. I feel more like I am just observing it. Just like T-rex, I myself am a passionate meat-eater. I feel that the consumption of animal flesh is a natural primal instinct just like sex and making paintings. But there is that paradox of knowing how that scrumptious porterhouse made it to my dinner plate. We have lost any kind of reverence for this. It would be interesting if people would have to kill an animal themselves before they earned the right to eat it.

Beyond the conceptual impact, meat simply has a very strong visual quality. The wonderful variety of textures and patterns in the marbling of the meat is sumptuous. Subtle pinks gently swirl around with rich vermillions and fatty yellow ochres. These visual qualities alone are seductive enough to make meat the subject of a work of art. Meat is glorious to paint. It is so easy to transcend the representational to the abstract. Meat has been a subject for painters from Rembrandt to Van Gogh.

Mark Ryden, 'The Ecstacy of Cecelia,' Oil on Panel, 1998

Most recently, Mark Rydens work has shifted to reflect a sort of softer-less vibrant tone, but fans of his older works can check out his website, drop $400 on the catalog for The Meat Show (buy at Amazon), or for the utterly dedicated – ink yourself, like these fine folk.

Mark Ryden, 'The Birth of Venus,' Oil on Panel, 1998

Michelle Mettler

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