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Innocent Butcher Bunnies: Pop Surrealism - How to
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Home About Subjects Comments
Mark Ryden, The Butcher Bunny
Oil on Panel, 2000 [link]
Mark Ryden, Little Boy Blue
Oil on Canvas, 2001[link]


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Innocent butcher bunnies, children that hold small political figures from the hand and a kitsch statue of the Christ watching
over them are images that on a first glance they seem innocent and innocuous, but when more closely glanced they acquire
an uncanny essence. Antitheses are getting interviewed in an image that is both “cute” and grotesque, innocent and evil,
natural and artificial. The pop aesthetics of the image blended with that surreal ambiguity and absurdity spread this
“uncanny” essence into the aesthetic level as well.
Watching Mark Ryden’s works is like watching the world
through the eyes of an innocent child that has not yet formed
stable binary concepts of his reality; a child that is both
innocent and “evil” at the same time.
Through the expression of such ambivalent, vague and absurd
images, Mark Ryden might actually express a critique towards
the way our cultural logic creates a binary “system” of
understanding the world: “good vs. evil”, “pretty vs. ugly”,
“moral” vs. immoral” and so on, which ultimately becomes the
inescapable “frame” through which the world acquires
significance and meaning for us, as well as also become the
“justification” for many of our unjustifiable or brutal natural
needs. When one attempts to escape that “frame” one is
facing a rupture with his reality.
Artificiality and a malevolent kind of “cuteness” are the central
themes to Mark Ryden’s art; maybe that’s because he refers to
the way culture is wrapped around the natural order as a
plastic “cute”, seemingly innocuous mantle that delude us into
believing that we are able to “transcend” our nature, or that
we are capable of evolving beyond the “crudeness” of our
brutal nature effortlessly. Religious and political figures
referring - in the paintings of Mark Ryden- to unquestionable
beliefs ideologies and the past; fairy tales, bunnies even the concept of the “childhood innocence” are for Mark Ryden just
prejudices; images that support and perpetuate a reality that is delusional and solely in our minds; a binary reality that
blinds us from actually perceiving the rawness of our surroundings.

In fact childhood -depicted in nearly every painting of Mark
Ryden- is a very peculiar part of our development’s timeline: It
is the most innocent, yet the most raw and nature-driven part
of our aging process. Children are “innocent” yet in that
innocence exists a raw natural “organism”, a wild animal that
acts upon one’s instincts and raw needs, sometimes if needed
at the expense of others; it is the most seemingly “innocuous”,
“cute”, “pretty” part of our aging timeline and at the same
time the most “raw”, “brutal” and “evil”. Mark Ryden’s
surrealism signifies the vision of the “child” which sees
everything “beyond good and evil”, beyond the logical and the
illogical, beyond morality and immorality; it perceives the
world in a way where that binary cultural system collapses and
give its place to an experiential singularity through which
everything seem crazy and contradicting but in fact it is what
constitutes reality itself.
Mark Ryden’s technique of achieving the expression of that
“singularity” is through the impersonation of "belief systems"
in his paintings: the religious and political figures that become
just “empty”, “banal” images without deeper connotations, the
fairy tale bunny that through his “cute” masquerade chops a piece of meat, even the “innocent” child that would gladly eat
that piece of meat, all work together but contradictory in order to create a “reality” that binary definitions of good and evil,
ugly and pretty, moral and immoral no more exist.
Children in Ryden’s work might also incorporate our tendency to find transcending “value” in a “glorious” past, individually
(self-beliefs and self-identity) as well as collectively (nationalism and patriotism); to create prejudices that keep us stuck in
a past that exists only in our individual or national imagination. To yearn for an imaginary past is consume an experience of
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Mark Ryden, Pink Lincoln (#92)
Oil on Canvas, 2010 [link]
Mark Ryden, The Meat Shop (#97)
Oil on Canvas, 2011 [link]
the past, a “heroism” that has never existed beyond our wishes, and that blinds us from actually acknowledging our
problems and overcoming them creatively.

So, progress and “civilization” for Ryden become nothing more than an
artificial “label” that has nothing to do with the primitive way things work in
reality. Maybe religious or political figures once had indeed a “deeper
meaning”, maybe not, but whether “civilization” exists or not, we have to
acknowledge the fact that it tends to get alienated from its original purpose
and becomes just another empty image without any deeper meaning than the
one it superficially denotes; it becomes a prejudice that “conceals” the
brutality of things instead of actually transcending them; it becomes
conservatism which consumes “solutions” instead of creating “solutions”, it
becomes the “belief” that conceals the truth instead of creatively transforming
the truth; and that is what the “banal” aesthetics of Mark Ryden denote.
“Banal” aesthetics in Ryden’s art denote exactly that kind of consumerism (not
only in regards to material products, but also a consumerism in ideas, beliefs,
ideologies, and identities) that draws cultural material from the large pool of
societal images and prejudices to conceal the ugly “truth” instead of facing it.
Chinese letters to describe American political figures such as Lincoln, connote
exactly that tendency to massively, effortlessly and cheaply recreate,
reproduce and consume a belief, so that it ultimately become alienated not
only from its original purpose but also from its original place in time and
space.

Maybe Ryden’s uncanny worlds call us to release ourselves from “established” authorities:
beliefs, morality, the past, and instead experience the world directly and creatively. It might
be also that I am just projecting my own ideas on the paintings of the artist and they are all
just “pointless” pop surrealism without any actual “significance” beyond their aesthetic
value, but I believe that that’s the value of such kind of art; that it doesn’t dictate you what
to understand, instead it lets you to reflect your mind on them without intervention. It
doesn’t lend you the "authoritarian" "eye" of the "genius" artist in order to see the world
through his mind; it instead opens your own mind into different kinds of possibilities and
understandings.
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