Mark Ryden’s “The Gay 90:s West” – a new exhibition at Kohn Gallery
Hundreds if not thousands of Angelenos, including myself, waited in line for an hour and a half to have pop art painter Mark Ryden sign his books at the new location and grand opening of the Kohn Gallery on Highland Avenue in Hollywood. This exhibition is a continuation of his show “The Gay 90’s: Old Tyme Art Show” that took place in 2010 at the Kasmin Gallery, New York. The Mark Ryden exhibit inaugurates the new 12,000-foot space and runs from May 3 – June 28, 2014.
I took special notice of Mark Ryden’s art four years ago at Bergamot Station Arts Center. His art kept me up all night. https://hannahkozak.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/bergamot-station/
Mark blends techniques reminiscent of the old masters along with pop culture themes that gives his art a cryptic, cute yet disturbing archetype of childhood innocence blended with the mysterious recesses of the soul. Just like Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, Mark has a passion for Abe Lincoln. I think of him as the Alfred Hitchcock of surrealism.
Mark has a unique way of not only painting but the way he signs his books. I brought along my Taschen (one of my favorite publishers) April 15, 2013 – 352 page edition of of Pinxit. At 7.7 pounds, it is a heavy beauty.
Look at the stamp he uses on each autograph.
I also brought along my Mark Ryden December 1, 2011, 110 page, gold trim pages with soft faux leather blood color cover edition of “Blood: Paintings of Sorrow and Fear.” It’s larger than the previous edition and contains 16 additional pages. Mark provides his readers an explanation and apology for his outwardly morbid theme confessing it reflected his innermost feelings during a particularly vulnerable depressing period in his life. He was exploring feelings of grief, trauma and loss.
Mark purposely created the paintings in Blood small because he wanted to make quiet things about pain. They seem to have an underlying purpose and have been described as a postmodern version of memento mori , a Latin phrase that means “remember you must die”. In other words, start living your life by whatever means of inspiration you can find. Memento mori is the artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.
Mark, like most artists, understands that by revisiting the roots of dysfunction and suffering, we abandon the memories that create our emotional barriers. Federico Fellini said there is only the infinite passion of life and Mark Ryden truly embraces his infinite passions in his art.
Last but really not least, Mark handed me a special present. Not only a genuine, warm smile but also a pin called Daisy along with a Limited Edition Dum Dum. Mark likes the same lollipops as Michael Jackson did!
Mark Ryden’s “The Gay 90:s West” – a new exhibition at Kohn Gallery
Pronounced Dee-Ann, She was a privileged child, raised with her two siblings in large apartments on Central Park West and Park Avenue. She later told Studs Terkel, for his Hard Times: An Oral History of the Depression , “I grew up feeling immune and exempt from circumstance. One of the things I suffered from was that I never felt adversity. I was confirmed in a sense of unreality.” I think her work is still problematic for many because she crossed boundaries by making friends and photographing “freaks.”
Ruth Bernard (1905-2006)
There is no finer photographer of the female nude. When she met Edward Weston on the beach in Santa Monica, she was overwhelmed by his photos and said “Here before me was indisputable evidence of what I had thought possible – an intensely vital artist whose medium was photography. ”
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Her career was brief but extraordinary. Born to a family of artists, she started photographing at the age of 13. She worked in black and white, frequently made self-portraits, or other young women, nude. What’s astonishing is she completed nearly all the work in her catalogue as a student. After living in Rome, Rhode Island and New York, she felt her art wasn’t being taken seriously and her boyfriend broke up with her. Woodman committed suicide at the age of 22.
Melvin was creating inventive photographs that boggled the mind, long before Photoshop existed. He floated models down the Reine,creating The Bubble Series for Harpers Bazaar magazine in 1963.He suspended the models with a crane using an eight-inch aircraft cable and tested models to see who he could hang. He reminds me of some of the good stunt coordinators I worked for over the years. The first time I saw his photos, I stopped dead in my tracks at A & I Photo.
My favorite artists:
I fell in love with the simplicity of his paintings the first time I visited Cape Cod. Just like a good photographer, Robert searches for the light and usually paints at sunrise or sunset. His paintings have been described as Edward Hopper gone color ballistic. I love his skies of purples and oranges, isolated beaches, and lonely Cape homes.
His art is beautiful, while aiming at darker psychic stuff beneath the surface of cultural kitsch. He’s been called the godfather of pop surrealism, inspired by old toys, stuffed animals, skeletons, and religious ephemera found in flea markets. Michael Jackson commissioned Mark to create the cover for his 1991 Dangerous album.
Remedios Varo (1908-1963)
Born in Spain and died in Mexico. Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter and anarchist. I think she is one of the greatest artists in the 20th century along with Leonora Carrington.
I especially like the violin hanging where her heart should be.
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
led a life almost as surreal as her art. Born in England, she was expelled from two schools for rebellious behavior, my kind of girl. She saw her first surrealist painting in a Left Bank gallery when she was ten years old. Even though she found little encouragement from her family to forge an artistic career, a curator at Tate Modern, helped to champion her work through Edward James, who arranged a show of her work. She saw Max Ernst’s work and was attracted to him before she actually met him. Not only did they collaborate on sculptures to decorate their home, they supported each other’s artistic development. Sounds like a dream relationship to me. Unfortunately Ernst was arrested during the Nazi occupation of France and after escaping, Peggy Guggenheim arranged for him to come to America. Carrington was so devastated by his arrest that she had paralyzing breakdowns and was institutionalized for three years. After Ernst married Guggenheim, Carrington wrote a book called Down Below, about the events of her psychotic experience. From painting to writing, all art is healing.
In this piece four priestess perform a surgery on a levitating Amenhotep (the first monotheistic pharaoh) whose wound is in the shape of a lotus flower. Men wearing priests’ hats sit in the gallery to watch the performance. The compasses along the box signify a magic transformation. The dish in the foreground, which is presumably used to collect an extracted organ, contains a small lizard.
Carrington believed that monotheism was the root of a patriarchal society, thus the priestesses are extracting that root through a magical surgery. In her later years Carrington wrote that “a woman shouldn’t have to demand rights. The rights were there from the beginning, they must be taken back again, including the mysteries which were ours and which were violated, stolen or destroyed.”
Kron Flower – Carrington understood that women were to maintain your youth at all costs’ meaning maintain your sexual desirability at all costs. But then she ruthlessly mocks those women who cannot resist the shame-inducing admonitions of the culture and feel the need for excessive make-up, a face-lift or to still dress in tight, provocative clothing.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
I love Frida because she transformed her suffering and pain into remarkable art. She is best known for her self portraits and said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” While it is easier to hide, it has been widely accepted that an artists’ best work is his or her most personal. Frida was not scared about showing her pain, soul, and fears in her art. Every great artist comes bearing the gift of their soul.
This is one of Frida’s most shocking and controversial paintings. Dorothy Hale was an aspiring actress who was unable to find work and left financially dependent on her wealthy friends after her husband’s death. She killed herself by jumping off a New York city building. Clare Boothe Luce requested a painting for Dorothy Hale’s mother. Hale was known to have said “I would not have requested such a gory picture of my worst enemy, much less of my unfortunate friend. Kahlo painted actress Dorothy Hale not only as she jumped but fell, and landed, dead and bloody on the concrete walk outside her apartment building. The blood-red lettering at the bottom of the retablo details the tragedy in Spanish. Luce’s response was to destroy the painting but her friends dissuaded her. What Luce didn’t know was that at the time that Kahlo painted this, she was in a desperate state of mind over losing Diego and was having repeated thoughts of committing suicide.
My favorite artist ever:
Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Michael’s calling was clear. He would dance to the rhythm of the rickety Maytag washing machine when he was on the floor wearing his diaper and holding his little bottle. His art beckoned him and whether it was putting pen to paper, a song to the ethers, his brush to a palette or his feet to dancing, he had no choice. His passion called him and he listened in return. He put his soul out there and was courageous about his art because he believed his gift came from G-d. The soul of art is the art of soul. Here is a video by a fan who puts together MJ videos and does the finest job of remixing videos that I’ve seen. Yes, that’s Sheryl Crow at 1:32!
My favorite love songs
1. You’re Just Too Good To Be True – Lauryn Hill
2. Come Pick Me Up – Ryan Adams
3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross
4. To Have and Not To Hold – Madonna
5. Nobody – Kate Earl
6. All In Love Is Fair – Stevie Wonder
7. You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me- Gladys Knight
8. Anyone Who Had a Heart -Shelby Lynne
9. Soul Mate -Natasha Bedingfield
10. I’ll Be Near You – Ivy
11. Looking For The Right One – Art Garfunkle
12. You’re the First, the Last, My Everything – Barry White
13. Could It Be I’m Falling In Love – The Spinners
14. If I Were Your Woman – Gladys Knight
15. When You Really Love Someone – Alicia Keys
16. Fall Again – Michael Jackson
Content individually copyrighted by each photographer.
I visited Robert Berman’s Gallery in Santa Monica for the Paid to Play opening show featuring rare art pieces Robert magically assembled from 1945-1985. Berman’s collection is an overview of the often overlooked Southern California artists rooted in illustration, commissioned to create imagery for record albums, magazines, advertisements, et al. The genre is commercial but still full of innovation, technique and artistic expression.There was a nice sized crowd gathered at the entrance sipping glasses of pinot noir and tonic water. I made my way past a group of people and found myself starting at a painting I had never seen before. I stopped, absolutely in my tracks, when I saw a painting of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. Before I even saw the small “Ryden” signature in the right hand corner, I knew it was one of his creations.
I’m a huge fan of both Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson so it was a genuine thrill to see a painting of MJ done by Ryden. By the way, Michael was a huge fan of Ryden as well. He commissioned Ryden to pain his 1991 Dangerous album cover. I was so taken with the painting that I drove home fast, and people who know me know I don’t drive fast, and wrote to Ryden. Not an email, I wrote Ryden an actual, old-fashioned letter. I hope he answers so I don’t have to guess about the meaning of his painting. He’s answered other letters of mine so there’s a good possibility he’ll answer this one.
It’s the most provocative of Ryden’s creations that I’ve seen. I believe the painting was done sometime in the early 80’s. It shows Michael as a rat and I think he’s depicted with Lisa Marie Presley; who eventually broke his heart when she changed her mind about having children with him. If anyone has any information about this painting, please leave a comment. I have written to various art galleries but I have not received any information.
Michael’s first #1 solo hit was Ben; a song about a rat. Michael loved rats and all animals from the time he was a young boy and had many as pets. Three year old Michael was even feeding a mouse by hand that lived behind the refrigerator at their home at 2300 Jackson Street. His mother screamed, Joseph would curse and and Michael would quietly slide away. I’m curious why Ryden paints Michael as a rat. Was it because our society treated him like an animal that was part of a test tube experiment? How much fame can one person handle before becoming a bit of a caged animal having to create a self contained Neverland world so he wouldn’t have to go out and be mobbed everywhere he turned?
Michael’s lyrics had a spiritual message and his life a grand spiritual meaning. He believed in the power of numbers, as does Mark Ryden. Ryden said, “I love numbers. If I hadn’t pursued art my next choice would have been math or science. Unfortunately, the adage if you don’t use it you lose it applies. I am not where I was in college, but I still love numbers, math, and numerology, and it ends up in my art. Every number has a connotation and a specific energy to it. I keep listsof things that come in each number – 3 graces, 4 elements, 5 senses, 12 apostles, etc. Each number has a life of its own.”
Most MJ fans know about Michael’s belief in the number 7. On the cover of History, he has a little arm-band with three 7’s. In order for me to see it, I had to use an Agfa Lupe, which has 8 x magnification. I set up some lights to photograph the cover to show you the “777”.
The metallic plated leg guards Jackson wore during his 1996-1997 ‘HIStory’ World Tour had a raised number ‘7’ etched on the lap on either side. He even wore “777” during his highly publicized witch hunt-trial in 2005. Could his world-wide success have manifested in part because he lived by and physically incorporated his belief about 7 into his life?
One of the dancers in the Smooth Criminal video even calls out “7” at 2:55. By the way, Michael made the decision in tears to leave the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the filming of Smooth Criminal. He was given strict rules after the first day of filming and this was verified by his make-up artist/hair dresser. His options were to either leave the entertainment industry or the church for firing a gun during the filming.
Michael Jackson was quite verbal about his personal belief and faith in G-d. I’m wondering if he focused on ‘7” because it appears in the Bible many times. The number of perfection is widely held to be the number ‘7’, God’s number. G-d rested on the seventh day according to the book of Genesis. Michael’s day of rest of Sundays consisted of a complete fast and he would dance until he could no longer stand. Could the 7 be completion of work? MJ had a strong work ethic instilled in him initially from his father Joseph and later from Berry Gordy, his “father” at Motown. The other idea of completion within the Bible comes from the death of Lamech who was apparently 777 years old when he died. This is the only occasion in the Bible where we see ‘777’ like this. The Apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he would have to forgive someone who had done wrong against him. “I tell you, not just seven times, but 77 times” was Jesus’ answer.
“Dancing the Dream” is Michael’s book of poetry and his reflections of life; published in 1992. In it he wrote: “So the elephants march on, and every tread beats out words in the dust: “Watch, learn, love. Watch, learn, love.” Can you hear them? One day in shame, the ghosts of ten thousand lords of the plains will say, “We do not hate you. Don’t you see at last? We were willing to fall, so that you, dear small ones, will never fall again.” He understood the concept, the guiding principle of the sutras of the Age of Aquarius which is simply to Recognize the Other Person is You. He believed we could work together to make ourselves better, that we should treat each other with respect. Most importantly of all, he practiced forgiveness. He forgave his accusers Jordy Chandler, or rather Evan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo or Janet Arvizo, of all their proven lies. He created soldiers of L.O.V.E.
In Another Part of Me, it feels almost as if he is a leader asking his foot soldiers to bring his message forward:
“We’re sendin’ out a major love
And this is our message to you (message to you)
The planets are linin’ up
We’re bringin’ brighter days
They’re all in line waitin’ for you
Can’t you see . . .?
You’re just another part of me
Another part of me.”
It is possible that Michael’s fascination and belief in 7 was his way of acknowledging the presence of G-d in his life and especially in times of personal trouble. He gained so much strength by his passionate belief in a higher power. Here are some more tidbits about the number 7 in regards to Michael.
— Michael Jackson was the 7th of 9 children.
— Michael Jackson signed his will on 7/7/02. (Personally I think the will was hijacked and perhaps even fake but that’s another blog)
— Michael Jackson’s memorial was on 7/7/09 … exactly 7 years after the will was signed.
— Michael Jackson’s two biggest hits — “Black & White” and “Billie Jean” — were each #1 for 7 weeks.
— Michael Jackson’s three biggest albums — “Thriller,” “Bad” and “Dangerous” — each produced 7 top 40 hits.
— Michael Jackson was born in 1958 … 19 + 58 = 77
— Michael Jackson died on the 25th … 2 + 5 = 7
— Michael Jackson has 7 letters in his first and last name.
— His last 3 albums were all nearly 77 minutes in length: Dangerous: 76:58 History: 77:06 (Disc two) 71:39 (Disc one) Invincible: 77:08. This could be a coincidence since the length of cd’s in the nineties was around 80 minutes.
–Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter over the death of Michael Jackson on 11/7/11. Personally I think he committed voluntary murder.
-Conrad Murray was sentenced to four years in prison on 11/29/11. 9 – 2 = 7.
Michael believed part of his destiny was to bring joy to people as well as practice forgiveness over and over. He sang he was “Unbreakable” and said he had rhinoceros skin. I believe that his steadfast belief in G-d helped him through the unique struggles he faced as he climbed the ladder of success and was greeted by jealous people along the way; people who suffered from Tall Poppy Syndrome. Furthermore, I am certain racism was clearly at work. Marginalize the black artist, reduce his wildly successful economic power and ability to influence people as he was a cultural game changer. Maybe even destroy his assets i.e.: AEG/Sony catalogue because of the jealousy that Michael could wield such power. These people’s biggest goal was to see that the poor Afro American boy from Gary, Indiana who became the most successful entertainer in the world, would fall from grace. Michael believed he was sent to earth as a mission from G-d. He said “I must seek truth in all things. I must endure for the power I was sent forth, for the world for the children…And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance…But I will never stop helping and loving people the way Jesus said to.”
How many performers have donated 300 million to charity? Michael’s genius talent was matched only by his caring, compassionate heart. A heart that loved and asked only to be loved.
Look at this emotional sketch he drew and included on the History album. I see sensitivity, creativity, sorrow. It feels like show business put him on a permanent time out from childhood where he is backed up to a wall with no way out. His drawing takes me into his soul and shows his loneliness, pain, longing and heartache. It reminds me of a Gottfried Helnwein photo.There is an impact I feel by staring at it while listening to Michael’s “Childhood” which he said was his most autobiographical song. For me it was painful in a way, and I just wanted to wrap my arms around the little kid in the picture and play with him for hours. It’s as if he sketched his tears right into my heart…
The Los Angeles art scene is invigorating. I’ve had a particular fondness for the Bergamot Art Station because it’s filled with so many galleries; all within immediate distance from each other. A former train station converted into not one but thirty galleries, make up this center in Santa Monica on Michigan Ave. Not only was there a line to get a parking spot but the area outside was packed with people. It thrills me that Angelenos wait in line to see new art.
I headed straight for William Turner’s Gallery as I was excited to see Suzan Woodruff’s new exhibit; Luminous Matters.
William Turner has been discovering emerging artists since he was the intermittent art editor for Venice Magazine in 1993. His gallery; with a grand floor space of 5,000 square feet, is known for emerging artists and high quality work from artists such as Woodruff.
Last year I was transfixed by Woodruff’s paintings at her opening and this year was no exception. As I stood in front of Dragon’s Tail; a painting of reds and whites, I found my emotions begin to stir again, just like in 2010. Her paintings have an intoxicating way of stirring my emotions while instilling calmness and quietude. Woodruff says to paint is to embrace chaos and it’s clear that her touchstone is nature. She makes you see through new eyes by provocation and is inspired by O’Keeffe, Rothko,Pollack and even the Hubble Space Telescope launched by the space shuttle in 1990.
Anak Rabanal; a cohort of William Turner, noticed me staring at the painting and we began to chat. She shared that Los Angeles has the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.S. per capita yet most high caliber art is exported to China, South America and New York. Three of the top 25 art schools in the country are in Los Angeles; UCLA, Art Center in Pasadena and Otis College of Art and Design in LA. She was passionately explaining how collectors buying art now will most likely end up donating it decades later.
Here are some of Woodruff’s new pieces:
Next I headed to Robert Berman’s Gallery. Berman’s art gallery has been in Santa Monica since 1979. He was one of the first galleries to be located at Bergamot Station Arts Center and is clearly a passionate art lover who prefers edginess to his selection of art. His show The Street’ N Low has a mixture of new surrealists, LowBrow art, and graffiti or taggers art.
LowBrow art began in Los Angeles in the 70’s. Also known by the name pop surrealism; this art can often contain a sense of humor. A celebration of being white and American. What immediately caught my eye was Britt Ehringer’s Don’t Mess With Texas, 2008. Ehringer gets his source imagery from the internet, personal photos, old girlie magazines, art books, dreams. His work is meant to operate as triggers; near-archetypes that open onto a whole sphere of imagery firmly entrenched in the collective subconscious. An American; he spent time in Asia in a marble quarry designing giant carved fireplace mantles, bathtubs, and columns. Don’t Mess with Texas is a woman from a nudist camp playing golf with mountains in the background and colorful cats.
Britt Ehringer-Don’t Mess With Texas, 2008
Luke Chueh’s Untitled, 2010. Chueh brings a bit of brute to cute with his paintings straddling comedy and tragedy. Some of his paintings have been made into vinyl toys and his work has been shown around the world. His art is like a nightmare and fun best friend all rolled into one. Or someone who’s got some serious issues but you just don’t mind.
Last but not least; I am a huge fan of Mark Ryden’s work. He was commissioned by Michael Jackson to paint his 1991 Dangerous album cover. I have spent nights reading about the symbolism in that album. We see Michael’s kohl rimmed eyes under Bubbles, his chimpanzee. Glittering lights, cherubim, fairies, bones, insects, and animals all within a rococo design scheme. There were even references to Botticell’s The Birth of Venus, the coronation of King George VI, and Ingres’ Napoleon I On His Imperial Throne. Okay, I’m going to state something for the record here. The bald man on the cover is not Alistair Crowley; a well known freemason. It’s B.T. Barnum. Any MJ fan knows about Michael’s obsession with B.T. Barnum and his desire to create the greatest show on earth; which was Michael’s goal. Okay, I won’t go off on an MJ tangent. The dangerous cover is a separate subject on it’s own but no, it wasn’t full of occult symbolism. Have fun if you want to decode this art work by Ryden.
Mark Ryden’s MJ-Dangerous album cover
Mark Ryden’s Fur Girl caught my eye. What can I say about Ryden that hasn’t been said. He chooses subjects filled with cultural connotation which transcends the Surrealists’ strategies of working on the subconscious & collective memories. Always leaving the audience challenged by unnerving us.
Mark Ryden-Fur Girl
I leave you with a picture or two of Robert’s dog Sophie. She was hanging out in the back of the gallery keeping an eye on things.
Bergamot Station arts center; a train station converted into an art gallery hot spot was teeming with people for the fifteenth year anniversary as the 30+ galleries coordinated their new shows to open. The galleries are clustered together so it’s easy to hop from one to the next. Welcome to the LA art scene. It’s easy to hit culture overload with all the artists featured. Burgeoning artists throughout as well as some classics. I choose a few gems from the eclectic choices. Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”.
My first stop was to visit Christy Rogers at the James Gray Studio. Here is Christy in front of some of her photographs of the human body that she creates with light, water and movement. I love Christy’s work. There is a deep sensitivity combined with a haunting, compelling visual.
Ron L. Zheng’s art form is called poetography. He combines poetry with photography by shooting black and white film and digitally transferring onto canvas.
Michael Sagato’s nude. His bio says he has a sometimes distorted view of human psychology, relationships and himself. Welcome! He uses old masters techniques but has a current look to his work.
La Dolce Vita, 1950-1660: Stars and Celebrities in the Italian Fifties
Cary Grant after receiving the David de Donatello for Best Foreign Actor for North by Northwest, sitting next to Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti. The press was always intrigued by the relationship of Sophia and Ponti. It wasn’t traditional because of their age difference. It seemed they were together for love; what a concept.
Mark Ryden’s trio entitled Blood, Sweat and Tears is an absolute favorite. Ryden’s work is haunting, disturbing, whimsical. He is one of the most celebrated artists of the Pop Surrealism movement. BTW, Ryden painted the cover of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album which is regarded as one of the most intricate album covers along with Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Apparently it took him six months to complete. Michael had a fascination with the circus and B.T. Barnum. You can see Barnum’s image on the cover. But I digress.
Some more of Ryden’s work:
At the William Turner Gallery: Curtis Ripley’s Chinese Nocture.