Anatomia – Mark Ryden

Artists throughout the ages have been drawn to the anatomy of the living.  Many artists through the centuries would have, what we would probably deem as morbid fascinations as they would strive to peak their artistic techniques to hone a true rendition of the living.  They would attend autopsies, even steal limbs of the dead to strip down and understand the muscle and bone structure within so that they could present a true likening of movement within their own craft.  Da Vinci’s work books shows many sketches and preliminary drawings of tendons, muscles under tension and bone so that he could better understand what was going on underneath the skin so that he could produce procision in his work.  Theodore Gericault created pieces with disembodied limbs highlighting the practice of artist’s studies.  We could probably happily say that around this time, some artists were as knowledgeable about the inner workings of living beings as some doctors and scientists.  So it would stand to reason that this inquisitive nature would resonate through the sands of time and still be of interest to artists today.  Ok, it is pretty easy to get hold of a book of anatomy these days so that they don’t have to go pilfering body parts to study, but the use of the human body in art work has moved with the times and present the inner workings in bizarre and intriguing ways.

Mark Ryden is one of these unique artists, lending his talent to the lowbrow genre, and while on the surface this can look a little cutesy, actually there is a wealth of reflections of masters within his work.

Ryden is deemed the “godfather” of  Pop Surrealism (Lowbrow), and he and his wife Marion Peck were marks as one of the 10 most important couples in Los Angeles.  Born in 1963, he has created his own world of Lolita style women that bend and twist through different settings with a child like innocence, despite what is going on around them.

Ryden is based in Portland, Oregon and while his work presents as a unique styling, it has also been likened to painters such as Bouguereau, which if you look, and I mean really look, you can start to see.  There are also echoes of Caravaggio, Dali, Gauguin and many others, as well as using more common place and pop cultured influences of comic stylings.  His technique is a wealth of history as well as a path less trodden.

I have chosen “Anatomia” to try and reflect the amazing talent and surrealist stylings of this artist as for me it encapsulates all of his themes and techniques in one way or another.

Let’s talk about the obvious first… The girl wearing her internal organs as a dress.  It’s pretty hard to overlook her.  Her face has a classical feel, despite the anime eyes of a heroine (big eyes good… small eyes bad).  The pallid skin and forlorn look reminds me of the portraits of Bourguereau, with the very slight tilt of the head and one shoulder pushed very slightly back to expose and elongate the neck, her face set in a look of innocent repose.

The organs that form her dress, actually almost look like the fills of an ornate dress, as there is no gore, as one would expect from a body being cut open in such a manner, and who knew that the large intestine could be so beautiful.  There is a recurring theme of meat and organs within Ryden’s work and it points to a disconnect with how we view meat for food, the organs that keep us alive and the process of them going from a living being to something on a plate or on an operating table.  When I look at a cow I very much think of the process that it goes through to get to my plate, but it has become very easy for society to remove itself from the slaughter process as we see meat packaged in such a clean and clinical way now.  We are no longer left having to remove bone and innards when it comes so neatly prepackaged, and I guess it is the same with human body… I actually never look at anyone and wonder if their liver is in tact, but this disconnect with understanding our own insides can lead to not treating them correctly.

This painting (to me anyway) also quite cleverly incorporates a reference to one of his earlier paintings.  “Anatomia” was created in 2014, but pre Lady Gaga and the meat dress (2010)…


Ryden created Incarnation (2009) which shows a very similar image…


No blood and gore, just clinical meat that I would expect to see in the window of a butchers.  The same childlike innocence on the face of the girl, just like it is normal to wear a dress of meat.

As a long time fan of Ryden, I have read his artist statements about the meat in his work, and actually I think the inclusion of it is something that tickles his sense of humour.  He states “I like to paint meat because people wonder about it so much“, but actually he also notes that there are many different reasons that he paints it.  Some come from biblical references, others from the horror aspect, either way he makes it look beautiful.

If I go back to “Anatomia” and combine with with something Ryden talks about in his own statement, he picks out that “From the Bible, Matthew 26:26 “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” I have found this Bible verse the source of much curiosity. It is a bizarre ritual Catholics partake in each Sunday as they eat the body of Christ in communion. The literal interpretation of this can be the source of endless visuals from the humorous to the horrific.”  This could be a dip of the hat to this bizarre ritual.

Outside of all of this, the painting itself just lends itself to the surreal, the setting with the palm trees and the muted blue sky looks like it should be some aged portrait, but with the girl taking up the majority of the space within the frame, it goes from portrait to anatomy lesson.  The fact that this is an oil on canvas piece just adds to the feel of something from the past, yet so modern creating an odd juxtaposition of genres.

Ryden puts his work down to a creative third eye, which wakes more during the night, allowing him to present his subconscious.  He is very aware of the surrealists of the past and their thoughts on the ability to see things through a child’s eye, which Ryden can really do, through his innocent renditions of such extraordinary subjects.

If you want to see more of Ryden’s work, or read hs artists statements, or essays that others have written about him, you can find his website here.

For me, his work will always present a feeling of wonder and amazement at how he can combine such subjects and still create something so ludicrously beautiful.

What do you think of “Anatomia”? Why not tell me in the comments?  Like this post?  why not share it?

Want to find me on social media – look for WidowCranky to get all the latests posts, as well as some of my own photography and art work.


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