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Artist Mark Ryden interviewed about his paintings and favorite books

In Mark Ryden's paintings, scenes of innocence - like something out of 1950s Golden Books - take on a sinister edge. Picture book-perfect pastoral scenes, bunnies, kids, clowns, and ice cream vans, mingle with skulls and porterhouse steaks. And there are all sorts of old world symbols, arcana, magic and alchemy, not to mention cameos from Christina Ricci and Abraham Lincoln.And Mark Ryden's oil paintings are rendered with a technical skill that would give Renaissance masters a run for their money. I sent Mark Ryden some questions about his favorite books.

READERSVOICE.COM: What was the first book you ever read?

MARK RYDEN: Perhaps Fun with Dick and Jane?! I really don’t know. An important part of my art has to do with the stereotypes and archetypes that are first created in our brains during our early childhood from the first children’s books we read. Later, I do remember reading all the typical books in school like Fahrenheit 451, Great Expectations, etc.

RV: Could you give a general idea of the sort of books you like to read?

MR: I just read Fast Food Nation by Rick Adamson. What an eye-opening book that is! I think everyone should read that book. I do prefer to read non-fiction books.I like books on creativity and self growth like The Artist’s Way which I mentioned below. That book can really help an artist find their creativity. Sark has written some books on creativity (A Creative Companion) that I have also found helpful and inspirational. At first appearance her books may appear a bit too “touchy feely” or “hippy drippy”, but if you can get past that I think there is a great message in them.
I am very inspired by Joseph Cambell. The Power of Myth has been an inspiration in my work.
Right now I am reading Food & Mood by Elizabeth Somer, which is a book about the correlation between mood and what you eat.

RV: What are your top five books of all time?

MR: I wouldn’t say these are the top 5 books of all time, but these books I’ve listed here have been important in my life:

The Art of Happiness – The Dalai Lama. I like the Dalai Lama’s philosophy. Whether you follow Buddhism or not is not important. This book has helped me to find more happiness in my life.

The Artist’s Way – As I explained above, this is a great source for artists to find their creative spirit. This is the book I would recommend for artists to read.

Who Moved My Cheese? – Dr Spencer Johnson. I just recently read this little book and it was amazing how it has helped me right now while I am going through a difficult personal time of change.

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking. I am fascinated by the workings of the physical world. I like how Hawking interjects philosophy into his physics.

Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman. Our “Emotional Intelligence” impacts our success in life so much more than our intellectual intelligence.
I have to throw in a sixth book: Oh, The Places You Will Go – Dr. Suess. In this children’s book, Dr. Suess describes the simple truths in life, with its ups and downs.

RV: How much do you read when you’re painting?

MR: I don’t often sit down and read a book start to finish, I read in a lot of bits and pieces. My studio is filled with books that I use for reference in my painting. I will read a little here and there as I use these books as resources in a particular painting.I actually don’t read near as much as I would like to as I spend so much of my time painting. I do try to listen to books on tape while I paint but I find it hard to split my concentration between the two.

RV: Do you read a lot of biographies of painters (or anyone else), and if so what are some of your favorite biographies?

MR: I have read biographies of people like P.T. Barnum.
I think he was a fascinating person.

I have read the biography of Cheng and Eng. I love biographies but have to admit I get most of them from A & E!

RV: Your paintings feature carnivals and circuses and all sorts of arcane wonders, images and symbols. I was wondering what sort of old books and other things you read to research your paintings, and where you find them?

MR: I collect many interesting old books from antique stores and flea markets. I am attracted by ancient cryptic symbols and mystical imagery. Books about alchemy, metaphysics, science, and philosophy are the books that often have the imagery that inspires me. I use these books for visual inspiration in my painting, but over the years I have found myself reading more and more of them.

I am very interested in Alchemy and how it relates to philosophy and art. A book What Painting Is by James Elkins makes an interesting comparison between a painting and Alchemy.

Psychology and Alchemy by Jung is sitting on my book shelf to try and read next.

RV: I was wondering if you were into humourous fiction or comedy in general and what your favorite sources of comedy are.

MR: I don’t really read comedy. I guess I get my comedy from the movies!

RV: Do you do a lot of reading of newspapers, magazines, the web and if sowhat kind of things do you like to read?

MR: Not a lot; again I spend so much time painting that I never seem to have time for surfing the net or browsing magazines.
See Mark Ryden’s paintings at www.markryden.com.
-copyright Simon Sandall.