In a city where celebrity photographers are everywhere, there aren't very many portraits that can change Angelenos' perceptions of their beloved icons.
No stranger to working with the famous, Los Angeles-based artist Mark Ryden depicts all sorts of well-known figures in his paintings, from Christina Ricci to Abraham Lincoln, in alternative ways that place the faces in another realm altogether. In fact, one piece named Christina from his 1998 debut exhibition “The Meat Show” depicts the actress in a fancy, yellow dress holding a giant bee near a table showing a slab of meat next to a bottle decorated with Lincoln's visage. He recently created a similarly eerie scene for one of various album covers of rapper Tyler the Creator's Wolf.
The Odd Future member stares out as us with eyes set into an oversized head as he casually sits on a small, orange bicycle. Strange details frame his figure, such as another big-headed figure roaming in the background and a small tree with the head of a baby in the bottom right corner. The single word 'WOLF' on Tyler's cap solidifies the piece as an album cover.
Odd Future has its own store on Fairfax, close to a string of Ethiopian restaurant and shops and Known Gallery, which hosts a number of street and fine art shows and is associated with the brand The Seventh Letter. With colorful scrawling on the outside and a sign that forbids photos, the Odd Future store looks like a clandestine locale and surprises with its many objects, including the distinctive T-shirts Tyler and crew wear. The shirt with a neon cat on its surface recently got attention due to a claim that the group stole the design from artist Ian Campbell.
It only makes sense that Tyler would employ Ryden for a strange, eye-catching design to continue Odd Future's penchant for, well, the odd. We chatted with the artist via e-mail about the album cover, Los Angeles and his view on pop surrealism today.
Ryden boasts tons of experience with album design, lending his own flair to epic album covers like Michael Jackson's Dangerous and Ringo Starr's Time Takes Time to name only a couple.
“I did my first album cover in 1988 for the band Warrant (it was called Dirty, Rotten, Stinking, Filthy, Rich). It was a very successful cover and spawned many years of album cover commissions,” Ryden tells us. “I did over 50 album covers over the next decade. As I transitioned into doing fine art for galleries around 1998, I stopped doing any album covers or any other commercial commissions.”
The decision to design Tyler's album cover came casually. “My son Jasper thought it was a good idea,” Ryden writes. “He is quite the music aficionado. I haven't done an album cover in such a long time, I thought, 'What the heck.'”
Ryden has displayed at La Luz de Jesus, an alternative Los Angeles gallery known for showing artists with varied styles, usually in the vein of pop surrealism, which draws from popular culture. Like Ryden, many artists who showed in the space — among them Shag, Matt Groening and Don Ed Hardy — later reached considerable success. The gallery exposed their distinct styles to the art world and Ryden witnessed the trend grow beyond the gallery.
“For the longest time La Luz de Jesus was the only gallery that showed this art,” wrote Ryden. “Then there was Roq la Rue in Seattle. At a certain point the movement exploded and now there are 'pop surrealist' or 'lowbrow' galleries everywhere. It seems like there are dozens just in L.A. now. I do think it is still growing, but not at the explosive rate of the last decade.”
Lucky for us, Ryden keeps on creating his fascinating visions on canvas and in projects like the Tyler the creator album cover. It's not every day you see an Odd Future member in an uncanny forest surrounded by strange creatures but when executed by Ryden, it all makes sense somehow.