Mark Ryden's Queen Bee is a dazzling example of the artist's keen ability to merge centuries of artistic practice with a contemporary sensibility. Associated with the pop surrealist movement which takes its inspiration from a variety of contemporary sources such as comic book illustration and tattoo design, Ryden expands the genre by quoting 19th century masters including Jean Augste Dominique Ingres Ryden's admiration for classic technique is visible in the detailed manner he employs to render the porcelain skin and silken fabrics of the female figure, while he foregrounds his interest in pop surrealism through his illustrative hand as epitomized by the cartoonish features of the female figure. The artist also explores Baroque and Gothic aesthetics through his elaborate wooden frame, which he personally designed.
Employing various aesthetic strategies, Ryden creates a striking portrait of a female figure, whose hair has morphed in to a bee hive. The ambiguity of the subject's expression is matched by her uncanny position in relationship to the bee, which is the focal point of the work. It is difficult to determine which holds power over the other. While the girl appears in some ways calm as if she is in control of the situation and the bee is her minion, the bee in some ways appears combative, protecting the home she has colonized within the human's head. The ambiguous relationship between the human and the insect is a single iteration of the overarching theme that Ryden often explores- the relationship between mankind and nature.
In the forward to the publication that accompanied his The Tree Show, Ryden expresses his interest in this theme by highlighting one of his favorite quotes from William Blake. "The tree that moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the waysome scarce see nature at all, but to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself." Ryden finds nature an endless fountain of inspiration and wonder. However he understands that not all humans have the same reaction to the simple beauties of the natural world. While describing the Redwood Forrest, which serves as one of the inspirations for The Tree Show, he explains: "It is perplexing to me how some can look at these extraordinary trees and see evidence of a spiritual power while others only see a commodity." The mixed expression of the female figure epitomizes humanity's fractured view of Mother Nature's grandeur. This enigmatic figure serves as an archetype that signifies this complex and expansive theme.
Queen Bee is an excellent example of Mark Ryden's ability to produce whimsical figures that symbolize complex realities which language cannot always capture. The artist says that "People have the idea that an image must stand for something else, that the real meaning needs to be described with language. Instead it is the image itself that is the meaning." In many of his works, Ryden creates his own symbols. In his work, Allegory of the Four Elements, four girls with similarly blank expressions sit around a tree-each with a different animal resting on their head. These figures, which Ryden foregrounds as allegories for natural elements, appear to be the first stage in the development of what would become the Queen Bee symbol. It is clear that this theme is of the utmost interest to Ryden, who continues to invent enthralling visual explorations of this powerful subject.
By creating a uniquely contemporary symbology comprised of visual nods to many eras of art history, Ryden confirms that the relationship between man and nature is a timeless subject that has and will continue to fascinate mankind.