Chris Mars talks about moving from music to art, new projects, and the 'war on Halloween'

Categories: Interview

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While everyone may be as giddy as schoolboys (in schoolgirl dresses) to be at tonight's Replacements tribute show at First Avenue and Seventh Street Entry, former drummer of the band Chris Mars is more likely to be stretching canvas, gesso-ing board or putting the finishing details on another in a long running body of visual masterpieces. Afterall, he's now spent more time with the brush and palette than he did with drumsticks with the band he is most commonly known for. At least around these parts.

Around the country in high art galleries and around the world with his essential 2008 book, Tolerance, Chris's output garners more than that hand-stamped original press copy of Stink! in mint condition or that signed handbill poster from that '81 show in the Entry ever will. In other words, he's moved on.

But at a time during the holidays when most families are just trying to get through dinner for a night to seek temporary elation dealing with one another, Chris is very open in his work, sharing some of the struggles of his and his brother's, a diagnosed Schizophrenic, and the mental journey required to get through their lives together.

So while Chris might be spending more time listening to paint and texture than the 'Mats these days, I thought it'd be a good time to hear about where he gets his painstakingly-detailed painting style and not so much about playing make-up and wearin' guitars.

1. After leaving the Replacements you did a few really cool solo records, but eventually went headfirst in to pursuing your art career. Having amassed quite a following and body of work in your painting, what lessons did you learn from the "rock world" that helped guide you into being a recognized visual artist?

Having been lucky enough to further explore music in a more personal and multi-faceted way with my own records, the thing I came away with is that I was happy by this point to have thoroughly explored, realized and ultimately exhausted my aspirations to be a musician. I simply got it out of my system. I think I had to do this, and am thankful that I did. My visual passion was present long before music and had been bubbling up in me for some time. So eventually, I gave myself to it exclusively.

2. You have a real original and recognizable style to your painting. Though often seen as "gothic" or "fantasy" influenced there's some obvious auto-biographical and political references in your work. Do you ever follow a more realistic and representational approach? Or is the subject matter real enough and your means of addressing it the result of your style?

Thank you for compliments. My process is very spontaneous. Throughout a painting I seek to listen to what the paint and texture is telling me, along with what I want to express emotionally. I incorporate straight realism in the right dose. For me, the realistic or the representational elements serve as a juxtaposition to the more surreal elements. I also regard the realism as bait, or a more readily identifiable element to lure the viewer in. There are a million directions to go as I follow the course of a painting but if I stay true and present to these elements, the vision gets realized.

3. I love your animations. They seem to be a natural progression from your paintings and books and lend themselves to combine your disciplines in painting and music. Are you working on your own music again? Where do you see your animation work going?

Thanks again. I like to think of the music as the final touch to a short film so in this sense I do create melodies - and other sounds - with an eye on possible use in film. It's a very different approach from the old verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge structure. The visual aspects of film excite me the most. Each time I do a short I learn a bit more. I could see myself possibly doing a feature at some point. Movie making is a mysterious, multi-layered nut to crack. I love doing them and for now I will continue to make them in between painting.

4. Despite being very detailed and highly composed you still produce a lot of art. Can you explain your process a bit?

An important part for me is achieving the right color tone and texture that will lay underneath the finished image. It took me a lot of trial and error before I figured out the right balance. These prep elements seem to help in creating a fluidity, allowing me to not stumble on the technical aspects of painting but rather to be able to focus on what I want to say, apart from the technicalities. I put many hours into each painting and paint most days. I feel as though I am pulled along by a painting so that time just evaporates.

5. What can fans of yours look forward to from your art in the new year? What are your own personal goals for your artwork?

I'm presently working on a new film that I hope to have done next year, and a selection of my films will be screening at MoMA in New York this spring. I'm painting away as usual, and have a number of museum shows coming up in 2011. Nothing local at present, maybe in 2012.

As for my goals for the work, over the years, I see evolutions in my own work over time. I tend to let things flow rather than force them so in this sense, my goal is to be able to continue to pursue my vision, and let things unfold organically.

6. Anything you really want for Christmas this year?

An end to the war on Halloween!


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