Interview with Chris Mars

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Oil painting by Chris Mars

"In Preparation of Barrier Transcendence" (2009) - Oil painting

There is a great catharsis in Chris Mars’ dark paintings. Read any interview with him and you’ll read about how the plight of his brother’s struggles with schizophrenia spurned the subject matter of his paintings. His concern for his brother Joe’s well-being, as well as the concern he has for others in need, translates powerfully and magically, speaking out for those who can’t. The attention his paintings attract bring awareness to what Joe and others have been through, which is monumentally important.

Mars's talent is multifaceted. He began a music career as the co-founder and drummer of The Replacements and topped it off with four solo albums. He has since left music behind him to pursue his art career, which includes both painting and short film

"My inspiration has branched from this initial seed to now to all forms of oppression, all societal outcasts." —Chris Mars

Samantha Levin: What are your current projects - are you working on any new videos or any series?

Chris Mars: Currently I am working on a new painting, as I am most days. I also just completed another short film titled “Elk Mound” that runs about 14 minutes - it’s about a man out of work who begins having... difficulties. I am also in the beginning stages of planning my next short film that I hope to start shooting this fall. So primarily I am painting for various exhibitions, and making short films piece by piece in between paintings.

See available paintings by Chris Mars.

Interview with Chris Mars

"The Nullifier" - Oil painting   &   "The Tipping Point" - Oil painting.

SL: When do you think we might be able to see Elk Mound?

CM: I will be sending it around to festivals so if it gets into any that would be one place. Also if the festival rules aren’t too strict, I will also be posting it on my website in the new year.

SL: What films are particularly influential to you?

CM: I love so many films.  I suppose love is always an influence, even when style per se isn’t.  I’m sure I could generate a list of hundreds, but in this moment in time I’ll mention The Graduate, Good Fella’s, Splice, Elephant Man, Cronenberg’s The Fly

Chris Mars paintings

“Cesium Sunset" (2014) - Oil painting.

SL: Tell me a bit more about your filmmaking. You seem to prefer animation, but if you could have any tool you wanted to make your films, what would it be?

CM: An Arri Alexa Camera with a Panavision lens package would be a very nice tool!  I have an array of digital cameras I use – Nikon, Black Magic, JVC, Sony.  But these are magic markers compared to the fine oil paint that is Arriflex.

Chris Mars

"Disappearing Ink" (2013) - Oil painting.

SL: I enjoy the progress shots of your paintings that you post online. Tell me a bit about the one you were painting in October – it centers on a pumpkin and his guests...there’s a town in the background... The characters in this one look particularly suited for Halloween. Is there a story there or are you just having fun?

CM: I am having some Halloween fun here yes, but also there’s a narrative for this painting that on Halloween, a great pumpkin type character guides outcasts to a safe and welcoming gathering... on one night out of the year, their differences are accepted, and celebrated. The pumpkin feels the pain of his guests who throughout the year are considered odd, and are daily misunderstood. This causes the pumpkin grief. He wishes to be able to help them on more than one night of the year. His eyes glow momentarily green with envy, jealous briefly of the innocence of his ilk back in the patch who bask ignorant and blissful in the night, unaware of the sadness of the souls he guides.

Chris Mars

Progress photo of halloween painting (2014).

SL: Your brother's illness and his treatment has for many years fueled your work, but has that changed in form over time in any way? How has your artwork helped him?

CM: I think it helps Joe in that he feels good about being part of something that can create more awareness of his disease, and various other illnesses and conditions that may cause some in society to be shunned. It definitely lifts his mood, especially when all the holiday cards come in from well-wishers all over the world (an annual tradition now). Thanks so much to all who take the time to send him greetings!

My work continues to be and always will be inspired by my brother Joe and his plight. In general though my inspiration has branched from this initial seed to now to all forms of oppression, all societal outcasts. There are so many situations in the world that find people in heavy situations from so many causes past and present - my eyes continue to be opened, and I create work in hopes of opening more eyes.

Interview with Chris Mars

"From Puppet Slumber" - Oil painting   &   "The Ever Knitting Madame Defarge" - Oil painting.

SL: Are there any causes you're particularly focused on lately?

CM: I am working on an ongoing series of paintings about Hanford, Washington, a cold war era nuclear bomb plant that continues to this day to contaminate the area around it with vast amounts of highly radioactive waste. Industrial pollution and the forces that corrupt the regulatory system to contain it are alarming to say the least.  People are suffering, grieving, dying.  This is the current cause that comes to mind.

Painting is also a way to simply escape; I don’t exclusively wrestle with how people treat other people negatively.  Luckily there are problems people are solving for one another as well. Either way, painting is good therapy.

Interview with Chris Mars

"Hanford 7" - Oil painting  &   "The Fourth Turning" - Oil painting.

SL: It seems to be a cathartic activity for many artists, which is wonderful. For those of us who enjoy dark-minded objects and works of art, we can more easily perceive the uplifting or positive facets that lie within such grotesque subject matter. It's sometimes hard for others to see that. Have you ever found yourself trying to show someone the lighter side to your work or even the work of others?

CM: I have found myself talking about the awareness that I am trying to raise about the social issues I paint about.  I get a lot of comments that my work is dark, but I suppose I am pointing out the positive aspects of the work by talking about and encouraging others to talk about the messages within it. Ultimately though, I paint and it comes out as it does – my aesthetic is highly instinctual, and painting is for me an instinctual act.  I can’t really do much about how others may perceive it.  But I can explain how I perceive it.

Interview with Chris Mars

"Mrs Lanterman's Daughter" - Oil painting   &   "Prelude To Test Tube Variety" - Oil painting.

SL: Would you describe your studio to me? Messy or neat? Small or large? If you could paint in any other location for a time, where would that be?

CM: My studio can get messy, especially when I am heavily into work on a given painting, but currently it is atypically tidy. I paint in a room that is about 15x11 feet with windows on three sides – this for the view rather than light; I prefer to paint under controlled lighting.  I love where I am location wise.  I’m a homebody mostly and after many years of travel I am now most content exactly where I am, and because of this am not apt to leave it. I suppose during a particularly long, hard Minnesota winter, I might wonder what it’s like to paint in Mexico, since I love the colors, art and people there... and it’s not all that far from home.

Interview with Chris Mars

"Will Die Without Food" - Oil painting   &   "The Integration Party" - Oil painting.

SL: Are there any new artists who have caught your attention lately?

CM: I’m always hesitant to name names for fear of leaving out some important ones.  Like with film, the list is long.  In this moment in time I’m compelled to mention Gregory Jacobsen, Chet Zar, Jean Labourdette, Craig Larotonda, Annie Owens, Russell Joslin and my wife Sally Mars.  There are many more.  Many I’ve learned about though Beinart, actually.  It’s an inspiring source.

Chris Mars' website

Interview with Chris Mars

"Devolved Status" - Oil painting   &   "2 for 1" - Oil painting (WIP).


This interview was written by Samantha Levin for the Beinart Collective in 2015.

Samantha Levin is an artist, curator and artist manager. Working with Contemporary Grotesque and Pop Surreal artists, she curates and produces group and solo pop up exhibitions. She currently lives and works from her Brooklyn studio with her white marshmallow-shaped cat, Luna.


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