An Interview with Chet Zar

by JL SchnabelPosted on

Pluming emotional depths via portraits of unsettling monsters, artist Chet Zar (Vol 11) will be exhibiting his latest work, ‘Faces of Death’ at Last Rites‘ new gallery space this upcoming Friday, July 22 through August 22nd. As Chet finished up the last details for his show, we had a chance to talk to him about growing up with art, making frames, and the death of negativity. View a preview of the work and read the interview below.

I’ve read your father is also an artist. What was your childhood like growing up with an artist? Did it influence your choice to make art?

James Zar is my stepfather and I didn’t meet him until I was around 5 years old. I already knew I wanted to be an artist by then, so it was kind of cosmic that we should meet. It was great growing up around a working art studio. I think I absorbed a lot of his techniques just by being around it and watching him work.

For this upcoming show at Last Rites, a lot of the images I’ve been able to see appear as tightly focused portraits. Can you talk about this choice?

I sort of wanted to get back to my roots, the monster portraits that first got me some sort of notoriety. I was still learning a lot when I started painting those so I thought it would be fun to try them again with a lot more knowledge of technique.

How does workingas a special effects make up artist influence your work and vice versa? Do youfeel they are related?

Definitely. Myart is an extension of my effects design work, in a way. I half jokingly thinkof it as taking my effects experience and using it for good (fine art) insteadof evil (commercial art). But yes, I think the reason I focus on portraits isbecause I spent so much of my youth designing masks and creature make ups.

Recently, you’ve tackled the images of Alice in Wonderland for a group show and your own rendition of ‘American Gothic.’ How was it to start from such well-known images; to add your own signature?

It’s a good learning experience to re interpret a classic painting. It’s all there for you to see before you ever start. The “Post American Gothic” was for a collector/website builder named Ryan Wolfert. I did it in exchange for him building my new website. The concept was his- my version of American Gothic. So I put in some characters that I had been working on for some other potential paintings and they seemed to work. It was a fun project. The Alice project was fun as well. Since it was for the Alice video game, they sent the artists some of the pre production work so we had these cool designs to start from.

What is a “typical” workday for you like? How does your studio environment effect the way your work?

I usually get up and answer my email. I try to get to work in my studio by late morning but I usually can’t seem to get going until the afternoon. At around 7 or so, my wife and I take the dog on a walk. I then go back to the studio and work until about 10 or 11. That’s pretty much my life these days.

How long didthis body of work take you to create?

I reallyoverbooked myself this year so I think I spent about 3 months working on thisshow. It should have been 6. But I busted my ass working every single day(except when I had to travel for a tattoo convention or painting seminar).After this year I am taking a breather.

There is an inherent dark creepiness to your work, yet it is balanced by a subtle harmlessness, am intelligent consciousness that sometimes borders on human mannerisms. One of your newer paintings features one of your creatures smiling and another shows one as an angel of peace. Can you talk about this fine line between what is considered “good” and “evil”, what is considered scary?

I am not too interested in straight out horror or gore. I like dark stuff but I don’t necessarily want to offend just to offend and subtlety can often make a stronger statement. I am really looking to create a certain amount of sympathy for these creatures. Essentially they are us and I feel a lot of empathy for human suffering. I was just speaking to somebody about this yesterday- my paintings show decay and death, but it’s the death of our negativity, our twisted behaviors and attitudes, and that’s a good thing. It all has to die before something new and better can take it’s place.

If your monsters could dream, what do you imagine their dreams/nightmares would be like? If they could speak, what would be the narratives of their dialect? Where do they live?

I imagine that they dream in images that humans are unable to process, in a Lovecraftian way. You know, if you saw their dreams your hair would turn white and you would go insane. As far as their speech goes, I think many of them make strange sounds, foghorns, air raid sirens, steam hissing, etc. I would like to explore their environments in future work. Hopefully this can all come together in a film someday.

You’ve been hand making frames for the new work. What was this process like? Did knowing that the work was all going to be the same size for the frames influence their final outcome?

I made them all the same size (11×14” canvas, 18×20” frame) so that I could sculpt one frame and cast duplicates. It really was a cost/time issue but it also gives them a unified look. It took about 2 weeks from sculpting, molding, casting and painting 16 frames, which was really pushing it. I also wanted to keep them small and affordable since the economy is still pretty bad.

 What do you consider to be the heart of your work?

Love. And I’mnot joking! I love what I do and that’s why I do it.

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