Saturday, November 18, 2006

Art Space Talk: Chet Zar

I recently interviewed artist Chet Zar. Mr. Zar's images would be considered Dark Art. However, there is a hidden beauty about his work. In a sense, his paintings are beautifully scary.

Drawing inspiration from his love of horror films, Mr. Zar creates characters that capture feelings of fear and anxiety. There is degree of isolation about his paintings. The viewer senses danger as he or she views the nightmares that stem from Mr. Zar's wonderully creative mind. (When I first observed his work I thought about the horrors of what a nuclear attack may result in.)

Chet Zar also draws inspiration from his career as a special effects make up artist, designer, and sculptor for the motion picture industry. Mr. Zar has designed and created creatures and special effects make up for such films as, "Planet of the Apes", "The Ring", and "Hellboy". His work can also be observed in the critically acclaimed music videos for the art metal band, Tool.

In the past 7 years Zar has embraced the digital side of special effects. He has utilized the computer to translate his dark vision with 3D animation for Tool’s live shows and has released many of them on his own DVD of dark 3D animation, "Disturb the Normal".

At the beginning of 2000 (at the suggestion of horror author Clive Barker), Mr. Zar decided to go back to his artistic roots. He now has a focus on his own original works and has tried his hand at fine art, specifically painting in oils. The result has been a renewed sense of purpose for Chet in regards to his art. His new found artistic freedom has given him clarity of vision. This vision is evident in his darkly surreal (and often darkly humorous), paintings.

"Chet's art is beautiful & scary. His style has a modern twist crashing into a classical approach. I think Chet is a master painter on his way to making a great mark in our little world. Wanna do something smart with your money? Invest in a Chet Zar painting." - Adam Jones (TOOL)

Brian Sherwin: Chet, when did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

Chet Zar: I remember thinking as far back as first grade that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.

BS: How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

CZ: That’s a difficult question because it seems like it has always been a big part of who I am and my personal and professional life has always been deeply intertwined with creating art.

BS: How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

CZ: Yes, I think society influences every artist. How could it not?
BS: Your work reminds me of a nuclear nightmare full of mutations and distortions of life. Do your paintings reflect a concern over weapons of mass destruction?

CZ: In my early teens during the Reagan years, the possibility of a nuclear war was on a lot of kids minds. I used to dream about it a lot, seeing a mushroom cloud off in the distance and getting that sinking feeling like it was all over. I see that anxiety in a lot of my work. But even more so, the themes of the madness and utter recklessness of nuclear weapons find their way into a lot of my paintings.

BS: Chet, what are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

CZ: In my early childhood it was the art books that were around my house and my aunt’s house (she was a very talented artist). Escher, Dali, Bosch are a few that come to mind. I was also very inspired by horror movies, Big Daddy Roth art, mad magazine, aurora monster model kits, Frank Frazetta… a teenager, Giger became a big influence. And through it all my stepfather, James Zar, was a big inspiration to me. He is a fine artist so he was constantly painting while I was growing up. Beksinski is also a big influence.

BS: Chet, tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

CZ: I have been drawing, sculpting and painting for as long as I can remember. My early family life had a lot of stress because my biological father had severe emotional problems, so much of my childhood felt very scary. I think that’s why I got into horror. I felt a deep connection with it and that is probably why my artwork today is what it is.

BS: How long have you been a working artist?

CZ: I guess since I was about 16 or 17. That wasn't doing my own fine art, though. That was doing make up effects, which I kind of view as commercial art. Anyway, I have been working in that field for about 20 years. I started pursuing my fine art career in about 2000.

BS: Chet, if you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

CZ: Hmmm...well, I haven't met all of them. But from the collectors that I have met, the common thread seems to be that they have an upbeat, kind of positive energy. They are not the brooding Goth types that you might expect. But like I said, I haven't met them all.

BS: Chet, discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

CZ: Okay, how about "overlord" (Image above). I found an old photo of a clown from some old movie. He looked like shit, like an old haggard clown. I thought it would make a nice painting and I wanted some practice using photo reference. So I started with the clown. I kind of put a little downs syndrome in his eyes, I thought that would be cool, a retarded clown. There was no background yet and I don’t know how I came up with those figures. The antennae on their heads were an afterthought, but I think that kind of gives the whole painting its meaning and ties everything together.

BS: What is your artistic process?

CZ: There are generally two ways I work. The most common way is starting with doodles. I sketch on scraps of paper all the time, and when I see something I like, I will take it and start to develop the idea. When I get the idea far enough along, I will paint it.

The other way is when I just get a flash in my head of a finished image. That doesn’t happen as often. "Black Magick" (image above) is a good example of one of those pieces that just came to me and it was really just a matter of trying to transfer it from my mind to the canvas.

Sometimes I get ideas from seeing something the wrong way. Example: I saw a music video of some shitty band the other day that was all made up in this cheesy monster makeup, kind of like Gwar if they took themselves seriously.

There was a shot where one of the guys tilted his head back and sprayed water up out of his mouth. On first glance I didn’t know his head was tilted back, and for a moment I saw this faceless thing with a spray of mist shooting up out of the top of his head. I am definitely going to use that for a painting.

I try to keep the concepts open ended so that it can develop as I go. Not the most disciplined way to paint, but it keeps things fun for me. To me, art is a refuge from the rigid structure of the real world, so it is important that I allow myself that freedom.

I don’t use a lot of reference, but that is mostly out of laziness. I don’t have a lot of free time to paint (I still have to work a day job), so I can’t always take the time I should to shoot photo reference or find photos in books. I usually just wing it and make it work. If I had my way, I would probably block my figures out in clay, light them and paint from life. But I don’t have that kind of luxury yet.

BS: Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

CZ: I love the look and feel of painting with oils. I like layering and glazing and the depth it creates. I like how oils blend together. I used to paint in acrylics, but once I switched over to oils I never went back. I think if you know how to do it, you can get a similar feel to that of oils, but it’s still kind of like an imitation of how oils naturally look. Plus, you can’t beat the feeling that oils have while painting. They just feel so smooth and luxurious. It’s like sex.

BS: Chet, do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

CZ: I have no degree and I haven’t really had much schooling outside of high school.

BS: Where can we see more of your art?

CZ: You can observe my art on my website.

BS: Chet, are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

CZ: I don’t really have any official representation. I have my largest piece ever in the next copronason gallery show in December ( ). After that, I have a solo show at the strychnin gallery in Berlin in February ( ).

BS: What galleries have you exhibited in?

CZ: I got my start showing at the cannibal flower group show. I show a lot at the copronason gallery and thinkspace gallery and the hive gallery in l.a. I have shown at the capla/kesting gallery in New York as well as strychnin gallery in New York.

BS: Chet, what trends do you see in the 'art world'? Any tips for emerging artists?

CZ: I definitely see a trend towards more dark stuff and people who can actually paint. The established conceptual/modern art scene is dying I think, and good riddance.

This new scene is a lot more inclusive, at least here in L.A. there is really a sense of community among the artists and gallery owners alike. There is truly an artistic renaissance happening here in l.a. I thought I would never live to see.

I would suggest for any emerging artists to take advantage of the situation here, particularly with the cannibal flower group shows. There is now attitude and not a lot of formality. L.C. and Michelle waterman (the folks who run cannibal flower) really care about the art community and they deserve a lot of credit for what the scene has become.

BS: Chet, has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

CZ: Hmmm….I don’t think I have ever been censored.

BS: What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

CZ: Probably when I was first starting off because that was when I realized that my day job creating makeup effects in the film industry was a dead end and that fine art was the only way out for me. And I wasn’t selling right off the bat, so it was a little frustrating. I suppose I am still going through a tough period right now because I still have to work the day job to support myself and it is really difficult to work in a field you don’t enjoy when you know that you could be at home painting. But hopefully I will be able to transition to painting full time soon.

BS: Chet, in one sentence... why do you create art?

CZ: Because it’s fun.

BS: What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

CZ: There are so many great artists here in L.A. that it’s difficult to take it all in. finally, a reason to be proud of living in this hellhole. It almost makes it worthwhile. But to my knowledge, there is nothing even close happening right now in any other part of the country or world, for that matter. Right now, as an artist, L.A. is the place to be.

BS: Chet, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

CZ: The old, stale art world is dying and a new movement is being born. Get in while the getting’s good!
You can learn more about Chet Zar by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Chet is a member of the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I have many of Chet's great prints and two originals, THEY ARE GREAT! it's a blast to see friends and familly com in and say 'What in the world?" and I say "Hell yeah, Isn't that great!" everyone is always amazed at Chet's amazing art. I'll tell you, no one and I mean no one paints like Chet and I am way lucky to have the collection I have. and its only getting larger.
The conversations that rise from Chets paintings are always a good time and very cool to lose yourself in!

Anonymous said...

I am a HUGE fan and hope that you can get rid of the day job to paint full time. the world needs your art.

I especially related to what was said about growing up in the Reagan-nuclear fear era of the 80s and also had very vivid visual dreams of nuclear imagery.

I love the way you capture eyes- so expressive and I love your use of color.



Anonymous said...

what a fantastically talented Artist. Hugely inspiring, Chet Zar thank you.

Anonymous said...

I've never been a real fan of art, then, one day when looking up some Tool info, i saw the name Chet Zar. I clicked on the name, and it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. I've never been scared and awe struck by a sense of beauty before. Chet, you are a god walking among mortals. 46 & 2



Anonymous said...

I also found you via Tool, and your work is really inspirational - keep being awesome!

Shane said...

I think Chet is an amazing artist, however his paintings are very scary, depressing and hopeless. I hope he has more hope and optimism in life than his painting would allude to.