October 24th, 2016

Jesse Gussow

“Chris Mars is Painting” Four little words that get me so excited every time I see them on Facebook. Chris Mars’ oil painting was first introduced to me at a Gallery in Montreal. I was immediately pulled in. His work is one of a kind. It feels like I’m somewhere between a dream and a nightmare. Some might describe the subjects as grotesque and monsters, but you can see in their eyes they hurt and feel just as we all do.


1. Where are you from?

I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I have lived all my life.

2. How did you first get into art?

I was always drawn toward visual art.  I remember as a small child pulling out the “P” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia and thumbing right to the “Paintings” section – I’d spend hours just staring at (and eventually studying) the classics, from ancient to modern. Grade school and prior, I’ve always had the desire to draw, and always made time for it.  I started to take it more seriously though in my later twenties, and began painting in my mid-thirties.

3. How would you describe your style? How have others?

As far as how others might describe my work, I have received the gamut - I always appreciate and find interesting what others see in my work as it is run through their various filters.  But I tend to think of it myself as social expressionism mixed with surrealism.  I use detail and some dream-like imagery to hone in on feeling – sometimes my own, but more often projected or imagined emotions of others.

4. Where do you find your inspiration?

Aesthetically I lean toward organic textures and a traditional palette. Conceptually, I am inspired by growing up with my brother Joe, who has schizophrenia.  With this experience, my focus leans toward those who are - by no fault of their own - considered (at times, or as a matter of course) “outcasts” of society.  I like to champion - directly and indirectly - those who end up on the wrong end of xenophobic tendencies that arise among us.

5. What five things can you not live without?

My wife Sally, Art, Dogs, Love, and Health.

6. When you first started painting what were the biggest challenges? What are they now?

At first I was frustrated by having a vision but not being able to make brushes and oil paints behave so I could realize these visions.  My biggest challenge now is to continue to push the medium - expanding the use of color primarily.  And not getting too down personally about war and many of the injustices (social and otherwise) that bombard all of us continually.

7. I find that art and music complement each other so well. With the artwork on albums taking just as much time if not more to look at than listening to the album itself. What made you focus more on your paintings?

When I was younger I devoured music, there was a lot of mystery in it. As I aged though, for me, music became more demystified. On the other hand, painting and making movies are still very mysterious. So I think it’s the level of sustained mystery that continues to lead my focus toward painting primarily, along with the animation and short films I make.

8. I remember your piece at the Yves Laroche's Gallery in Montreal [now the Matthew Namour Gallery] and being completely mesmerized by it; the frame even fit the piece so perfectly. Obviously the frame plays a large part of the piece as a whole, but do you have a frame picked out beforehand or do you design that in conjunction with each piece?

Thank you for your kind words!  As for the frames, yes, they are picked out in advance but more often than not are color treated along with the board that I paint on, so the board and frame work together and have a congruent color language that ties the two together.  I also paint on a board that is already inside its frame, a practice I am told is unusual, but one that is a standard practice for me.  It helps me see the work as a whole.

9. What is your favourite medium to work with? Which would you like to work more with?

I am still hooked on oil paints and can’t see myself at this point finding anything as fluid or immediate, so more oil paints!

10. From start to finish how long does a piece take?

This varies according to the size of a piece.  I tend to work in a good amount of detail no matter what size, so the more area, the more time obviously.  A 24x30” painting could take roughly a month, maybe more.  A very small piece – 5x7 or 8x10”  might take a week or so.  And I work a lot – probably 50 to 60 hours most weeks.  

11. Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

Unfortunately neither.  I love food, but not sweets so much.  Authentic Mexican food is my most favorite.


You can find more of Chris’ work on his website. As well, please follow him on Twitter and Facebook and get just as excited as I am when you see those four words: “Chris Mars is painting”!

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