Thursday, 4 February 2010

Chet Zar Interview

I met Chet Zar in the late summer of 2008 when he was in London promoting his Ugly American show. Me and my girlfriend Claire travelled up to meet him in a small comic shop in Tottenham Court Road where he would be doing portfolio reviews and generally chatting to his fans.

Having been in email contact with Chet for sometime before, I felt that when I did meet him I wouldn’t get all star struck and act like a gushy fan. Alas, this was not the case. I think I greedily hogged him for about an hour before his assistant politely reminded me that there were other people wanting to share some of his time. A queue had actually formed if I remember.

If I meet him again, I might have to steal him. No no, that sounds creepy.

Anyway, I will end this small introduction by saying that Chet is polite, modest and his oil paintings are utterly breath taking. When you see them in print and online, they are amazing enough but when you look at the original… well, words cannot do justice to how superb they are. If you visit one art show this year, try to make it to one of Chet Zar’s. You will not be disappointed.

Lloyd Harvey: Great artists instil meaning and symbolism into their work. You are no exception. Numbers appear frequently in your paintings and I was hoping you could share their significance.

Chet Zar: I usually only use the number 5, which I think of as a spiritual representation of myself. Another time I used the number 13 (for a painting called, "13") for it's ominous connotations.

What other personal symbolism can be seen in your work and what does it mean?

The chimney stacks represent industrialization and the resulting pollution in my mind. The triangle is a spiritual symbol that means something personal to me, but I am not ready to divulge that one yet.

Double Whammy "One of my biggest pieces, coming in at 48 inches by 36."

You shape your works using oil paints and attain a brilliant level of realism to your work. Do you or have you ever worked with acrylics or water colour? Why is oil your preferred medium?

I worked a lot in acrylics and I actually liked things about it. But once I switched to oils I never went back, mostly because I didn't want the hassle of having different brushes and paints and pallettes. I think acrylic is a little easier, but I guess that depends on your technique. I tried watercolor and they never felt substantial enough for the look I wanted.

I love oils because I love to blend and glaze. You can do it with acrylics but for me, oils are just perfect the way they are. You can make them dry faster by using different mediums so I really don't feel like there is any reason for me to go back.

Monsters, ghouls and tormented leathery souls are long running focal points of your work, would you ever decide to do a series of paintings that are just landscapes? Maybe even classically cute creatures?

The idea of painting landscapes just doesn't do it for me, although I really do love looking at a great landscape painting. I might do it for practice but I don't feel driven to paint them and I think it's important to paint what really turns you on. In my case, it's monsters. They say everything I want to say with my artwork.

I am not a big fan of cute. I like ugly. Cute just isn't where my head is at.

Clown of Doom "For the "Clowns!" show that was at the Corey Helford Gallery sometime ago."

I know you touched upon the mythical Lilith in a recently released set of paintings, so what about exploring mythical monsters? Like the Kracken or Minotaur?

The "Lilith" series was a real change for me. Generally, I am not very interested in interpreting other mythological creatures. Most of the fun I get is from making up my own.

Lilith and Her Owl Familiar 16" x 20"

Does any other genre of art interest you as something you’d like to dive into?

There are other genres that interest me, but only because I would like to learn how to paint that way. I feel totally satisfied expressing myself with my current painting technique. I would like to be able to paint a little looser but I just don't know if that would make the same statement. I sometimes imagine my artwork being a little more impressionistic and it doesn't feel right to me. But that could happen in the future.

Well, there is another genre I am really interested in trying in a fine art setting and that is sculpture. I have been sculpting for the make up effects/film industry for 20 years, so I feel I am pretty good at it. It's really just a time and cost factor that keeps me from doing a sculpture show. I am really excited about that idea so when the time comes that I am able to, I think it's going to be really good. I would also love to get back into music.

Softspot "This sculpture was cast in a tinted translucent urethane and airbrushed and brush painted with acrylic glazes. It's the kind of thing I do at my day job, but applied to my fine art."

Music you say? What style(s) are we talking about here? Can you play an instrument?

I play guitar and the bands I was in were mostly funky jazzy punk influenced or post punk influenced. I like a lot of different styles of music but the stuff I was doing was very Minutemen/Nomenensno- esque. Kind of fast and hard with weird timing signatures and breaks.

In regards to your DVD, Disturb the Normal, the idea of having a looping piece of art for your television is quite intriguing, have you thought about doing another DVD? Maybe make your own short film? Like Dave Mckean did MirrorMask.

I have been planning a sequel to that DVD ever since the first one came out but it keeps getting put on the back burner. I would absolutely love to direct a film or a short but there is only so much I can do. I spend every single day painting and doing freelance gigs to bring in enough dough to pay my bills and such, so it seems like it would be tough to pull off any time soon.

Tell me a little about your up coming book and the new website you have planned.

The website came about because I found a web developer (His name is Ryan Wolfert) who was willing to trade website services for artwork! I just wanted a more professional and cleaner look. I am a DIY kind of guy and pretty much do everything myself, from building and maintaining my website and online presence to printing my own prints. But as my career progresses I am finding that I need to hand things off to other people. It's a nice change.

The book is still in the development stage. It's another thing that keeps getting put aside for more important things like paying my mortgage. I hope for it to be pretty thick and full of a lot of my artwork and a lot of behind the scenes stuff. I'm still playing around with ideas for the written portion.

Gnashing of Teeth "This was created for my solo show in Berlin at Strychnin gallery. (30"x24")"

Questions I ask every artist

What has been your career highlight to date?

I can't think of just one. A couple that come to mind are working on the Tool videos and working with director Guillermo Del Toro on the Hellboy movies and being referenced alongside Robert Williams and Mark Ryden in his first novel, "The Strain."

The Outsider 24" x30"

What was your big break into the illustration industry?

Well, it was the film industry for me, and my first big break was getting on the make up effects crew for the remake of "The Blob". That opened a lot of doors for me and I got to work alongside a lot of effects guys that I had only read about in magazines.

What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?

Be true to your art and be your own toughest critic.

What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

My marketing strategy has primarily been online through social networking. It's the cheapest and most effective way to get your name and artwork out there. The Tool connection has also been very helpful.

As an artist, what are your biggest challenges that you face?

Making enough money to survive.

Lummox "For the 'Good Samaritans' show at CoproNason gallery on December 13th, 2008." This piece is 9" x 12"

Chet Zar's Randoms Questions

What is your fondest childhood memory?

I can't think of one that stands above the rest. Halloween was always fun.

Simpsons or Family Guy?


If you could have lunch with a fictitious character, who would it be?

Don Shimoda from the book, "Illusions".

What is your favourite sound?

The wind.

What really makes you glad?

My dog.

Well, there you go. As always Chet, it has been a real pleasure. For more information and a lot more awesome art work, prints, t-shirts and available originals, head on over to

Click here to see Chet's Digital Creature Painting DVD 

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