Chris Mars depicts dark imagery in his works, a hellish mutation of French Grisaille meets Hieronymus Bosch. Whereas Bosch depicted the moral concept of hell, Mars has delved into the inner darkness present within mankind, and portrayed it masterfully through the depiction of a more abstract ‘mental hell’ so to speak. A look into Chris Mars’ background, and indeed the Mars family in general sheds light on his intimate yet disturbing works.
“When my brother Joe was fifteen years old, he was institutionalized for schizophrenia. He saw things, he heard things. Were these monsters? Was he? … He was also neglected and exploited by individuals and a system more interested in commerce and statistics than his very well-being. Were these exploiters monsters? He was fifteen. I was five. I went to see him. Did he see monsters? Or did I?“
From this perspective, of having been exposed to strong mental health issues and scenarios since a young age, the viewer can more easily appreciate the imagery of Chris Mars’ works, and hopefully come through the other side with a much greater understanding of the imagery and concepts therein.
Mars’ works feature a strong surreal style, expressing abstract ideas through symbolism, imagery, light and colour. Mars’ use of two characters to make one face, alludes to a schizophrenic duality of mind, or perhaps a dichotomy of self for those suffering mental illness… whether they have been institutionalised or are part of the institution, political or otherwise, Mars’ overall prevailing concept is one of acceptance and to question what we as a society label as fit/unfit for participation within society itself.
Mars best explains his focus and conceptual reference for his works with the following, very eloquently worded statement:
“Let me tell you something about Monsters. I have great empathy toward Monsters, or more accurately, Perceived Monsters. To me, Monsters are more like misfits, people who are physically deformed, or rather, uniquely formed (as indeed we all are, each of us); or, people who are mentally on a different plane than the majority. By this definition, might I be speaking even of you? I am sympathetic toward Perceived Monsters, because I have known and loved perceived monsters, and have felt this way myself.
There are Real Monsters that walk this earth, cruel, evil people; oppressive, dehumanizing beliefs. I despise Real Monsters, because of their nature and their acts; and because of a public willingness to have this label, “Monster”, shared between those that are ‘different’ and those that are evil. The word Monster in its original application describes a child born with a physical deformity. What does it mean that our society has taken this word now to mean “evil”? Where is that leap between appearances, either physical or emotional, and the specifically dark nature of one’s soul? All of this speaks of a shallowness I seek to conquer. My work is about looking beyond the outer to the inner, and finding with this the true definition of Beauty – which is beyond form.
So look closely at my work, look hard. Because I’m trying to show you something beautiful.“