Last Call with Chet Zar
Chet Zar has worked in a wide range of media in the course of his career, including makeup
and special effects for a number of films.
While special effects, art direction, and make-up are part of his day job, he’s quickly becoming known for
his oil paintings – stunning works of art that provoke visceral responses in the viewer. His works
play with horrific themes, but with a keen sense of humor and more than a little phantasmagoric flair.
This interview focuses on his works of art, his process of developing an image, and his upcoming shows.
To begin with, what got you into painting, sculpting, and creativity?
I was always a creative little kid, always taking things apart to see how they worked, building things, drawing, sculpting.
It just seemed natural from a very early age.
I remember being in the first grade and daydreaming about being an artist and having my own studio.
It was strange to be so young and know what you wanted to do in life.
It feels genetic.
Are there any specific musicians you listen to,
or artists you come back to for inspritation?
Devo, Nomeansno, the Minutemen.
Not much that’s new.
I like Beksinski, Giger, Phil Hale, Rockwell, M.C. Escher, Bosch, etc.
I hate this question because there are way too many artists and bands that influence me to name!
I’ve noticed you work in special effects and movie make up as well.
How did you break in to that gig?
Does the movie make up effects help you flesh out your paintings?
I started working in the makeup effects industry while I was in high school and began working full time about a year after I graduated.
I just created a portfolio of my work and showed it around to some makeup effects companies and got hired.
I have definitely learned a lot from the makeup effects industry.
That was where I got my first experience with the materials, color theory, sculpture, design… my paintings benefit a lot from my days in the industry.
In fact, during the last few years working, I had the attitude that everything I was learning was going to be used in my fine art.
That’s what helped me get through those long, boring days of sculpting pores and skin texture.
What is your take on astral projection?
Do you have any favorite astral project experiences you could share?
I have had some astral projections where I felt totally ecstatic and pure, like I knew that it was my true self and everyday life was dull in contrast.
But I have had other where I was engulfed in this kind of spiritual terror that I have never felt any other time.
It’s weird stuff. I am trying to learn more about it.
Have you ever thought about putting together a show featuring sculpture
instead of painting?
In fact, when I first started in fine art, I wanted to do it as a sculptor, which was my primary work function in makeup effects.
But working 40 hours a week just didn’t allow me enough time.
There is also the expense.
It costs a lot of money to mold a piece, cast a piece, etc., which also makes it more expensive to buy which in turn makes it more difficult to sell.
I still plan on doing a sculpture show when I have the time and resources for it.
I can already see it in my head- I think it will blow minds.
Just imagine the kind of stuff I paint but 3 dimensional.
I am really excited about the possibility, actually.
In your work it seems comical yet horror driven,
you could say it has a lot of phantasmagoria elements.
What is your intention behind mixing horror and comedy?
Well, I have a weird sense of humor.
I think it is a sign of the times.
Look around- things are fucked up to an absurd degree.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh.
It’s not only comedy that I am trying to inject into these horrific beings, but a sense of pathos and vulnerability.
The creatures I paint are, in my mind, really just us without our societal masks.
It’s my interpretation of how we feel inside, ugly, hurting, frightened.
Our true faces, so to speak.
I think everybody has feelings like these, especially living in these times.
Some of your paintings seem straight to the point,
while others are hard to decipher. ‘Moment of clarity’
for example seems straight to the point, not about a specific experience but
about the idea of a moment of clarity. Is that what you were trying to get across?
In that piece I was trying to get across that moment of when you realize that you just fucked up- bad.
Like ” oh shit, I just spent that last 20 years in a drunken stupor!” or “oh my god, I just threw away 10 years of my life working at a job that has no future!”
or “jesus christ, the president I helped elect is an insane moron!”.
With some pieces, an image just comes to me that I like and it develops from there.
At times I won’t really come up with the meaning until after the painting is finished, or nearly finished.
I like to follow my intuition and figure out what it means as I am painting.
It’s a way of having communication with my subconscious mind and it ultimately helps me to figure out how I really feel about things.
What kind of process do you go through for your paintings?
How do you know when your finished with a painting or other projects?
I usually just start sketching, doodling, and if something grabs me then I will try and develop it more.
Sometimes I will do some studies and get photo reference, but often, I will just start painting.
Sculpting for 20 years helps me to know how shadows fall across forms so I can often get away without having any photo reference.
But that is just laziness and lack of patience on my part- when I get excited about a piece, sometimes I just have to start cuz I can’t wait.
Knowing when a piece is finished can be tricky.
That’s a pitfall for me, because I have a tendency to overpaint things.
It’s a discipline I am trying to develop now- knowing when to leave a piece alone.
But usually what dictates when a piece is finished is a deadline.
When I look at a piece and certain aspects don’t feel right, it bothers me.
I know a piece is finished when it’s not bugging me anymore.
Are there any up and coming shows you’re in or curating that you would
like to mention?
I am in a 4 person show with Lola,
and Kevin Peterson, called “sanctuary”, at the Limited Addiction Gallery
in Denver, CO that opens September 7th.
After that I am curating and creating a piece for “the talking board show” at CoproNason gallery in Santa Monica
(www.copronason.com). That opens October 20th.
I am really excited about that one. Each artist creates a functional talking board (ouija board) in their own style.
There are over 30 artists in it and The Ghastly Ones will be playing at the opening.
Other than that, I am in a ton of group shows until the end of the year.
Then in ’08 I have a solo show at Corponason in May and a solo show in June at
Strychnin Gallery in London. It’s going to be a busy year.
There is not really a specific piece I would like to highlight, but I will say that I really like to leave the interpretation up to the viewer for the most part.
I like the freedom in that as well as the level of audience participation involved.
Of course, there are many common themes I like to explore with my artwork such as fear, loneliness, pity.
But I like to put weird little things in that aren’t so obvious, things that make you wonder.
I like getting people to think.
Will you be working full time on your paintings, and quitting your day job?
I sure hope so.
Actually, I do enjoy working on makeup effects to some degree, but I would like the fine art to be the priority and mainstay
and have makeup effects be more of a side thing reserved for special projects like a Tool video or something.
Do you sell prints of your work?
yes, I sell limited edition prints from my website, mostly for younger
people who can’t afford to buy an original. I do them myself so I can keep the costs low.
I don’t like the idea of art being only for the rich and it’s a good way to get younger people interested in collecting art.
The prints are collectible, since they signed, numbered and limited to a certain number of prints.
You can get them at: chetzar.com/buy.html
How has the internet treated you with your artwork, and do you think the internet could replace the gallery experience?
I think the internet is essential for an artist to get exposure and I have done very well by it.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without internet exposure.
But it will never replace the gallery experience, there is nothing like seeing a real physical painting in person.
There is so much depth and texture (especially in oils) that even the best photographs can’t capture.
One thing I am constantly hearing from people about my work is that it looks so much better in person.
Also, a good art show can be a very transcendental experience.
There is an energy in the room. It’s like the difference between seeing a band live and seeing a band on TV, you just can’t compare the two.
If there is any art form that may be conducive to the online gallery experience, it would be digital art.
There is potential there, I think, since pixels are it’s native format, so seeing it online is even better than seeing a print version of it.
I have thought about it before, it could be a cool thing to have an online digital gallery opening, with people all over the world checking out
the work and chatting about it together.
For more of Chet Zar’s artwork, check out his site at