Tomorrow night is Halloween, from All Hallows Eve or the evening before All Saints Day. Even more originally Halloween goes back to a Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain, when the earth began to die as the warm season moved toward winter, the veil between the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit grew thin, bonfires were lit, and costumes and masks were worn to placate or confuse the evil spirits.
As a kid I loved Halloween. What am I saying? I still love Halloween. I was into all things gorey, scarey, and monstrous. Several times in grade school I won the best costume prize at ghoulish gatherings. In the 7th grade I played a scientist surrounded by test tubes, a coffin, and Frankenstein monster as I lip synced "Monster Mash" at a PTA meeting. In my 8th grade yearbook (1963), which I illustrated, my "Last Will and Testament," before going off to high school, said: "I, Leo Hartshorn, being of gory mind, leave my frozen eyeball and all that jazz to Harry Alley. With a name like that he could be my assistant!" My favorite song was, you guessed it----Monster Mash. My favorite movie---House on a Haunted Hill. My nickname---MAD. My favorite actor and actress---Boris Karloff and Betty Davis. My favorite magazine---Monster. I lived in a perpetual state of Halloween!
Maybe that's why I recently bought a compilation of Chris Mar's artwork entitled Tolerance. The art of Mars is a fitting backdrop for Halloween. Mars was a former member of an alternate Rock group, the Replacements, before he dedicated his time to painting. His haunting images were influenced by his many visits to his brother, who is schizophrenic, leading him to explore the dehumanizing treatment of the mentally ill, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the Other. His paintings can be described as creepy, ghoulish, gruesome, repulsive, twisted. demented and deformed. With the technical precision of a Renaissance artist Mars populates his canvases with dark, deformed and distorted creatures, often with an underlying message. Politics, religion and social commentary are stabbed at with the sharp knife through his sick scenarios of human horror. Like Irving Norman, he believes that art can change the world. Mars defines his mission as:
To free the oppressed; to champion the persecuted, and the submissive; to liberate through revelation the actualized Self in those proposed by some to have no self at all. It’s in every single one of us, somewhere underneath that word on our chest. In my hands, my version: All art is political in some sense, be it through conformity, reflection, propaganda or rebellion. My paintings are rallies and trials, photographs of a moment when Truth was made public, and Mercy known.
Mars macabre paintings are not for the faint of heart, but may be a monster-lovers delight for persons, like myself, who revel in the ghoulish, especially with social, political and religious commentary.
Enter his chamber of horrors, if you dare!