Chris Mars
Show Statement and Artist Bio

Minneapolis-based artist Chris Mars brings his exhibition “In Preparation of Barrier Transcendence” to renown Culver City gallery Billy Shire Fine Arts on December12, 2009, presenting the sole commercial offering of work from the show which debuted at The Longview Museum of Fine Arts (Texas) in September before traveling on to The Phipps Center for the Arts (Hudson, Wisconsin) in February 2010 and Mesa Contemporary Arts (Arizona) for an extended run commencing in March.  

Billy Shire Fine Arts, kingpin of the so-called “Low Brow” and “Pop Surrealism” movements, will display some twenty-two recent oil paintings by Mars, as well as a selection of his most recent films including the surrealist meditation “This is No. 14” and the animated tale “Flowers for Jupiter”.  In addition, Mars will be presenting for sale his first limited edition multiple, a series of exhibition posters celebrating each of the three public venues for “In Preparation of Barrier Transcendence”.  

Chris Mars is a self-taught artist.  Growing up in a family marked by mental illness, much of Mars’s work has served as an exploration of the issues surrounding the diagnosis, treatment, mistreatment and societal stigma associated with Schizophrenia, for which his eldest brother Joe was institutionalized when Chris was five years old.  At the state run mental hospital in which Joe was confined, Chris witnessed firsthand and at a very early age the sad fact of mechanized and dehumanizing treatment.  Today Mars, through his work, champions his brother and those like him.  Empathy toward “the other” and “the outcast” continues to serve as the basis for his work, now frequently manifesting in broader political and societal themes of prejudice, exploitation, conviction and redemption.  Says the Artist:

“It is my intent to instigate the viewer to look beyond surface attributes be they attributes of my paintings or of society at large. I seek through my work to break down the tendency that exists to prejudge and to move away from xenophobia..”

Curatorial attention for the work of Chris Mars continues to expand.  In addition to the museum venues mentioned previously, Mars’s work has been featured at the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts (MN), Erie Art Museum (PA), Steensland Art Museum (MN), Ruby Green Contemporary Art Space (TN), Laguna Art Museum (CA), American Visionary Art Museum (MD), Frederick Weisman Art Museum (MN), Art Center South Florida and Haas Fine Arts Center (Eau Claire, WI), among others, and is held in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts, Tweed Museum of Art (MN), Erie Art Museum, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Minnesota History Center and Mesa Contemporary Arts.  His debut monograph, TOLERANCE, was released in 2008 by Billy Shire Fine Arts Press and is available at bookstores internationally.  

Reminiscent of both the German Expressionist painter Otto Dix (1891-1969) and Hieronymous Bosch (c. 1450-1516), Chris Mars’s haunting and often-repellent works are nonetheless mesmerizing. To the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Mars long ago answered, “Yes. I am.”

Through his paintings, Mars brilliantly sums up the feeling of being right about something awful.
- Gregory Scott, CITY PAGES

Chris' work is undeniably strident in its political message, but the rawness of the anger, the clarity of the shouting, is so compelling, and its all rendered with such admirable technical virtuosity. This guy is definitely the George Grosz of the 21st century.  - Gareth Branwyn, BOING BOING

Chris Mars' book TOLERANCE will be available for purchase during the exhibition.


by Chris Mars

Chris Mars' painting style, examples of which graced all of his album covers, is marked by nightmarish landscapes and grotesque, distorted figures. He draws inspiration from his older
brother's struggle with schizophrenia:

"From my hands, my mission: 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. Question why a villain is villainized, a victim martyred. Ask why a group is demonized, and the motives for control. See for yourself what the truth looks like in your hands. Dig it up and hold it for a while. This work you see, it's my Truth. But please don't take my word for it."

"Minneapolis artist Chris Mars is living proof that F. Scott Fitzgerald was dead wrong when he said there are no second acts in American lives. Though famous in the 1980s as the drummer for alt-rock heroes The Replacements, Mars eventually left the music world behind entirely to focus on the visual arts, now specializing in stunningly evocative, macabre portraits."
-The Onion A.V. Club

"The artist draws from the imaginary monsters his schizophrenic brother saw during childhood. It's hard to argue that these creatures could come from anywhere but the psyche of a tortured soul." -Juxtapoz

"His paintings of ghoulish, skeletal crowds and beseeching wraiths, set in gloomy environments that hark back to medieval villages, seem too vivid to have come purely from the imagination. Mars' storytelling on canvas is almost classical in its precision."
-The Rake

"Scary and fascinating."
-Jeff Soto

176 pages
Hardcover (ISBN 0867196947)