"Tolerance" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by Billy Shire Fine Arts Press/Last Gasp

Art by Chris Mars
2008, 176 pages, Reference 
Released on May 1st, 2008


Genius usually stems from a combination of madness, intelligence and incredible talent. In the case of painter Chris Mars, the talent is undeniable and his personal experience dealing with the mental illness of his brother does the rest. A self-taught artist, Mars creates by pulling demons from the dark depths of the cruel, incomprehensive world his sibling had to endure as a schizophrenic in the 1960s. As for intelligence, that important and elusive element, the artist dissects modern society in order to construct a critical visual discourse that rival that of any cultural critic. In Tolerance, a veritable tour de force, horror, sadness and darkness meet in truly brilliant ways.

"In each piece I am freeing my brother," states the artist in his book." "I am creating a monument to him and those like him. I rescue Joe from the oppressive institutions of the 1960s, the stereotypes of society here today. Through my work, I challenge the cultural system that finds it easier to turn their heads, their hearts, away. I urge the viewer to consider the beauty, on a grand level, of that which may appear ugly as first."

Besides liberating his brother and critiquing culture, Mars accomplishes something every artist strives for: the creation of an alternate universe that not just mirrors our world, but also where ghosts, corpses and strange creatures mingle with people and a plethora of floating signifiers that invite the viewer to discover a deeper truth, to explore a hidden meaning. In other words, Mars paintings are doors to darker places. The memories from which the artist draws inspiration are mostly tainted with "...horror, depression, confusion, and fear: fear of the system, fear of the words, the hospitals, the demons others saw." One look at his work is enough to see that and much more is part of what he creates.

Click image to enlarge.

When looking at a Mars image, the main characters are always easily identifiable. However, most of the paintings have a large numbers of critters, monsters, flying things, words and props that enrich the piece and help tell the story. Also, most of the images possess incredible depth and an amount of detail that is truly worth exploring. While all of these elements help create outstanding art, it's the fact that the viewer is invited to put it all together and decipher the meaning that makes the art special. Instead of lines or strange color schemes, what Mars gives the viewer is an almost infinite number of faces, maimed bodies, hovering entities, pills, sinister buildings, winding paths, impossible beings, skeletons and bio-mechanical artifacts and life forms.

The Lenox Globe gave us the now famous "hic sunt dracones" (here be dragons), and Tolerance should have a similar warning because it's outside of what we know. Although that might be scary, the artists sometimes drops viewers a lifeline via comments and explanations about the artwork.

If you like top-notch art, horror and social critique, Tolerance simply has to be on your shelves or coffee table.

Click image to enlarge.



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