I was recently introduced to the dark and eerie world of artist Chet Zar at the Visionary Arts Tattoo Festival in Asbury Park. After interviewing the festival’s promoter, Naomi Fabricant, last month, I couldn’t wait to see Chet’s work in person and he didn’t let me down. Chet’s artwork is truly dark, scary and amazing to see. It was very reminiscent to the tattoo artwork of the legendary Paul Booth. Chet’s drawings, paintings and sculptures led to his involvement in movies and music videos making him a household name in the art world.
A Southern California native, Zar’s life in art began early. He spent his entire childhood drawing, sculpting and painting. His interest in the darker side of art began with his natural fascination with all things strange with a deep connection to horror movies and dark imagery. These are themes that are reflected in his work to this day. Chet’s combined interest in horror films and art would eventually culminate into a career as a special effects make-up artist, designer and sculptor for the motion picture industry. He had a hand in designing and creating creatures and make-up effects for films like The Ring, Hellboy 1 and 2, Planet Of The Apes and critically acclaimed music videos for the band Tool. He has also embraced the digital side of special effects using the computer to translate his dark visions to 3D animation for Tool’s live shows.
Chet Zar recently released these animations on his own DVD of dark 3D animation called Disturb The Normal. At the beginning of 2000, thanks to the suggestion of horror author Clive Barker, Chet decided to go back to his roots and focus on his own original works and try his hand at fine art, specifically painting in oils. This gave him a renewed sense of purpose, which is evident in his dark surreal paintings.
Your art is dark and extremely horror-influenced. Who inspired you as an artist?
It’s a long list: [Hieronymus] Bosch, [Salvador] Dali, [M.C.] Escher, [Frank] Frazetta, my stepfather [artist James Zar], [H.R.] Giger, [Zdzislaw] Beksinski… and probably about a hundred more I am not thinking of.
What is it about this sadistic art that draws people to it?
I don’t think it is sadistic at all. I personally find it beautiful. As far as what draws people to it, I think it’s the beauty.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see the beauty in it, as well. Are you a classically trained artist?
No, I am self-taught. I learned a lot of my techniques from working with other artists in the film industry.
What made you get into film?
I got into making films when I was a little kid. I also liked horror movies and art so that’s how I got interested in creature effects. I studied that on my own throughout high school and took pictures for my portfolio. Once I graduated, I took my portfolio around to some different effects studios and got hired.
Can you tell our readers what films and music videos you’ve been involved in?
I have headed up the makeup effects crew for some of the Tool videos “Aenima,” “Schism” and “Parabola.” I have worked on both Hellboy films, The Ring, Men In Black 2, Cabin Boy, Planet Of The Apes… a lot of films. I started working in 1986.
How was it to work with Maynard James Keenan from Tool?
I haven’t worked with Maynard much. The videos are directed and created by guitarist Adam Jones. I really enjoy working with him.
Have you ever done work with Paul Booth, whose tattoo art style is very similar to yours?
No, but I did do a show at his gallery, Last Rites, recently and had a great time with it. Paul is a super nice guy and very talented. I would love to collaborate with him in the future.
Have you ever been scared by one of your own paintings?
No. I have a very personal relationship with them so the scare factor isn’t really there for me.
What does Chet Zar do when he’s not painting?
I sculpt, I play guitar, I like to read. But I really don’t do these too often anymore. All I really do is paint and try and keep my fine art career going.
Being that this is an annual tattoo issue, is it common to see your artwork on someone’s skin? Better yet, have you ever seen your artwork on someone’s skin?
I have seen many of my paintings done as tattoos and it’s always very humbling when I do. I am honored by each and every one of them.
Did you sell any of your artwork at the Visionary Arts Tattoo Festival in Asbury Park last month? How well did you do there?
That was a really great show. I had a ton of fun. I sold a lot of small paintings, prints and stuff. I can’t wait for next year!
What do you do when you hit a mental block?
I don’t get it too often. When I do, it’s usually from working too hard and my brain tells me I need a rest. On the rare occasions when it’s not from fatigue, I will just start sketching with paint on a blank canvas and wait for something to appear.
Have you run into any artists yet that say that your artwork has influenced them?
I am starting to get that more and more lately. It’s very flattering.
For more info, log onto chetzar.com, where you can also purchase some of his amazing paintings! Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo spot! If you have a tattoo shop that you want to suggest, please email me the name of the place and whom I should ask for at email@example.com.