Art is a struggle- just like the flowers of spring that burst forth from a hardened winter soil to see life and give life to a world around them. So is the case for creative Chad Mars who is bursting forth in his own right, becoming the artist he never thought he could be.
Mars vividly recalls his first artistic experience as an elementary schooler. “I remember walking through our house and seeing a drawing on canvas in my brother’s room,” he remembers. “He had paint out and I didn’t know what it was, but I started squirting it from the tubes and painting on the canvas like I knew what I was doing.”
The 32 year-old doesn’t remember many other artistic experiences in his younger days. That changed in high school. In 9th grade, Mars would sketch and doodle in class. He says his friends thought his drawings were fantastic and hilarious. And, for him, it was a great way to get attention. “I wasn’t a story teller, but I could make them laugh through drawing,” Mars explains. Pen drawings were the norm up until college. “I don’t think I painted in high school even once. But I wanted to learn to use color. For me, painting was a natural growth.”
Born in Laurel, but raised in Jackson, Mars is a Jackson Academy grad who once had dreams of marine biology. “I read ‘Moby Dick’ and thought I would chase whales around the ocean,” he explains. From Mississippi State to Ole Miss – and two failed chemistry classes later – he chose art. “Being an artist was meant to be.”
By the end of college, many paintings later, Mars says he got harder and harder on himself and couldn’t finish anything. “I didn’t think I could make a living at art,” he says. Random jobs in family businesses followed, but a 2005 move to Los Angeles had him chasing film school. “I had great movies in my head but I was bad at actually making them.”
And like many creatives who were born and reared here, Mars remembered thinking that there was nothing to move back to Jackson for. But when he finally decided to come home, he says Jackson was great. Now, after four years, Mars’ ideas about the capital city have changed. He says “I feel like I really want to be here for the rest of my life. It’s important for creative people to be here. Jackson needs artists to make it interesting.”
In his former studio space at 121 in Midtown (he has since moved to the County Line Road area), painting was a part time passion for some time. Then last summer, a PORTICO Jackson feature on rising artists motivated him to get to work. “Someone commissioned me at the PORTICO reception and that made me quit my job and pursue art full time,” he says. “I knew it would be the most important painting I ever did.” It took months to begin, Mars says, because of over thinking and stressing. “By the time I completed it, I had changed as an artist.”
Part of that change came in the methods he used. Mars had always painted with a brush, but says it felt difficult. “I couldn’t paint how I wanted to as an abstract artist,” he tells us. He picked up a palette knife and now says it was meant to be his tool. His style because of it, is unique. “You’re pushing the paint around the canvas. It’s like a bulldozer pushing dirt around a lot. It creates textures I have never seen.” Mars digs through the paint to find lines behind them. “A lot of surprises happen when you paint that way.”
Now a full time artist, Mars says each day as an abstract expressionist is full of surprise. “I walk in and never know what the painting will look like,” he explains. “I don’t have an idea of what it will be when it’s finished but I know it’s done when it quits bothering me.”
What’s in his work? “Oh, where to start,” he says. “I have this quality in all of my paintings. I try to leave traces of the struggle. That struggle is the subject matter.” It’s a quality he himself appreciates in art. “I like seeing art that looks like it took some difficulty and work to arrive at.”
Struggle has been in view for most of his life. His brother, musician Charlie Mars, inspires him. “I don’t even know if he really knows that,” Chad says. “It took a long time (for Charlie) to make a living at music. Sure, it’s hard, but it’s what you have to do. It’s been really great having another family member who’s an artist making a living at it.”
Once fearful of making his own ends meet, pleasing himself or art lovers who may or may not buy his art, Mars is at peace. He recalls the commissioned work that launched his career. “When I finished that painting, I was relieved. I thought ‘I’m never going to paint with fear again’, he says.”
In his current work (like the one behind him in the photo above), Mars says there is an exact method. “For the last year, I was trying to work an aesthetic I wanted where paint was applied without fear,” he says. “It was not careful or cautious or meticulously laid out. It’s like the paint was – in a very organized way – thrown on in a chaos.”
Now in his element and producing what may be his best works thus far, Mars says painting is the one thing he knows. “I had to struggle and fail a lot to get to that point,” he says. “But I wish I hadn’t waited so long. It’s never too late to start doing what you want to do.”
Mars is the the March featured artist at Brown’s Fine and Framing on Fondren Place. An opening reception for his work, titled “Spring,” will be held on Thursday, March 21 during Arts, Eats & Beats from 5pm – 8pm.