Interview: Chet Zar

You might have seen his work with the band Tool, and have no doubt seen the effects that he has done with movies like the Ring, Darkman and Planet of the Apes. However it’s the fine art that he has done that really has the Creep Machine hooked. In each one of his paintings you can see the influence of Zdzislaw Beksinski, but with the work of Chet Zar, the subject of each painting seems to be aware of your presence, and is showing you things that that could be relevant to what is going on around you.


CM: You’ve been into horror art since you were a kid, and it seems like most parents believe dark art and youth is a combo for a future psychopath, yet this is hardly the case. Do you think the negative view on dark art is a hindrance, or might somehow support it?

CZ: Well, I was lucky because my parents were very cool about my interest in horror movies and dark imagery. Being a parent of 2 grown kids myself, I must admit that I can understand parents getting nervous about their kids being into dark stuff. I don’t think the fear is usually warranted but it’s actually really scary being a parent, especially in these times. The world is a much more dangerous place than when I was a kid. As a parent you worry a lot about their safety.
But to answer your question, I think that the negative view of dark art kind of helps to give it an air of danger and mystery and part of the appeal of dark art depends on that sense of danger and mystery. Once a thing becomes too accepted by mainstream society, it tends to lose some of its potency. So I don’t really see it as a bad thing and, honestly, it comes with the territory. If anything, it helps to foster a sense of community for those who appreciate it.

CM: What do you think it is about dark art, besides looking great, that draws people in just as easily as it gets people condemning it?

CZ: I think for the most part the interest in dark imagery is a safe way for people face their own fears and their own dark side. It’s healthy to face our fears, even to learn to love them, through art.
The real danger lies in the denial of our dark side, our inner fears and our fear of the unknown. A frightened ego is a fertile ground for neurosis. Dark art works on a symbolic level as well. In many cultures darkness does not necessarily represent evil- it represents the unknown, the mysterious and the magical. These are the things I really find interesting about dark art, its sense of wonder.


CM: I sometimes feel that when the viewer looks at art, it might not be as intense as the concept in the artists mind, maybe something gets lost in the creative process. Is what we see in your work, as intense as the concept? If so what have you learned that allows this to happen?

CZ: The funny thing with my work is that I usually don’t have a clear idea of what I want before I start. Once in a while I will get a clear image in my mind but for the most part I either a: have no idea what I am going to paint or b: I have a vague concept of what I want. I really do my best when I have the freedom to allow the painting to develop. I think that is where my strength lies, to be able to go with the flow and to recognize and build upon the happy accidents. I also find this way to be a more fun way to paint.
So for me, the creative process is where I find my paintings.

CM: After watching your video for SketchTheatre, as well as seeing the skill involved in each of your oil paintings as well as sculptures, is there any area in the art process that you don’t completely kick ass at?

CZ: Thanks. That is a nice compliment. I don’t know if I would consider myself a master of any of these skills. If anything, I am more of a jack of all trades- I can do a lot of different things and I can do them all pretty well. But I do try to do my best with whatever I am trying to do at the time.
If I am interested in something, I can usually figure it out eventually. I have a tendency to be obsessive and tenacious about learning new things that excite me.


CM: If you hit a block on a certain piece, do you have any tricks that work for you to get out of the block?

CZ: Sometimes I will try to push on and get right through it. But often I will just set the painting aside and go to work on another piece. I always have 3-5 paintings going at once so that if I get a block I can move on to something else. Going to art shows and seeing great artwork also helps to get me re-inspired.

CM: Are there any specific bands or movies that really get the creative energies flowing?

CZ: Hmmm….I listen to a lot of different music. Nothing particular gets me going. It depends on what I am into at the time. I usually listen to old stuff like Devo, Nomeansno, The Minutemen, etc. That’s one of the cool things about getting older- you have all this music you can rediscover from your childhood that helps to re-inspire you. I definitely use music to help inspire me. Movies too. I have a little T.V. next to my easel and I love putting on old bad horror movies from the 60’s and 70’s while I paint. Those probably inspire my artwork more than music. “Zombie”, “The Last Man on Earth” and the original “Night of the Living Dead” are some favorites. Anything that inspired me as a kid really helps to get me going.

CM: In a lot of your work I can see these reoccurring elements. Numbers, smoking, little or no eyes at all, and the subject seems aware of the viewer. Can you explain the motivation behind these elements?

CZ: The only number I ever paint is the number 5. This is what I consider a number that represents me spiritually. This was ‘revealed’ to me in a series of psychedelic experiences that I had when I was a young man.
As far as the other symbols I use, I really don’t know what they mean. I try to paint intuitively and just go with my gut- it probably doesn’t sound as glamorous as some lofty explanation, but I use elements that I think look cool. I feel that the best thing I can do for my artwork is to stay out of the way and let my subconscious do the work. I think that approach puts me in touch with something deeper and more universal than I could consciously come up with. On that note, I think the cigarettes come from the Sergio Aragonez cartoons on the bottom of the pages of mad magazine, a comic magazine I used to read as a kid. I used to incorporate that element into my drawing when I was a kid and now I think it lends an air of humanity to my creatures- it puts them into a more physical and relatable reality. Plus, I think smoking represents a kind of modern day industrial kind of harshness (and I smoke myself, against my own better judgement).


CM: After years of horror movies, and making dark art, is there anything that still truly scares you?

CZ: The state of the world today and particularly the current political establishment in the U.S.

CM: So far you paint, sculpt and animate, is there any other medium we can expect to see from you?

CZ: I often consider the idea of making films. I was really into that as a kid. I had a super 8 film camera and made and edited my own movies. If the opportunity arose I think I would do it because I think I could make a good film. Writing is something I have always wanted to do but I am not very good at it.
As far as fine art goes, I would like to eventually have the resources to do a show of all sculpture work. But sculpture takes a lot of time and money. Actually, that was the original idea I had when I decided to get into the fine art field- to do sculpture, basically the things I paint but in 3-D. So I did the sculpture, “Softspot” and it took so much time, energy and money to create that I decided to paint instead.

CM: I read that you are going to be releasing some instructional dvd’s, this is really exciting news. Have you taught before? Can you give a hint as to what
fans and students can expect?

CZ: I have never taught before so I am a little nervous about it. I didn’t go to art school and pretty much learned on my own so I am now going through the process of really thinking about how I do what I do.
I am doing the DVD’s through the Gnomon School- Alex Alvarez and his crew are really a great bunch of artists and very cool people so I was excited to work with them. The first DVD will be how I do creature design for the film industry using Photoshop. I paint differently in the computer than I do in oils, so I go over all my techniques. It should be interesting because I created the illustration the way I do for the film industry- I didn’t have a lesson plan or even a specific design. I just kind of went for it and let it develop as I went. I think it’s coming out really well. In fact, I am going out to the school to finish it right after I finish writing this.
After that one is finished, I may do one on my techniques for creating my “Disturb the Normal” animations (the looping digital animations I created to project during the Tool concerts) using a combination of 3D and 2D graphics programs. I would also like to do an oil painting DVD as well as a sculpting DVD. Alex has offered me an invitation to do all of these so it’s just a matter of taking the time to put it all together.


CM:. With the success of your Talking Board show, are you going to be curating more shows?

CZ: That was actually really fun and I have my friend (and great artist) Nathan Spoor to thank for that. The Talking Board show was an idea I had for a couple of years so when he offered me a curatorial at a gallery he was running, I jumped at the chance. The gallery eventually closed down and we ended up having the show at Copro Nason Gallery, which is pretty much my home base in L.A. Thanks to Gary Pressman for saving the day there. The show ended up turning out great and got rave reviews.

I was recently asked to curate another show of artwork from all of my friends in the film industry. There is so much talent in the industry (often being wasted, in my opinion), so I think that will be a really mind blowing show. I love art and I love showing artists I admire so I definitely hope to curate more.

CM: Are there any up and coming artists, which you think people should really keep an eye on?

CZ: Wow, there are really a lot of great younger artists coming out of the woodwork these days. I think the art world is experiencing a real renaissance right now. It seems like every day there is somebody new popping up. It’s an exciting time to be an artist.
As far as new artists to look for….Christian Van Minnen, Joshua Bronaugh come to mind. Lukasz Banach is a young artist out of Poland who I think is really talented.

There are some others that I really like that are not really new artists but artists that haven’t hit big yet like Jose Lopes. My dad, artist James Zar has been showing since the 70’s and his career is beginning to have a re-emergence with a new and younger audience. He was a really big influence on me. I hope to have a 2 man show with him next year in ’08 or ’09. My best friend Christopher Owen has been creating artwork all his life but has only recently begun showing his work. I think his stuff is amazing. He does really cool kinetic sculpture and was in fact the first artist to sell his Ouija board at “Talking Board Show”. But like I said, there are really too many to mention.

To see more work from Chet Zar, or maybe get some prints of his work head on over to his homepage: Chet Zar Homepage

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  • Reply
    Jan 1, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Great interview man!

  • Reply
    Leo Plaw
    Aug 9, 2008 at 1:46 am

    I had the pleasure of meeting Chet and seeing his wonderful artwork at his London exhibition this year. He also explained some of his motivations about his artwork. You can read more about it on my blog.

    Leo Plaw’s last blog post..Visionary Art Culture Creators

  • Reply
    Richard Battle
    Aug 9, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    This is great. I just did a search for ‘Chet Zar interview’ and found this. I also found an interview with him at and at Undergroundartistunion, but I forgot the direct urls. :(

  • Reply
    Aug 16, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Killer, thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    May 20, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I like your mental images but i can feeling because you not com my contry. Mexico

  • Reply
    Jul 20, 2009 at 3:38 am

    one of my favourite artists and a true inspiration- chet zar put me on ‘the path’ haha, he pointed me to alan watts and more…chet zar is a great guy all round.

  • Reply
    Sep 1, 2009 at 5:05 am

    Huh…that's weird…I didn't read the article because I'm only looking up pictures…but these paintings actually freak me out. That's….so….abnormal. Kudos.

  • Reply
    Oct 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    The 2nd pic is what I am in the inside but I can’t get to it.but I am

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