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Painter Chris Mars talks about his favorite books

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few reading suggestions. You might want to check the article list for more interviews and reading tips. For this issue I interviewed painter and, lately, animator Chris Mars whose oil paintings depict seemingly monstrous people; his pictures inspire sympathy for these mistreated outsiders.Also I went along to see a film called Dreams for Life, and subsequently interviewed the screenwriter and director, Anna Kannava.Plus, I interviewed Kimberley Starr about her novel The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies. So read on…

Everyone has felt like an outsider at some point.

But sometimes outsiders are made out to be monsters – scapegoated by the real monsters in society.

Chris Mars paints these mistreated outsiders.

I asked painter Chris Mars about his paintings, and his favorite books; and he came up with a lot of interesting reading ideas.

Before reading the interview you might want to check out Chris Mars’s paintings at

www.chrismarspublishing.com .

READERSVOICE.COM: Does much of your favorite reading concern themes of outsiders and “monsters”, like your paintings? Generally what sort of things do you like to read?

CHRIS MARS: I wouldn’t have thought so initially, but now that you mention it and I’m thinking it over, I do have an attraction to eccentric characters; if not monsters per se then perhaps to characters that may be considered somehow “outsiders” – Holden Caufield (Catcher in the Rye), Ignatius Riley (A Confederecy of Dunces), Ned Rise (Water Music) – all inventive, unique and memorable personalities.

RV: Could you recommend about five titles of some of your favorite books of all time, fiction or non-fiction, and maybe say a bit about why you liked them?

CM: In addition to the three above – all darkly humorous and playfully odd – I’d add, along a similar line, Civil War Land in Bad Decline by George Saunders (along with his follow-up Pastoralia) – so inventive, so funny, alternately pessimistic and hopeful;

The Tortilla Curtain (by T.C. Boyle, who also wrote Water Music), again a juxtaposition of light and dark, an amazing, frankly world-view-changing piece of work exploring the distinct yet ultimately united worlds of the haves and have-nots;

Jim the Boy (by Tony Earley), a completely unpretentious look at the complex interaction of families, societies and children;

Mike Magnuson’s The Right Man for the Job for its clean, natural language and simple, strong characters;

Craig Nova’s very dark, visceral Turkey Hash – so intimately low-brow, a Joe Coleman painting come to life;

Donald Newlove’s Those Drinking Days – a stunningly frank investigation of the progress through addiction;

Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, each filled with incredible essays on the complexities of the human mind and the incredible malfunctions of it.

I’ll also mention James Crumley’s Dancing Bear (and others in the Milo series) – a funny, original take on the detective genre.

RV: Do you think that society is becoming more psychopathic, or monstrous, with its scapegoating of non-conformists?

CM: In truth, I actually feel society overall is evolving, progressing.

You will no longer find endorsed slavery in any culture; you’ll find an expansion of women’s rights globally over the last century, a new and greater sensitivity to Human Rights, generally.

I do feel that now, presently, the media presents the world in microscopic bits.

This can create the impression that the world is dissolving, failing, but too can serve to make us more aware, and thus present us with an opportunity to be more active – personally, interpersonally, politically – than we may be otherwise.

I think it’s important to discern and process information, and use the negative as fuel to augment change.

I think that there are forces at work that give greater rise to ostracizing the so-called “non-conformist”, and that’s dangerous.

I also think that we are societally in a position to combat this, and are obligated to do so.

RV: Where do you research for some of the images used in your oil paintings, like A Faulty Diagnosis? What sort of books and magazines? Or are these images you’ve imagined, or other people have told you about?

CM: While most of the imagery in my work is pretty much my own invention, there are photographers whose volumes help me to visualize – Yousef Karsch is a favorite, along with Diane Arbus, Wee Gee and Richard Avedon, among others.

As far as magazines, I’m a bit of a news junky.

I like Salon and The Nation, and current events will influence my themes from time to time.

RV: What influences went into your rich oil painting style?

CM: When I was a boy, my oldest brother was institutionalized for schizophrenia. I remember visiting him in the hospital, what it looked like, how it felt…it frightened me and left its mark.

Spiritually, that event has propelled me to champion those among us whose voices are too often neglected or even deliberately silenced – the mentally ill, the physically challenged, the negatively labeled, the outcast, the persecuted.

I’ve been intimately engaged with Art generally throughout my life.

As an adult, it became my forum of expression and to some extent activism. The visuals you see are the sum of this.

RV: What sorts of comments do people tell you about your paintings and do you think they’re on the same wavelength as you, generally?

CM: My present favorite came from a Minneapolis-based writer named Rod Smith, who basically said – and I’m paraphrasing – that when he first saw my work, he thought the characters were frightening, but in learning more about them he wanted to give them a hug.

I think that sort of sentiment is, to me, a mission accomplished – the work is about looking past the exterior, or the initial, to discover the true nature of a soul.

The work’s about mercy, and I think comments like Rod’s recognize that.

RV: What steps have you been taking to get ready for the exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition from September 22 to November 20? What remains to be done?

CM: I will continue painting and creating work for the show until it opens, 7pm on September 22.

I’m also working to finish up an animated short, “The Severed Stream”, which I hope to debut at the show as well.

Check out www.chrismarspublishing.com