July, 2008, Chet Zar's Ugly American @ Strychnin Gallery

July, 2008, Chet Zar's Ugly American @ Strychnin Gallery

In London for the opening of his Ugly American exhibition at Strychnin Gallery, special effects make-up artist and master of monstrous fine arts, Chet Zar took the time to answer a few questions for Whitehot and talk about growing up experiencing "standard ghost stuff." Visit strychnin.com and chetzar.com for more info about Chet and his Ugly American exhibition.

"Ugly American" opened on Friday the 13^th in London. Coincidence or plan?

Well, it just kind of turned out that way. But once I noticed it was opening on Friday the 13th I decided to do thirteen pieces for the show and have that as part of the theme.

Can you explain the inspiration behind "Ugly American" and what folks can expect to see?

I thought of the title at my last show at Strychnin Gallery in Berlin, entitled "Stranger", over a year ago. So many Europeans were asking me, "What is up with your President?" Needless to say, I spent a lot of time apologizing. I felt obligated to let the people I met know that most of us Americans were not down with what was going on and that we felt like our country had been taken over. Anyway, I thought that "Ugly American" would be a good title for my next show in Europe because of that and the fact that I essentially paint monsters that many people consider ugly.
With the title in mind, I tried to paint characters within that context- a collection of ugly Americans, or at least how I see them. I am also playing with more vibrant colors this time around.

In the bio on your website, you state that your family "seemed connected to the supernatural" and that "every house we lived in had some sort of weird, paranormal stuff going on in it." Care to share any particularly spooky stories from your childhood?

There are too many to mention or remember, but a lot of it was standard ghost stuff. Toilets flushing by themselves, doors opening, furniture being mysteriously moved around, ghostly figures on the ceiling, strange orbs of light flying around. My sister got poked with some knitting needles once.
It could have been that my family was all just crazy but quite a few friends also reported seeing things while visiting our home as well. It wasn't that big of a deal at the time, just part of life.

The list of movies you've worked on is impressive and lengthy to say the least! How did you get into the industry and what advice would you have for anyone just getting started doing effects?

I had been interested in film making since I was a little kid. I used to make movies on my Dad's Super 8 movie camera. That combined with my love of horror movies eventually led me to become fascinated with creating monsters and prosthetics. Around age 12, I sculpted my first mask and just kept going with it, taking photos along the way. I also met a friend of my older brother's named Jim Beinke while I was in High School. He was creating props and make up effects for music videos professionally and he let me help him out on some and get some experience. So once I graduated High School, I started showing my portfolio around to the make up effects shops and got hired.
As far as advice goes for somebody wanting to get in? Stay out! It's a ton of hard work and there is a lot of bullshit involved. Toxic chemicals. No health insurance. It pays pretty well, but the work comes and goes. There are not a lot of steady jobs in the industry. You never really feel secure since each production only lasts a certain amount of time. You can be working on something for 6 months and then get laid off on a days notice. It has its moments of fun and creativity, but that is really the exception and not the rule. I have worked on films for the last 20 years and I can count on one hand which ones I am actually proud of. All that being said, I don't regret doing it myself. I learned a lot of valuable art techniques. The people who work in the industry are generally very cool and there is a ton of talent there. I guess the only part of it I do regret is that I really dedicated myself to it for so many years without some kind of back up plan. I think if I had started my fine art career earlier on, and had it going in tandem with my make up effects career, I might not be so bitter about the industry. But at this point I am very happy with the way it all worked out.

Any favorite movies from your childhood that have influenced your style?

Probably the orginal "Night of the Living Dead". That really freaked me out. But it's really the horror film culture as a whole really had a big impact on my style. In a way, I feel that I am trying to legitimize that culture by presenting it as fine art. It always touched me in the same way that good art does.

How does working on a specific project, such as on a film or for a band, differ from creating art for an exhibition? Got a preference?

There is no question about it - creating your own artwork for your own exhibition is the best. Nobody is standing over your shoulder and telling you what to create and the success or failure of a show rests entirely on your own ability. Fine art is all about freedom for me and being a cog in the machine on the films of other people is a lot less fulfilling and does not offer much freedom. Once in a while you get to work with a director who actually respects your art (Guillermo Del Toro or Adam Jones on the Tool videos, for example) and lets you really be part of the creative process. But it does not happen enough. More often or not, your hands are artistically tied by somebody above you who has their head up their ass. The film industry is just crawling with them.

Involved in any upcoming projects that you'd like to mention?

My next show is a 3 man show with myself, Dan Quintana and Jeremy Bennet. That opens on October 10th at Roq La Rue gallery in Seattle. Other than that, I am working on publishing a book of my artwork. I have some other things lined up as well, but unfortunately they are still at the secret stage.
whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more.     www.tikichris.com 

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