We elected a black man as our next president. American capitalism imploded, leaving many to challenge the justice of unchecked free markets. President Bush had shoes thrown at him. For certain malcontents with a progressive bent, 2008 has been a great year for vindication. But let's not get too cocky with the I-told-you-so's. The satisfaction that comes from being right often turns out to be a bitter, complicated pill. Especially when what you were right about in the first place is a horrific injustice that continues to go unaddressed. Just ask Chris Mars. His I-told-you-so's aren't gleeful. They're gruesome.
Yes, that Chris Mars. Like a few other punk drummers from the '80s, the former Replacements band member is working these days as a visual artist. Since 2000, he's been packing galleries in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Montreal with fans eager to see his macabre dreamscapes. Inspired by the hell endured by his older brother, who in the early 1960s was institutionalized for schizophrenia, Mars paints desolate purgatories where deformed misfits huddle together in shared misery. His work is an ode to society's outsiders.
This fall, Mars published his debut monograph, Tolerance. The book is gory but undeniably beautiful, with a creep-show Catholic vibe. Horror and reverence blend within the pages, and corpse-like monsters become angles enshrined in stained-glass windows. The art is grotesque in the literary sense, evoking both empathy and revulsion.
Through his paintings, Mars brilliantly sums up the feeling of being right about something awful. Each one is a sickening blend of righteousness and despair. Looking at them, you may feel a hint of vindication for the victims. But you won't feel satisfied—just guilty, sad, and nervously hopeful for what will come next. Which makes Tolerance the perfect read for the final days of the Bush administration.
Let's get this guy a solo show in 2009.
Gregory Scott is the lead arts writer for Vita.mn.
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