Robert Mars
Robert Mars

Chronicling a fascination with 1950’s and 60’s iconography, Robert Mars has produced a body of artwork from his studio in Connecticut that celebrates the commonplace objects and icons of an America long past in a thoroughly modern, and exquisitely constructed, manner. His eye for a distinct facet of American history is impeccable, and his ability to manipulate both the color and wordplay of vintage printed material has earned him reference with the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Diebenkorn, among other masters from the School of Pop. By taking inspiration from the Golden Age of American popular culture and celebrating figures of the 1950’s and 60’s, Mars’ artwork chronicles an evolving relationship with celebrity. Through the application of a rich color palette and tongue in cheek attitude, Mars’ paintings evoke a vintage quality of design and pay homage to the idealized age of growth and hopefulness that was prevalent in the USA at the end of World War II. A time before the internet and mobile technology, where visual information was not constantly blasted to millions, and there was no such thing as instant digital celebrities, where instead people lived with the myth of the unique, untouchable and unforgettable personalities of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley, and many others.

By merging his own concept of personal idols with those of mainstream culture, Mars is able to focus his work on a deeper analysis of the Golden Age of Americana. His early work focuses on many of the architectural and mechanical forms of the 50’s and 60’s,where muscle cars, motels, kitschy logos, and hulking monuments to the “modern” feeling of the time reigned supreme. More recently, however, Mars’ artwork has shifted toward the culture of celebrity, and he is strikingly attuned to the fact that these instantly recognizable and larger than life personalities continue to resonate not only with contemporary American culture, but with a worldwide market.

In 2014, after serious reflection upon his artistic thought, his process, wanting to explore traditionalism from another angle, and through influence from his wife, Mars began to delve deeper into American culture by focusing on Folk Art and Contemporary American Quiltmakers. By combining vintage wallpapers with quilt patterns Mars was able to further differentiate himself from the scores of artists using similar iconic themes. Mars is credited as being the first to incorporate quilt patterns and a folk art sensibility into a pop art aesthetic creating his own genre of folk laced pop.

A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, Mars often references his decades as a graphic designer in his work. He begins the creative process by preparing his surface with multiple layers of vintage magazine paper in order to define the edges and delineate the background planes of color. He then alternates layers of paint and vintage paper ephemera, sanding away portions of the layers as he works, revealing the desired portions of under painting with the overall intention to provide the viewer with a muted window into America’s past. Robert Mars’ artwork is exhibited worldwide including museum collections in Munich, Tokyo, Amsterdam, London, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, Paris, Aspen and Naples. His artwork was selected for the Absolut Vodka Blank campaign alongside Damien Hirst, and his largest sized piece to date was acquired by Philip Morris/Altria for their corporate headquarters in Virginia. In 2015 Mars was chosen for the cover of Neiman Marcus’ May Book, while CocaCola purchased several existing works and ordered commissions for a world tour celebrating the 100 year anniversary of their trademark bottle shape, in which his artwork was spotlighted. 2016 will see Mars as a featured artist for a custom high end wallpaper and tile series with Kari Whitman Interiors. He will exhibit at the Evansville Museum of Art in Indiana, where he will also be an artist in residence and guest lecturer, and in June Mars will have his first solo show in Montenegro with Mead Carney Fine Art.

Links to Noteworthy Press:

Absolut Blank Campaign Links

Stereo Skateboards Americana Series Links

Forbes Price Ranges And Studio Images Of 21 Contemporary Artists Links

Curvilinear Sculptures and Cultural Icons Come Together at a Boston Show Links

Mars Attacks! Artist Robert Mars Comments on the Cult of Celebrity and Brand Names Links

Boston Globe Magazine On Cape: Color, color everywhere Links

Critical Review

Bruce Helander: Mars Landing

Artist Robert Mars' new series of handsome, graphics-inspired images, opening April 13 at DTR Modern in SoHo, offer a compelling and exciting visual dialogue that takes its DNA from iconic imagery in American popular culture. Like the pioneer inventors before him, particularly Rauschenberg, Rosenquist and Warhol, Mars discovers, researches and manipulates pop imagery into his own recognizable format, which utilizes iconic American symbols, particularly from advertising and film. The artist also is a de facto archivist of newspaper and magazine headlines and hand-painted signage that, sadly, is disappearing from the urban landscape and printed page, unceremoniously traded for the instant gratification of electronic pixels on a computer screen. In a curious irony, Mars has taken on the role of a historian whose research is abstracted and laid down into the parameters of a square canvas that gives viewers a modern day retrospective of contemporary images from our cultural heritage. Like the shelves of a bibliophile, which are stacked with publications of all kinds, Mars literally gathers his foundations of layered materials from a variety of sources, including paper bags and other collage ingredients. This compelling technique allows for ample, fertile ground cover in which the artist "plants" the seeds that mature into a blooming composition filled with strong, bright colors and shapes. The surface texture that is painstakingly developed into a kind of patchwork quilt of paper fragments allows a compelling vintage visual atmosphere and presents a duality of subjects, from the old to the new, both historic and present day; these additional layers increase significantly the edgy balancing act that Mars creates. He also should be credited as a modern day explorer, keeping alive the spirit of the 1950s and '60s by combining and connecting popular images from our past, such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Queen Elizabeth, Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Bardot, and even classic cartoons and comic strip characters such as Bob's Big Boy, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Batman.

In this exhibition, Robert Mars offers a new series of vibrant and familiar artworks consistent with his flair for hybrid documentation. His straightforward graphic style narrates an illustrated short story that allows his audience to make certain assumptions and connect to the fading landscape of our past. In this fresh new series, the artist continues to present striking, bold representations that refer to popular culture from Hollywood to Main Street, USA. Inherent in much of his work is the contemporary tradition of capturing and recreating forms that become art about art.

His latest series also skillfully incorporates the American stars and stripes in a variety of compositions, bringing to mind Johns' famous flag paintings in encaustic and collage, which are perhaps the most iconic Americana symbol created in the art world by the most famous living artist today. Mars occasionally mixes up a substitute color like purple for the stripes and rearranges them into a vertical position. Among the pieces that possess a successful adaptation of content and style are his square paintings of recreated cartoon strips that have been substantially increased in size from the original Sunday comics page, which, like Roy Lichtenstein, took advantage of Ben Day dot structures as an identifiable aesthetic element. In one painting, a fast thinking Batman delivers a comical "KWOP" with his right hand, exclaiming in a bubble, "Got to Put Everything I Have in a King-Size Sunday Punch!" These works recall the early experiments of Lichtenstein, who applied these familiar images directly onto canvas, ironically allowing his subject matter to be appropriated by other artists later on, particularly Richard Pettibone, who rose to fame by reducing the large scale of works by prominent artists to tiny, exacting, framed recreations that might fit comfortably in the bedroom of a prosperous mouse. Mars also takes us on a journey of subconscious duplication in his series of double and triple repeat images, a technique made famous by Warhol (see triple Elvis and double Marilyn). Another work with a central target shape, similar to the department store with the same name, brings to mind an homage to Jasper Johns' famous collaged targets.

Robert Mars has put together an enjoyable exhibition that mixes memorabilia from our past, whether it is vintage cars or iconic works from recognized modern masters, and spins a stitched-canvas curve ball that blends the familiar and unfamiliar, the old and the new, into one glamorous common denominator.

-Bruce Helander is an artist, the Editor-in-Chief of The Art Economist, and a frequent contributor to the style section of The Huffington Post. He is a White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Eleanor Heartney: Between Memory and Desire

Andy Warhol predicted that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Today, it seems he was off by a measure of magnitude. On social media, images and commentaries whiz by incessantly while the Big Story of the day is already old news by the time it hits the headlines. “Friends” multiply while real relationships stagnate. Instantaneous “liking” replaces more protracted experiencing. Living at this accelerated pace takes its toll on organisms designed for a slower time. Which may be why there is such a fascination today with the vanishing world of mid century America. The popularity of retro fashion and furniture, the TV series Mad Men, and the Golden Age of Hollywood is symptomatic of a larger sense of loss.

Robert Mars taps into these feelings with paintings that mediate between memory and desire. He conjures a panorama of postwar America that owes as much to the fantasies of a country emerging triumphantly from decades of turmoil as it does to the actual conditions of a society where consumption and identity were becoming perilously intertwined. Mars’ sources are the very stuff of these dreams. He maintains a huge archive of vintage magazines and newspapers. Photographs of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean, logos of products like Coca Cola, Marlboro cigarettes and Chanel No. 5 and news stories about seminal events from the death of JFK to the 1969 moon walk served as vehicles for bringing the American brand to the world.

In Mars’ hands, these become the basis for layered paintings that explore the lost glamour and the tarnished hopes of that era. He scans and enlarges his chosen images and prints them out on a photocopier that preserves their imperfections. Borrowing a technique pioneered by Robert Rauschenberg, he then transfers these images to hand crafted wood panels which have been prepared with painted grounds that evoke the patterns of flags, bulls eyes and minimalist stripes and dots. Combined with bits of actual collage from the same sources and occasional overlays of neon tubing, these works become meditations on a time that is at once tantalizingly recent and irretrievably distant.

Mars’ process of layering, transferring and collaging allows him to imbue these reminders of the elusive past with an undercurrent of irony. Best and Brightest takes a phrase associated with President Kennedy and attaches it to an advertising image of a bottle of Chanel no. 5 perfume. The tag line that runs across the bottom of the ad – “The most trusted name in Perfume” – resonates with a time when trust was a condition attached to both politics and advertising. A similar sentiment animates Gives you the Best. Here, this slogan is attached to an inspirational photo portrait of the soon to be assassinated President. Running below the image, which is layered over a flag inspired pattern of red, white and blue, are the words “Captain America”. Conflating JFK and the popular comic book figure, Mars conjures the hero worship that continues to envelope memories of the Kennedy era. In another work, Kennedy’s beautiful wife Jackie, becomes an “American Classic”, as neon tubing reminiscent of the Coca Cola font captions her. In such works, the language of promotion appears equally effective, whether applied to political figures or commercial products.

Other works reveal how a sense of mastery, machismo and effortless glamour attached itself to the fictional icons of the era. In one painting, Sean Connery’s James Bond appears in quadruplicate, surrounded by symbols of a hedonistic lifestyle that now, in our more politically correct era, seem anything but exemplary. In another, Superman blasts through a target, as a small collaged text taken from a deodorant ad in an old Playboy magazine promises that he “protects against all elements.”

With other works Mars reminds us that movie stars often serve as surrogate symbols of our idealized selves. During the decade in question, stars were infused with an indefinable tinge aura of danger and glamour that has all but dissipated today. In place of larger than life heroes, we now have neurotic celebrities cut down to size by paparazzi and social media. By contrast, in Full Time Pleasure, James Dean becomes the epitome of cool (or as the cigarette logo that accompanies this image spells it, Kool,) a judgment that is colored our own knowledge of the actor’s early death. Female icons from the 1950s and 60s have acquired equally ambiguous auras today. Marilyn Monroe, here accompanied by a Tiffany & Co. logo, exists now in a strange limbo between death and desire, her sex appeal oddly enhanced by the contemporary audience’s awareness of the emotional vulnerability that lead to her suicide.
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