Peter Mars has been the leader of Chicago’s Pop Movement for the past 20 years. Combining avant-garde innovation with a deep Pop Art sensibility, Mars fuses and confuses the traditional distinctions between high culture and low art. The artist’s sensibilities fall somewhere between Dada and Pop, "In that area where nonsense and popular culture so frequently meet."
Using the joy and nostalgia that can be found in everyday objects, Mars explores American pop culture, the passage of time, and the icons that each period adopts as its own. Billboard advertisements with years of old ads peeling through, outmoded wall-paper designs overprinted with modern icons, recognizable typography overlaps young female faces, antique Coca-Cola logos combined with a fresh-faced Elvis-each elicits a multiplicity of American eras and cultural identities. Much of Mars’ work reflects the pop culture of his childhood in the 1960s and 70s, notably the idealized American family, comic book figures, television and space age inventions.
In magazine advertising, product design, and television programming Mars finds a fertile language with which to work. To say that Mars appropriates these images, however, does not capture the rich exchange of ideas that takes place on canvas. These are dialogues, every bit as much collaborations as the work Mars created with notable Outsider artists Howard Finster, R.A. Miller and Wesley Willis and later with Graffiti artists RISK, Trixter and Slang and presently with contemporary Pop artists, Burton Morris, Jeff Schaller and Tom Judd.
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1959, Peter Mars began collecting at an early age: matchbooks, comic books, baseball cards, arrowheads, coins and later, old gas station signs. Rather than striving to compile exhaustive collections, Mars sought separate images of beauty, small treasures that tell the story of American popular culture.
"While living in New Orleans, I saw a print by Alexander Calder that totally changed the direction of my art. I was drawn in by its big broad flat sweeping strokes of color. When I learned that it was a serigraph, I said to myself, I have to learn how to do that, whatever it is.
I loved TV shows like Lost in Space, and Fireball XL-5. I particularly liked the robot on Lost in Space. I remember how thrilled I was when President Kennedy came on TV and promised us that soon we would each have our own personal robot and how we were going to have robots to walk the dog and everything! I just couldn’t wait to grow up so I could start to work with my robot. When that didn’t happen, I was sad.
Right away I loved the feeling of working with silk and ink and that sense of excitement never seems to fade. I love the high spinning sound you hear when you pull the ink across the silk. But most of all, I love that final breathtaking moment when you lift the screen from the paper and the image appears, as if by magic!"
Mars says he often dreamt about art. Sometimes specific paintings would come to him in explicit detail, other times, he would see an idea for a unique combination of colors.
Mars says; "If you look at the collaborations between Warhol and Basquiat, you will understand what my art is about. In the mid-to-late 80s, with the death of these two leaders, I felt this was my place. Like the trail of breadcrumbs left by the advance party, these previous explorers had ventured this far into the unexplained wilderness and the next generation of Pop Artists would need to start from where they left off. I was coming up right behind them and I would start at the end of their trail. This was and is Pop Art. Just a carrying on…with the troops continuing to march into unknown territory. As with any military venture…you have to be fearless in order to accomplish great things."
In the early 80's Mars met ‘Rev’. Howard Finster, the grandfather of the American Outsider movement, and they collaborated together for many years until his death in 2001.
"One year Howard did a poster for a show and wrote on it, ‘It is fun to work with Earth’s People’, so he knew how different he was. His inspiration and his enthusiasm for life and art were absolutely contagious. He loved all the same pop culture and iconic imagery that I did…so we related on all of that. Eventually as the years passed, we started collaborating on artworks."
Mars tells of how he thoroughly enjoys doing collaborative artworks. "You never know what the other artist will do, and then you have to contend with it somehow. Working with other artists is a great way to really get crazy with the art, to push your own boundaries, and to push the other artist, too. Both artists are working in free fall, both generally way outside their usual comfort zone."
After becoming enamoured with ‘Elvis Presley’ the media phenomenon, Mars began exploring Elvis imagery, which included photography and related Elvis ephemera. He sought to combine the two elements into his unique artistic vision and create imagery that pays homage to the man who, by all accounts, launched modern-day media and celebrity messaging. Elvis became the perfect extension of Mars’ work to date, which has been focused on the idea that our world is made up of an increasing number of media messages which imprint us over time.
This imagery caught the attention of Priscilla Presley and Elvis Presley Enterprises, and through a unique collaboration Mars was invited to explore their extensive photography archive. His unfettered access includes not only recognizable public images, but also a selection of private photographs from Priscilla’s own archive.
Peter Mars was subsequently named an official artist of Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE). Through his collaboration with EPE, Peter has access to over 60,000 images of Elvis from the Graceland Archives, which inspired his new series of paintings.
"If I had only Elvis to work on for the rest of my career, he would fill my days. His legacy is daunting."
Peter Mars’ work appears in galleries from coast to coast in the USA and can be found in the collections of: Nate Berkus (Oprah Winfrey’s interior designer), Sheryl Crow, Michael Jordan, Betsey Johnson, Sandra Bernhard, Halo Industries, Tow Records, The Redwalls, Carroll Shelby’s Children’s Foundation, The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, and the John Heinz Waller family."