I first saw Rob’s work in NYC when we were showing at the same gallery. I was immediately drawn to its texture and graphic nature. Bright colors, patchworked behind high contrasted images of America’s landscapes then sprinkled with well-worn retro advertisements of the times. His art is crisp, sharp, and visually perfect. An aesthetic that he developed as an apparel designer. He has an eye for the times and has the pulse of the commercial culture monster that plagues the big cities. Which, I find very ironic for a soft-spoken, humbly hip guy that visited me for the weekend.
I had to figure out where to entertain and interview our out of place city dwellers. I say out of place because I truly believe they are a little country at heart. I hate to divulge this but we took them to Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook for food, music and farm animals. I hesitate to share this information because everyone will start to flock to this awesome place. It’s such a beautiful little gem on the outskirts of Chester County. I believe if the Vikings had discovered it first they would have tricked us and named it as deceptively as they named Iceland. Wyebrook Farm elevates the word “farm” to an exceptional culinary feast. A feast for the senses; the quietness of the country, scenic vistas, and a taste of grass fed animals. We avoided the bright sun and sat under the carriage shed drinking Dogfish 90-minutes to cool us down. The interview only lasted 20 minutes but we still had 2 more 90 minutes. So we got started…
How did you get started making art?
I had been making art my whole life on a personal level but started to notice a shift in direction around 2000. I was deeply involved in the skateboard industry on the graphic design side but felt I had a more personal message to convey and so I started producing a large body of experimental work until I had a solid collection to show. The roadtrip pieces were the beginning of where I am today.
Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?
Parsons School of Design in New York City. I majored in illustration and graphic design.
How would you describe your work in general for the readers?
My work deals predominantly with the 1950’s and 60’s in America and the modern day influences that came out of that era. I am drawn to the architecture, graphic design, furniture design, and car design of those particular decades. Since 2009 it shifted away from these particular icons and more towards the celebrity personalities that left an indelible mark on American popular culture.
What is your media?
Mixed media on wood panel. But more specifically they are multiple process paintings that involve layers of paper, vintage ephemera, paint, and acrylic transfers with the final process being an epoxy resin coated to encase the layering and texture into a smooth, glossy finish.
How do you choose your subject matter?
It comes from a lot of research. It started off with the American icons left over from Route 66 culture, so there were neon signs and the cars from the 50’s, the 60’s. That was something that appealed to me on a basic level from my youth. I was taking several road trips a year to small towns in America and photographing the remaining pieces of American culture still standing and using these as my subject matter. From there, it began evolving into the personalities of the era, obviously Marilyn Monroe is the most famous, but also focusing on the beauty of Grace Kelly, and the masculinity of James Dean, the classic styling of Jackie O, and the sensuality of Brigitte Bardot (although not American she still has that star quality).. It is not only about the people but capturing the iconic quality of their image and presenting it in a contemporary manner.
Tell me about some of your favorite techniques...
I will spend a good amount of time on any piece layering vintage newspaper, maps, and magazine clippings and, then apply a paint layer making it as perfect as possible, and then I will take sandpaper to the whole thing to reveal the "underpainting" and let the sandpaper create imperfections and a weathered effect. I really like the random things that can happen with that process.
Where do you find your imagery?
Everywhere. In books and magazines. I have a pretty big library of things from that era in my studio which I will dissect and organize into piles for use as I am building up the layering.
Where do you go shopping?
Ebay is good for buying large lots of things like old Life magazines but a lot of it is shopping small towns while on the road trips. I scour the antique stores along the way and find old ephemera and ship back boxes to New York.
I hate when a viewer asks is it done? So I’m going to ask you “How do you decide when an artwork is done?"
Fifteen minutes after I started… No, I think you just get to a general satisfaction level. I think that’s the thing about pop art, it’s the immediacy of it. Its not having something last for a month and working on it and reworking it. You choose all the materials and you have them there and you just make it work. It tends to become about your confidence in decision making while creating.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Robert Rauschenberg. His use of material. His constantly evolving body of work. His general outlook on life and art. He was a true master.
What inspires you? Really gets your creative juices pumping?
It’s funny, because as much as I complain about New York when I'm there and the constant stimulation overload, the city is really what drives me. When you boil it all down, you’re surrounded by a lot of fashion, a lot of good design, a lot of good art, and even things like graffiti play an important part of the culture. It is all an influence when making art.
Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
I used to get coffee, not any more. Monday and Tuesday I get there around 8 because I have my assistant come in at 9. The rest of the days I get there around 9, work until 6. I always take a lunch break to make sure I have that down time. When I am there, I spend a lot of time thinking about the work before I start making it. You’re in that mode of, “I am going to make this,” and you’ve given all the thought to it and then it becomes about the creation.
How important was your graphic design background to your work now?
My graphic design background plays an integral part of my art. It is so much more about the graphic design influence than it is about actual fine art influence, it is just the materials that are different. It's more analog than digital.
What are you eating right now?
A hamburger, medium, French Fries, and a Dogfish Head beer, the 120 Minute IPA.
What is your favorite food?
That’s a hard question; I will consider myself a foodie and say that I will enjoy almost all foods. I love the basics like a slice of Joe’s NY Pizza in the village, or mussels and a Hoegaarden at Market and we always have our favorite Egyptian spot, Kebab house, in Astoria.
What does home mean to you?
Peacefulness. Surrounded by art.
Your proudest moment?
That guy (referring to his son). And when I actually stepped away from the day job, and committed to being an artist.
Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
Its about your health. It’s about having your health and having your friends and family close.
Where did you grow up?
What is the last book you read?
Curious George actually…
I’m kind of collecting art right now.
Something that is important on your nightstand?
I have an alarm clock on my nightstand and that helps me wake up to get to my studio on time.
Your strangest possession?
My wisdom tooth. I still have that from 1986.
Your best birthday?
40th. My wife made that very special and I am not a birthday person.
The Interview ended and we gazed over the fields of grass as the cows grazed. I swear you could taste the grass in every bite of that hamburger. A burger so fresh you didn’t feel guilty eating the fried pickle on top or the French fries fried in the rendered lard. All this meat would make any Viking envious. We gathered our troops and went back to my studio to talk more shop, relax and imbibe. As the conversation turned to staying another night, his wife inquired about our zip code so she could look up some local real-estate listings. I think we might have another local artist soon.
The “Speed Round Questions”
Learn more about Rob Mars and his work by visiting robertmars.com. Rob’s also a blogger too, which is readable here.