Since creativity and art are such an important part of Figment, we thought it only appropriate that we select a judge for this year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest that was really an “artist.”  Someone who is, and seeks to be, creative in every progression of their life and career.  Chris Mars is an artist.  Whether he’s making music, solo or as a member of The Replacements, painting or making films, he is always creating art.   We spoke to him about his progression as an artist, his creative process, and the parallels of music and art.

Figment News:  Most people know you as a musician, but you’ve been drawing and painting for many years correct?  How did you get started as a visual artist?

Chris:  I had done much drawing as a kid as far back as I can remember so visual expression was integral to me all along. Visual art comes more naturally to me than music.  Eventually I simply took up art again full time.

FN:  How does creating visual art compare to creating music?  By that I mean, is your creative process different or similar?

Chris:  In writing music for my solo records, I found that I had to wait as often as not for a melody to come along.  With visual art, I don’t have to wait, it is immediate – I converse with drawing or the paint and shape it in real time.  With music, the inspiration needed to be fostered.  With painting, it is a constant.

FN:  What was it like making the transition from musician to full-time visual artist?  Are the two worlds that different?

Chris:  After the Replacements, and after I expressed myself musically with my solo records, I felt I had thoroughly exorcised music from my system.  I could then let the visual art flow completely and it was a feeling of freedom devoid of rules and typical structure, for me, like going from a box to an open field.  Eventually the music bug returned, but my engagement is more of an aside these days…generally as accompaniment to my films.

FN:  You’ve been very open about the fact that your art is inspired by your brother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15.  What is it you hope to convey through your art about your brother and his mental illness?

Chris:  First and foremost I paint as a need to express myself and to convey my own vision. Beyond this I would like to think that through the communicative nature of art – any medium – others may identify with what is expressed in a way that might make them feel less alone.

FN:  Do you think the arts – visual, musical, physical – are a good way to address issues of this kind?

Chris:  There are many ways to address these types of issues; art is what I know, so for me the arts work well as a vehicle for expression. In general I think the arts are a very good way to address issues of many kinds, political, social, personal.  Instruments, paint brushes, keyboards, pencils – all just, at their best, tools of expression.

FN:  The imagery in your work could be described as “dark” or “macabre”.  Is that your intention?

Chris:  It is not an intention so much as how it comes out of me naturally. I have always been attracted to textures and shapes in nature that carry a worn character to them – a rotting tree with bark patches missing, rust, cracks, decay… Nature is so rich and varied in the way it expresses itself biologically, wonderfully bizarre creatures and fungus and insects – all this can be considered less desirable by some yet it is as much part of the world as anything else. This is analogous to how people are varied as well, so for me it is not dark, it is simply turning an eye toward the beauty that lay beneath the veneer considered by some a more “pristine” vision of the world.

FN:  You work in a variety of mediums – paintings, pastels, scratchboards and film.  Any one favorite, and what are some of the unique challenges of each?

Chris:  Painting first, then drawing, then film followed by the sounds and music that go with film, today in that order.

FN:  What artists have been most influential to your own art?

Chris:  Influential is odd to determine, since nature and my own experiences have the greatest influence on my work.  But there are many artists whose work I admire – visual art mostly the expressionists and the surrealists – Beksinski is a favorite, Albright, Dali, too many to name.  In other media, Guillmero Del Toro, David Lynch.

FN:  You art has been exhibited all over the world.  Any upcoming exhibitions you’d like to let us know about?

Chris:  I have been invited back to Le Musee Halle St. Pierre in Paris for another exhibition in conjunction with Hey Magazine.  I will exhibit about ten or so scratchboards this time, and it will open this January.  I also have work in Arizona, New York and Los Angeles currently, with San Francisco joining in soon as well.  My website has a full list of upcoming exhibitions.

FN:  How important do you think visual art is to a band?

Chris:  I’ve seen poor art with great music inside and great art with poor music so if music is the focus I would hope that it stands on it’s own, though it sure can’t hurt to have some well done art and well done music together.  I had bought my share of records because of a great cover, so I think if you’re not familiar with the music, the visual art is especially important.

FN:  When you were making music how involved were you in the visual identity of your music?

Chris:  With the Replacements not at all save for a few poster illustrations or outtake tapes very early on.  With my first solo record, I think I was as excited about having my art on the cover as my music inside it.

FN:  Do you feel it’s important for an album cover to tie in with the theme of the album or is that not as important as a cover that grabs someone’s attention?

Chris:  I think it’s better that it tie in and be somehow cohesive with the sound. There is enough crass imagery designed to grab first, but if it lets you down, what’s the point?  Again, if the music is strong, this should do the grabbing so perhaps the intent of the visuals might be to fit first rather than grab.  Sometimes a genre or a sound has a look, and this can help people find the music they’re looking for.

FN:  What do you look for in an album cover? What types of design catch your eye and make you interested in hearing the album?

Chris:  Something subtle typically, something that’s naturally cool and doesn’t have to try too hard.  And if there is a good painting or tastefully done graphic that expresses the right tone – this could mean words only, or visuals only, or both together – all this can be effective.

FN:  Was album cover art something that inspired you to begin creating visual art?

Chris:  I would have to say no.  I liked punk.  The graphics were music graphics; they didn’t inspire me visually.

FN:  You have lived and worked in Minneapolis, MN your entire life.  It seems like an incredibly creative town.  Do you agree and if so, why do you think that is?

Chris:  I do, for me there is a lot of natural beauty to Minneapolis, with its many lakes, trees, streams and rivers. The seasons are very defined, going from lush summer to cold and dormant winter and all the beats in between. It is a good environment for creativity. There are a lot of artists, musicians, theater… Creativity is present everywhere, but Minneapolis inspires me.

FN:  Many of our Figment players are interested in design, art and music.  What advice would you give them if they are looking to carve out a career in any of these disciplines?

Chris:  Pull as much as you can from your own individual vision and emotion. Find the expression that is uniquely yours.  You can borrow influences from wherever you want but in the end it should express your own voice, yours and yours alone.


To find out more about Chris and his art we suggest you visit the following:

Visit Chris Mars’ website.

Follow Chris on Facebook.

Watch Chris’ animated films.

Watch Chris’ music videos.

Editor’s Note:  We’d like to thank theHoseman for submitting some of the questions used in this interview.


As you know we’re a month into our 4th Annual Figment Album Cover Design Contest, and since we’re at the half way point we though it was a good time to remind you about just one of the great prizes you’ll take home if Chris Mars picks your design! Our good friends at Adobe are going to outfit this year’s winner with a copy of the newly released Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite 6!

Adobe Photoshop CS6 software delivers lightning-fast creativity and a sprinkle of magic, enabling designers to create breathtaking images, video, and 3D artwork that will set their work apart in print, on the web, and on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Retouch images with astonishing ease and fine control now that the magic of Content-Aware technology powers two completely new additions to the Content-Aware technology family—the Content-Aware Patch tool and Content-Aware Move. Easily create new lens blurs and tilt-shift photography effects. Maximize your hardware investment and save significant time in your workflows thanks to the new Monaco Graphics Engine, which delivers blazing-fast interactions in key editing tools including Liquify, Puppet Warp, and the new Lighting Effects Gallery; new preset migration and sharing, which let you experience Photoshop in the same way across all your computers and bring your customizations from past versions of Photoshop into Photoshop CS6; and new Background Save and Auto-recovery options that boost productivity and image security. Enjoy a much easier way to create 3D artwork with a vastly simplified User Interface, and enhance your 3D creations with shadows lighting, animation, and new sketch and cartoon looks. Use new and enhanced design capabilities—including type styles, layer search, and dashed line creation—to create superior work in fewer steps. Crop faster and with greater precision with the all-new Crop tool. And much more.

Needless to say this is a prize that will help you take your album cover designs to the next level!  So get working on a design now and submit it before the June 1, 2012 deadline to have a chance at winning the image-editing software used by professional photographers and designers all over the world.