Saturday night marked the opening of Chet Zar's most ambitious project to date. “Ego Death,” his current solo show, features 15 new paintings and a new bronze rendition of his early-career sculpture sculpture Softspot. The series of works, which explore manifestations of the ego and the concept of “ego death,” made its debut at Barnsdall Park's Beyond Eden Art Fair, as part of Copro Gallery's exhibition. Post-festival, the paintings will move to the Santa Monica gallery for viewing. The show runs until October 26, on which night it will conclude with a fête designed to resemble a funeral.
“Ego Death” is an exquisite collection of work. Zar's monsters capture human emotion for devastating effect. As emotionally dark as some of the works are, they're also filled with warmth. In the show's title piece, a Grim Reaper sort of figure is surrounded by a fiery glow. The paintings are elaborately framed, with corners that feature a skull with bat wings sculpted by Zar that were cast in bronze.
Zar, a former FX artist who has gained legions of fans for his haunting paintings, took on a monumental challenge with this show. However, the challenge wasn't just a matter of size or scope of this exhibition. Last summer, the artist explained to us how he stumbled on the concept of the show on New Year's Eve. He got the funding for it– a little over $70,000– through a Kickstarter campaign that ended in mid-August. Zar had to work fast. He painted those 15 pieces — the largest of which, at 36″ by 48″, is the biggest painting he's ever tackled — in about two-and-a-half months.
“At a certain point, you get faster,” Zar says. He describes the process as gradual. You spend years painting and, over time, you pick up speed without realizing it. Eventually, you hit a point where you see the progress. You are painting much faster than you did years ago. “I had just made that jump to painting fast,” says Zar.
The Kickstarter campaign helped too, as it gave Zar the financial security necessary to focus solely on preparations for the big show. Since the launch of the campaign, Zar has been updating fans regularly with his progress, largely through photos he has been posting to Instagram. “Ego Death” wasn't just funded by the audience. It came into existence in front of the audience.
The progress shots are nothing new for Zar, but the way he uses them has changed over time. “In the early days of my career, it just seemed like a good way to get my name out there,” he says, “but as I kept doing it I noticed how much people really liked seeing the process and even learning from it, especially younger artists.”
Zar's openness about his process does seem to attract fans. Folks ask him questions about what clay he uses for sculpting. During the Kickstarter campaign, they pledged for his paintbrushes and oil studies. A few diehards even pledged for the opportunity to spend a week learning from Zar. But publicly sharing his progress helps the artist too. “Looking at [the works] in different computer monitors and such is very valuable to me, since most monitors look different,” says Zar. “It helps me see mistakes and even facilitates the development of them.”
That was the case for the development of “Ego Death.” Zar mentions that a few overexposed progress photos helped him develop a way to finish the pieces. “At this point,” he says, “posting on Instagram is a fairly important part of my creative process.”