I truly didn’t expect to walk away from a Chet Zar documentary having shed tears through nearly half of it. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, given that Chet is an incredibly emotive artist. I Like To Paint Monsters: The Chet Zar Story, directed by Mike Correll and produced by NRG Creations, isn’t just about an insanely talented man in the Dark Art movement, but about his journey to understand the world through his innate desire to create what many would perceive as darkness, but what is, in actuality, lightness.
There are many ways of going about being an artist. There’s being technically good at art. And then there’s the passion to be good at art. There’s also the passion for art itself and the passion to create. But in the greatest of artists, you see the need to create and the unshakable drive bubbling up inside of them that compels them to create. Then there is Chet Zar, a man who is all of the above plus an intense spiritualist and, in a way, a philosopher.
It’s difficult to talk about this documentary because it’s so incredibly multifaceted. It’s a wonderful piece of film that takes the viewer through Chet’s life, to the impact he’s had on the art world (especially the world of Dark Art), to the way his art has impacted even himself. We get to meet the truly peaceful, shy, and darling little boy that made mechanical hands crawl across his room, the boy who would test out makeup special effects on his friends, and continually take things apart piecing them back together, Chet was always creating in every medium he could get his hands on.
Chet is what you would call a prodigy. Though something tells me he would reject that term because what he does is just something that’s in his bones; in his very core. He couldn’t exist without it, whatever “it” is. But prodigy he is. He was hired at the age of 15 to do Halloween makeup effects at Magic Mountain with a special work permit because he was too young to be working. He was working in film by the end of his teens, going on to work on films such as Hellboy 1 & 2, The Ring, and Planet of the Apes, among others.
We gradually watch him grow into a smart and driven teen and into the talented and thoughtful man he is today. Through anecdotes from his family, we learn of his playfulness as a child (using his incredible abilities to convince his mom he’d cut off his finger), but also the dark unrest he suffered having a deeply depressed father who eventually left his family when Chet was only five.
Chet not only dealt with these mortal troubles at a young age, like his absentee father and parental strife, but he also dealt with incidents of hauntings, out of body experiences, and even stigmata. Both of these types of horror, the more common family concerns and the less common supernatural issues, can be felt immensely in his work. Unlike most people, Chet is an extremely spiritually attuned person and these occurrences didn’t frighten him but rather inspired him.
His out of body experiences started around the age of twelve. One in particular was so haunting and creepy, Chet said it was “the evilest feeling you could have,” yet instead of hiding from it, it stimulated and moved him, most notably in his piece “Disturb the Normal” a work of digital art he created.
Before he was even a teen, Chet spent a lot of time thinking about the state of art. He was depressed about it. Uninspired. When a friend brought over H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon, its creepy aesthetic and beautiful technicalities are what inspired Chet to create the type of work we see him do today, the haunted quality of Giger’s work really spoke to him, as he had a deep fascination with hauntings.
There are elements of this documentary that just absolutely rip you to shreds. For example, while Chet talks about his biological father’s absence, depression, and withdrawn nature, the screen flashes paintings of his that were inspired by this household dread. Using Chet’s brutal honesty along with the imagery of his art made it impossible not to feel deeply about both.
Again, unlike most people and especially children, Chet threw himself into what scared him. He was terrified by all the normal things a child would be terrified by, but what scared him also enthralled him and became like an obsession, causing himself to become lost in his dark work, propelling his monstrous aesthetic.
Feelings of anxiety, guilt, and fear plagued Chet throughout his adolescence, which he came to terms with through therapy. But possibly even more therapeutic for him and what seems to have helped make sense of the trials he faced during his childhood — to help him cope — were the monsters that he created. This was his artistic outlet for this type of trauma. “The monsters made me whole,” he says, expressing how the dark imagery in his artwork was a healthy thing for him.
Chet then took his inner turmoil and turned it outward to mirror our real existence and fears caused by the world we live in today. He turns societal fears into monsters on canvas. But he turns them into monsters that feel, in a way, safe. This is his reaction to the world and we’re all better off for it. His extremely positive outlook on our future affects his art and the monsters within. The enlightenment in his art is extremely palpable. You can see that he believes things are going to get better. He says, “There’s so much suffering in the world that I can’t make art that doesn’t reflect that in some way.” But he goes on to say that he truly believes things will be okay, and that is absolutely a sentiment reflected in his art.
Chet’s art gives people an outlet to talk about their fears, darkness, anxieties, the human condition, and the world around them. There is not one piece of Chet Zar’s art that does not make a statement or hold deep meaning to either his life or the world around him. As it’s said in the film, he is “using darkness to spread light.” Chet paints monsters that are dying in order to turn a light on. He is illuminating the darkness by killing off monsters in his art. “It’s sort of like turning the light on in the dark closet to show a kid that there’s nothing really there, that there’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says, and continues to discuss the ways of exploring these fears and anxieties through the darkness.
To truly fall in love with a piece of art, you must be able to see something of yourself inside of it. The way that Chet paints and presents his monsters makes it nearly impossible not to find some part of yourself inside of them, at least some part of your existence. And to listen to all these professionals and artists and collectors talk about seeing themselves and seeing the world in Chet’s art is incredibly powerful and proves that he’s doing something right.
I Like To Paint Monsters is chock-full of interviews, not only with family and friends but other artists, collectors, performers, gallery owners, and industry professionals who truly understand what Chet does and what he wants to accomplish with his work. The wealth of imagery that we see throughout the documentary, comprised of Chet’s paintings and sculpting work, even some of his tattooing and other various mediums of art, make watching this film worth it alone.
Everything about this documentary makes the viewer ask: “What goes into making an artist an artist?” Though we’ll never know what makes each artist tick, I Like To Paint Monsters shows us exactly what makes the cogs turn in Chet Zar’s mind.
Find out more about I Like To Paint Monsters at the official website.
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