Painter Chad Mars – Curator of Happy Accidents of Abstract Art


Chad Mars has been painting seriously for a decade, but he doesn’t use a brush. Instead, he finds his artistic tools at places like Lowe’s. His talents are “organizing the accidents into something that makes sense,” he says.

Even with his art degree, Mars didn’t think he could make a go of it as a painter. He even wandered to the West Coast and entered film school to learn that medium. But after spending time working in an office atmosphere, he came to a realization.

“I had no intention of painting after college. I wanted to but I didn’t know anybody who did it. There was no realistic path to becoming the kind of painter I wanted to be,” Mars said. “It took working and being in situations where I was just miserable for a long time. I just thought, ‘well, nothing could be worse than being a painter.”’

He took that inspiration and went back to his first love. But all he knew was that painters needed an art gallery to show their work and he needed to sell his work to make a living. 

Along came social media and through the magic of Facebook and then Instagram, Mars was able to show the world his artwork and the DMs rolled in with requests to buy his abstract work. 

“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “Facebook made it possible to circumvent the galleries and get it out there myself. Then Instagram made that easier. The Jackson Academy alumnus always wanted to be an abstract painter but wanted to have his own look.

“The only way to do that is flail away for a really long time and what you learned from that and what you want to keep. But I hadn’t done that,” he said.

Born in Laurel, he grew up in Laurel and Ridgeland and received a bachelor of fine art with an emphasis in painting from Ole Miss.

He first spent a year at Mississippi State as an art student but admitted he hated it. He tried other majors but found himself at Ole Miss back in the art curriculum. He never even picked up a paintbrush until his third year in school. 

“I took beginning painting and was immediately in love with that. After three more years of painting, I just hadn’t done it enough to feel like I was evolved into someone who could put paintings in galleries,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone who did it. Then eight years go by and it felt like it all happened overnight in 2012. It helped me make that leap from ‘I don’t have anything for a gallery’ to creating a full series of paintings.”

Inspired by Gerhard Richter and his squeegees to paint, Mars actually took digital pictures of the TV screen and the tools Richter used to paint. He then made a trip to Lowe’s and picked up his own new arsenal of painting tools to render his art. 

“I found plexiglass and bolted wood to it and used it like a giant palette knife. That’s how I applied the paint. I painted with these really big strokes and was scared to waste paint and how costly but the end result would be something you’ve never seen. It excited me and I figured out within a few months how to make things that were interesting and really pleasing with those tools. Then I decided this was my thing and I was never going to use a paintbrush again.”

Mars feels his talents are “organizing the accidents into something that makes sense. The plastic palette knives and tools create a lot of interestingness in just a few strokes of paint. Then you whittle away at what doesn’t need to stay. I trust the tools to make things interesting. In the past 10 years I’ve only worked with things like paint scrapers and palette knives and squeegees and pushed the paint around to see what was created.”

He describes his paintings as three-dimensional with a sculptural quality. 

“What bothered me early as a painter is that you can’t see the paint. I thought it would really benefit if you could see the paint standing off the surface,” he said. 

His artwork is normally finished in a day as the acrylic paint dries quickly and his idea may fade in his mind if he doesn’t finish it. 

“I paint from the back to the front. In the background, I’ll use my brightest colors or my darkest colors. Then I’ll do a middle layer where I use the colors of medium value and then on top of that I use the lightest colors so it’s kind of sandwiched,” he said. 

Watching Bob Ross early on in his career, he capitalized on the “happy mistakes.”

He’s also been influenced by the music he listens to such as Bryan Eno who also paints.

“I remember listening to his music in college and thinking I want to make a painting but I didn’t know how to talk about painting but I could talk about music,” he said. “My paintings are made up of strokes that cross each other and cut into each other. They make a floral motif. It’s all abstract and all about enjoying the paint stroke and the work.”

Mars describes his early attempts as trying to be in control and even planning his canvas in quadrants and planning what paint to go in each one. But those turned out “terrible.” Now he has a different mindset that has brought him much success. 

“I try to find ways to surrender and in a way that’s peaceful and not chaotic. I’ll work on a painting in layers and the second and third layers are far removed from the first. You just surrender to chance and improvise in the moment.”

Each day he starts a painting, he admits that “he’s a curator of good accidents” and finds a way out of the corners he paints himself into in his Ridgeland studio. He has plans to build a studio in his Madison home so he can work from home.

“I don’t work in the morning and then go start painting about noon and paint as long as I can. I get lost and feel like I don’t know what I’m doing but then it’s hours and hours of hundreds of strokes that are taxing on the brain. I somehow find my way out of whatever I’ve done. At the end of the day, you’re wiped. It’s like being in a sports game.”

His older brother, successful singer/songwriter Charlie Mars, inspires him somewhat but it was his mother who truly believed in his art. His dad, David, is a private pilot and participates in barnstorming. His mother, Sylvia, has a marketing company.

“She’s been my number one person who encouraged me and pushed me to pursue art. She came into my studio early on and couldn’t believe some of the stuff I was painting. I had been there all semester trying to become a good painter. She walked in and said, ‘wow, you’re actually really talented.’ And that meant a lot and you just need people who are in your corner.”

These days, Mars does a few commission pieces a month and sells his art through Instagram. He also has the Jackson Street Gallery displaying his work along with Oxford Floral. He also participates in art festivals to show his work. 

He recently did a “live painting” at a Children’s Hospital fundraiser. But those he goes in with a few ideas beforehand. Outside of his abstract art endeavors, Mars has gotten into getting his hands dirty in a different manner. As a homeowner, he’s gotten into gardening and landscaping.

“I’ve tore up the old yard and rented heavy machinery and graded all the dirt and planted the yard. I read online how to do everything. I like doing things outside with my hands. I’m going to grow roses this year. I like making the outside a little more beautiful,” he said. 

Mars enjoys the beach but not when others normally do. In the new year and in the fall, he takes in the wonder of sand and sea along 30A on the Florida Gulf Coast.

“I like to go when it’s freezing and camp. You can enjoy the beach. I go at the beginning of the year and hit the reset button. In the fall, I like to go up to the Smokies.” 

He also spends a large amount of time reading about and listening to music of David Bowie, Prince and other “glamourous rock stars” from the 1970s and 1980s.

“David Bowie is really inspiring to me. He represents outsiders and the weirdos but then to be so massively popular is cool,” he said. 

Mars does play a bit of guitar but that’s where his musical endeavors end.  “I like to do one thing really well,” he said. 

And that he does, as the curator of happy accidents on canvas. 

Mars art can be found on Facebook, through his Instagram account – Chad_Mars and he’ll be at the Double Decker Festival in Oxford this year.