Artist Chet Zar wearing a face mask with his signature gas mask design on it.  Chet’s facemasks are available through his Threadless shop and 100% of net proceeds from their sales is being donated to MedShare

Chet Zar has spent his life producing a body of work that explores the shadow realms. Sometimes villainous and othertimes plaintive, Chet’s intuitive work seems to tap into a whole world that most only glimpse in halting dreams.

He’s conjured up an assortment of monstrous entities who gaze out at the viewer as if they are on the verge of communicating something. A warning perhaps.

Though he’s been painting them for many years, his apocalyptic dreamscapes seem to reflect the current mood.  With so many people suffering during the pandemic and mounting chaos bearing down as tensions erupt in the disjointed United States, there is a leadership vacuum. Loneliness is pervasive and it’s easy to abdicate personal responsibility in favor of blaming others.

One thing we can do is connect with our tribes. Through the groups shows he curates, his podcast and his generous spirit, Chet works hard to bring the many misfits of the dark art community together in service of something greater than any one artist. He leads by example.

As the climate feels more divisive than ever, I reached out to one of the most inclusive artists I know to find out how he’s staying positive in these bleak times.

You’re a full-time artist, podcast host and sometime curator living in Los Angeles, California. Has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid-19? With your active imagination, shy nature and driving work ethic you seem better equipped for social distancing than many people. Is it actually your preferred state?

Yes, my life has not changed much at all. I work from home and rarely go out so you could say I was already acclimated to this kind of lifestyle.

If anything, I’m kind of bummed that I haven’t gotten the break to catch up on home repairs and other things I see people posting pics of on social media. I enjoy my work and all I really do is work so I don’t really have a problem with the quarantine.

Sinister by Chet Zar

In the documentary film about your work, I Like to Paint Monsters, you explained that the images dark artists bring forth into the world are the only appropriate response to the suffering all around us. It seems to me that you since you’ve said that suffering has gone up exponentially. What is the role of art and the artist in time of crisis? Does the purpose or importance of dark images, dark art shift in these darker times?

I think the role of the artist is kind of different for each artist. Some artists like to create work to take people’s minds off of the suffering- which can also be valuable. The older I get the more I realize that you have to take breaks from all of this suffering if you have that option lol.

I think every artist has their time and place. For better to worse, I think this (as dark artists) is our time.

On the one hand, dark artists including yourself constantly grapple with the shadow side. On the other hand, artists can be especially sensitive. Do you think dark artists are better or worse equipped to go through dark times?

Well, I don’t really see it as grappling with the shadow side as much as constructively expressing the shadow side. It feels to me like I have made friends with my demons and have found a way to honor them. I have nothing but pleasant feelings for them.

Real world horrors are a different story. I think most artists do tend to be more sensitive to that.

If anything, our solitary lifestyles have equipped us to deal with the quarantine. Being able to be alone and ok spending most of your time with yourself is probably a major advantage we have during these times.

But I don’t feel any less bad when I see another injustice happen. I think it’s natural to feel pain when you see the suffering of others. That’s what it is to be human. If anything, maybe creating paintings that show suffering (and being immersed in that world in a visual sense) makes it easier to feel the suffering of others.

I think the real danger is not being able to feel.

Plague Doctor painting on a Threadless tshirt available in Chet’s Threadless store

In 2016 you painted a Plague Doctor. Out of curiosity has that print become more or less popular in the last few months? Are any of your images selling particularly well right now? And do you think people are currently attracted or repelled to imagery that reminds them of the contagion we all face?

Strangely, my sales have been up in general during this time but I think a lot of that might be from the publicity of doing these TOOL posters. However, I also think that people are attracted to artwork that expresses the feeling they are going through so I do think that is part of it. And again- Dark Art is truly the art of our current age. But I have not noticed a specific image selling though….yet!

Black Magick by Chet Zar

Apocalyptic imagery is featured prominently in your work. Your iconic Black Magic character dons a gas mask. And you’ve been selling face masks with that gas mask printed on them for charity. You’ve also painted an Apocalyptic Jester and so many of the skies in the background of your paintings look like the end of days. With the dual threat of climate change and the pandemic, end times feel closer than ever. You are consistently a positive force. Where are you finding light, hope and courage to get through times that look scarier than your paintings?

Strangely enough, I find it through creating the artwork. I don’t know if it’s the creative purging of “demons” or just the creative process but I feel that it keeps me sane. As long as I can stay creative I feel like I can handle just about anything. That and watching Bob Ross videos!

You have recently been working hard on a series of Tool poster doodles, which I believe you are just wrapping up. How did that project come about?

I have worked with TOOL for many years and saw guitar player Adam Jones at the most recent LA Art Fair. He asked me if I would like to do a poster for one of they’re upcoming shows and I ended up doing 3 for them. Now people are asking for doodles on them and it has been supporting me for the last few months. It’s been a real blessing.

A Tool poster designed by Chet and then doodled on by him to create one of a kind collector’s items for fans

The other project you’re dedicated to finishing this year is your Kickstarter book project, DY5TOPIA, a visual field guide to your dark universe. Even though you have other commitments, do you feel compelled to reflect on the pandemic in your artwork? Can we expect to see a plague series from you in the near future?

I don’t really think of things like that. Since my process is entirely intuitive, I just paint what I paint. I don’t usually set out to paint a specific subject or idea. Maybe some artists work that way but I can’t.

I feel like the moment I start trying to convey some sort of message, my art loses it’s purity. I leave it up to my intuition to guide me.

Looking back at all of my work and the gas masks and apocalyptic skies and such…it’s very strange how it currently applies. I don’t think if I tried to I could have predicted our situation through visual metaphor. But intuition could… and did, I think.

In February you curated Conjoined X, your tenth dark art group show as Copro Gallery. Opening night of that show is wall-to-wall people every year. Do you have a sense of what the gallery experience may look like going forward? What would it take for you to feel safe being involved in a big group show like that again? And what do we lose when art shows only exist online?

I don’t really know what the future will hold for galleries, let alone the rest of our daily life. And I am content to not know.

I take the approach that everything is somehow going according to plan on some cosmic level. I have faith in something greater so I am not really afraid. I take it as they come and I’m pretty sure I will be able to figure out some way of navigating it when it gets here.

Online art shows are definitely not the same experience as seeing work in person but who knows? Maybe this will make people appreciate seeing art in person more when they have limited access to it. I guess I’m just an optimist.

I started covering the dark art scene about ten years ago. In that time I’ve seen you hustle like a ferocious powerhouse beast. Though you’re phenomenally talented it’s only recently that your hard work is paying off (in the sense that every month isn’t a hail mary to cover the bills). I think despite the pervasive starving artist stereotype there’s also a myth that talented people will find instant success. A lot of people, artists included, are struggling to make ends meet right now. You had a family to support. How did you find the strength to keep going in your lean times?

Well, a few years ago I had an epiphany. It seemed that if I was doing my best and putting the work in, everything would work out no matter how dire my circumstances were. I remember quite a few times having less that $100 (or even less!) to my name and basically shitting myself wondering what the hell I was going to do to try and come up with my mortgage and pay my bills the next month.

There were plenty of stressful and sleepless nights but eventually I thought to myself “For the last 30 years I have always been able to somehow manage. I have never been homeless or lost everything. I always seem to come up with some way to earn, or something always manages to fall in my lap at the last minute. So if I just STOP worrying about it, all the bills will somehow get paid- same as before- and I won’t be stressed out.”

So I made the effort to really just kind of give in and “trust the universe” to provide for me and continued working and doing my best. And it worked. I would still get to those scary times of having no money but I knew that I could somehow figure out how to get by…and I did.

And the funny thing is that as soon as I was able to build up that skill of “not worrying” and trusting life and the reality I lived in, my finances started getting better. This made me really think about how what you focus on manifests in your life. So when you worry and think over and over about how you don’t have enough money or success or whatever, you are really manifesting that in your life.

This is really basic new age/ magickal kind of stuff but it’s easier said than done. If you are willing to do whatever it takes and have a clear vision of what you want your life to become and focus your thoughts and energy in that direction, you will have those results in your life.

Everybody who is reading this, ask yourself: what kinds of thoughts are you focusing the majority of your energy on? Chances are your life will be reflective of that.

And I know it’s a “chicken or egg” kind of thing and getting beaten down by life can start a while vicious cycle of lack feeding negative thoughts, round and round…but if you can have the courage and focus to stop the pattern you can change your life. Meditation is key to this because if your mind is full of endless chatter it’s difficult to focus on what you want. So learning to meditate is a great place to start.

You’ve had great success leveraging crowd funded platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon to finance your work. Do you have any advice for artists who may not be so digitally saavy on how they can build their tribe and make use of these types of platforms? Have you stumbled on pitfalls they could avoid?

Produce great work to the best of your ability and stay focused on the art. The marketing and all that should always be valued as only a means to an end. If you create work that you are proud of, you will feel more confident marketing your work. So creating quality work is first and foremost.

Once you are creating great work, post images once our twice a day on your social media pages. Interact with your fans and show gratitude. Don’t complain and put it off, just do it. It’s just how reality is right now. You need a social media presence to gain a following.

And once your following is big enough you can move onto crowd funding. If you have enough people behind you you can basically do anything nowadays. The tools are all out there and there is a tutorial for every single program that exists on YouTube.

Patreon is another amazing resource to get paid creating your artwork but you really need to build your following first and get them to come over to Patreon.

As far as pitfalls…..don’t over commit! I made this mistake with my Dy5topia Kickstarter. I offered WAY too many rewards and I am still dealing with it 4 years later. I have found that more people want to support artists they love than want to get maximum goodies for their support. It’s great to give back but don’t overextend yourself.

The Bat Escapes by Chet Zar

The Dark Art Society Podcast has over 160 episodes. Did you ever think it would run this long? What motivates you to keep it going?

I really had no idea! And to be honest, the only thing that keeps me going is that it’s somewhat successful. I feel obligated to the people who listen each week. I don’t want to let them down.

But also, I have had enough failures in my career to know that of something actually WORKS you don’t quit on it. And the Dark Art Society podcast Patreon brings in just enough money to justify the time I put into it. So as long as I can afford to keep doing it and as long as people keep listening, I will keep doing it.

I’m basically just following this thing and seeing where it goes, which is how I have done things for most of my art career.

The episode of Dark Art Society Podcast with Dave Sherman’s Quarantips, discusses some mental health strategies for coping with anxiety during the pandemic. Did any of his tips particularly resonate with you? Are there any other episodes you’d recommend for quarantine listening and do you have any interviews coming up you’re particularly excited about?

I haven’t had much anxiety about it to be honest. I had one day where I felt really freaked out but thats about it. I think my daily meditation and magick practice has been really helpful in this regard.

The Kazu Hiro episode (Ep. 163) I posted recently is really good. Kazu is a brilliant artist and two time academy award winning makeup artist for the films “Bombshell” and “Darkest hour”. He is also known for his amazingly realistic oversized portrait fine art sculptures.

Also, artists who want to know how to navigate Instagram and make it work for them and their art careers should check out the interview I did with Josh G. He is a silicon valley insider and creator of the Creepmachine blog and corresponding Instagram account. He tells how he was able to get over 300k followers on IG without paying for any ads or anything! That is episode 110 and one of our most popular.

But most of the episodes are interesting and entertaining and I think there are little golden nuggets in just about every episode. So people should check them all out!

The dark art community is pretty tight knit and in my experience inclusive as long as you come across as genuine (I can only speak from my own experience here.) The contemporary art world is neither friendly nor inclusive. What it is it about dark artists that encourages this communal tribe-like feeling? How is that especially serving the dark art community during this time?

I think it is because we are so used to being marginalized and not taken seriously by the mainstream art world. When the whole world is telling you what you are doing is not important and you find a community who not only appreciates it but truly LOVES what you are doing, that is like finding an oasis in the desert. We have each other’s backs because nobody else will! That is a powerful thing to have in a time of isolation.

But I think dismissive attitudes around Dark Art are beginning to change. We now see the relevance (and dare I say prescience) of Dark Art. If anything, the sorry state of the world right now is giving our art movement credibility. We were discussing these kinds of themes before they were happening on such a big scale. That’s got to count for something!

Dark Art Society Patreon subscribers have been meeting Friday nights on Zoom to socialize and work on art. What is the value of online social gatherings and do you think they will continue even when quarantine is over?

I really appreciate artist and Dark Art Society member Steve Cleff for starting the Friday night Art Jams.

It’s important to hang out with “your people” from time to time. I think this is especially true for artists because we are a minority and have very specific issues in common with each other.

I initially started coming onto the Zoom hangouts just to kind of poke my head in and say hi but soon realized it was so much fun that I had to stay. I didn’t realize that I needed that kind of interaction but I really do.

I think this goes beyond quarantine. It’s so amazing to be able to hang out and create while chatting with people all over the world. I think it will continue beyond the quarantine.

Shamanic Tendencies by Chet Zar

You are a proponent of meditation, magic and self-exploration. Can you recommend any resources for people who might be feeling a little lost right now to start them on that path? How do those explorations feed you to become a better artist?

Anybody interested in learning ceremonial magick and meditation should subscribe to for a month or two to try it out. For those unfamiliar, it’s really amazing stuff and probably not what you think it is. There is even a free “Chaos Magick” course when you sign up to the mailing list. It’s very good stuff and worth looking into even if you are a little curious. Don’t worry, it’s not “satanic” or anything. In fact, it’s exact the opposite of that.

Horror movies and pop culture has really undermined what Magick is all about. I have been studying it seriously for a couple of years now (after a lifetime of dabbling) and the results have really been amazing.

Also, actually has an “Art and Magick” course on the site thats really great for artists.

Having taken all of the classes I can say that Jason (Louv, Magick teacher on is legitimate, pragmatic and a really good teacher. There is a ton of badly taught, phony occult bullshit out there on the internet so it’s important to learn from a trusted source. I can totally vouch for It’s been a life changer for me.

And I think especially nowadays when things seem so chaotic and out of control, Magick is a great way to start taking control of your life, with spiritually and materially.

Has any particular media been your comfort food of choice during this time?

Bob Ross videos lately. He has such a sweet and caring way about him. I find it very calming. Other than that I have been watching a lot of old classic films, Hitchcock in particular.

Are there any supplies or tools that you rely on or would like to have but are currently struggling to get?

Luckily I was already pretty stocked up! I get most of my stuff from and they have been shipping very quickly.

What can we do to support your work at this time?

Join my Patreon! This is where I am focusing all of my energy these days. I document all of my artwork progress, time lapse videos, tutorials, website discounts and more, I even offer a one on one artistic mentorship program where I meet with artists on Skype and give painting and sculpting critiques and art career advice at the highest Patreon tier. But you can join for as little as $1 a month.

If you like my podcast you can also join that Patreon for as little as $1 month and get bonus images from the artists on the show as well as hearing the show a day or two early than the general public. This also allows you membership to our new website, our private Facebook group and our weekly Zoom hangouts!

Thank you Chet for doing this interview!

If you want to learn more about Chet’s life and work, I highly recommend that you rent or purchase the documentary Chet Zar: I like to Paint Monsters.  It’s available on Itunes here.

To see more of Chet’s work you can follow him on Instagram.

To purchase face masks and apparel featuring Chet’s designs visit his Threadless store.  100% of net proceeds from the sale of face masks is being donated to MedShare.

To purchase prints, casts and original art, visit Chet’s online storefront here.  You can also buy originals and prints through Copro Gallery.

You can support Chet and get exclusive content from him through his Patreon page.

To hear Chet’s Dark Art Society Podcast click here.  The Dark Art Society Podcast has a Patreon page where members can hear the podcast early and participate in member-only hangouts.