Chad Mars uses his lifelong love of creating as a means to connect to his true self.
Since the age of six, Chad Mars has felt most comfortable creating. Now at 38, and after a long journey of self- discovery, he’s resting easy knowing that in front of the canvas is exactly where he was always meant to be.
“When I was a small kid, I started drawing caricatures of my classmates,” says Chad. “They were never flattering and always funny.” In high school, a classmate leaned over, saw the drawings, thought they were hilarious, and invited Chad over. “Art has always been where the good things come from,” he says. “That guy and his friends then became my closest and oldest friends to this day.”
When he was in high school, Chad’s art teacher at Jackson Academy, James Baker, told him he needed to pursue art in college. “I thought that was completely crazy,” laughs Chad. “My brother Charlie was living and working as a musician at the time. He would pick me up from school and take me to his gigs at fraternity houses in Baton Rouge. I decided then that the life of a working artist was just horrible.”
Chad went on to study biology at Ole Miss, pursuing a degree in marine biology. “I read Moby Dick and wanted to live that life on the water,” he says. “I eventually realized my brain didn’t work that way, so I revisited art. I had only drawn, not painted. Once I started painting, it clicked. I knew this was what I was supposed to do.”
After earning his degree in art, Chad took a detour from painting and headed toward Los Angeles to pursue work in film. “I didn’t realize that I had a voice, something to say,” explains Chad. “That was my hold up. I didn’t want to be just another painter. I wanted my work to mean something.”
For four years on the West Coast, Chad set out to make documentaries. “I eventually realized I wasn’t really a team player. I wanted to make what I wanted to make and not have to deal with other people.”
Chad made his way home to Jackson andbegan working at the family businesses, Mars Marketing and Mars & Steel. “This was the best thing for me because it drove me back to art,” says Chad. “I wasn’t driven at the time. Realizing I didn’t want to work in an office gave me ambition to do what I knew I was supposed to do after I hadn’t touched a brush in years.” He rented studio space at 121 Studio in Midtown Jackson and began his bumpy road as a professional artist.
In 2011, he was named one of PORTICO’s Rising Artists. “At the show, someone commissioned a large abstract,” remembers Chad. “I had been painting amusement rides from the Neshoba County Fair, but thought I’d give it a try.” Using oil and acrylic, Chad found a groove with abstract painting. “When I tried to paint representative art, I would battle with myself. My brain would say things looked too ‘normal,’ then I would try to mess them up and they’d look worse than before. Throwing paint on a canvas and moving it around unlocked this playfulness that had been lying dormant in me.”
Soon after, Lounge Interiors–now Haven Curated Home–hosted a solo show for Chad, where he sold a whopping 45 pieces. “I didn’t sleep for a month,” he says. “I was so inspired to create.” Soon, his Midtown studio was so full that he moved to a larger space in Ridgeland on County Line Road. Inspired by nature, botanicals and outer space, Chad had hit his sweet spot, using squeegees, paint scrapers and palette knives to smear bold strokes on canvas.
After some time, Chad felt he had quite literally painted himself into a corner. “Two years ago, I had an epiphany,” he explains. “I was so consumed by my work that I had neglected everything else. I was extremely down on myself and knew there had to be more. I was a lifelong non-believer in Christ. My brother had shared his faith with me for years. I called him and asked, ‘Is it real?’”
On a quest to address his crisis of faith and in true Moby Dick fashion, Chad took off for the place he had long been drawn to – the water – on a cold January day. “I went to the beach at four in the morning,” he says. “I decided to talk to God in case He was there.” He went into the ocean, up to his waist, where he felt himself being pulled and pulled. “It was like God was showing me He was real. The strength of the water, the pull on me, it was Him showing me He saw me, He loved me, He was there.”
Chad spent his time at the beach reading scripture and praying and returned to Jackson a new man. “I can hardly explain it, but overnight, I was a new person,” he says. “I surrendered and in that surrender, I was freed.” His work began to change, reflecting water, God and the light Chad set out to be.
“Now, art is my therapy,” says Chad. “It allows me to be connected to my true, authentic self. And that all happened after I surrendered that self.”
Chad’s work can be found at Haven Curated Home, Oxford Floral and Courtney Peters Interior Design as well as at chadmars.com.