Interview: Robert Mars

Photography ©Molly Quan

Please, introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about you.

My name is Robert Mars and I have been an artist since birth but started taking it seriously in the late 90s. As Y2K rolled around I knew that I needed to switch my career as a graphic designer/art director to a fine artist. This all happened around 1999 when I was art director for Element Skateboards. I felt that I had a vision that was not being recognized working with someone else’s brand. I left the company and worked less demanding jobs so I could focus on my art. The transition was slow but by 2005 I was being represented by a gallery in Chelsea that was a huge stepping stone in my career. Since that time I have been fortunate to be represented by galleries that understand my vision and believe in my work.

My beginnings with collage happened while living in New York City in the late 80’s when I was introduced to the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell and they both had a significant impact on my thoughts about approaching art and collage in general. They took what some considered “arts and crafts” and made it museum quality artwork. Both artists voice and signature styles would have significant influence over my entire career. Funny enough, when I look back through my early work as a child there were hints of collage already happening so when I found artists that could take that to the next level it was a good fit for me as an influence.

Recent, current or future projects you are involved in that you would like to share with us?

I am currently working on a collaboration with Jay West ( for an upcoming show that I will have in May of this year. I look forward to seeing how our work comes together. I love working with and trading art with other artists that I admire.

My other newest addition to my body of work are pieces incorporating neon tubing. Where I used to photograph neon in its dilapidated state, now I am trying to bring out the more beautiful, sexy side of neon.

Back in 2010 I did a collaboration with Jeff Schaller and Melody Postma which was very inspiring. Our aesthetic is similar but our methods of making art are different so it was nice to see the contrast within each piece that we collaborated on.

What kind of things do influence your work?

Roadtrips through rural America, Old neon signs, Graffiti, Vintage magazines and newspapers, Muscle cars circa 1960’s, Street art, Gallery hopping, mid century modern design, clean lines, inspired graphic design, and well designed typography.

How is your normal process of collaging? (idea or commission, where do you get your materials or find your images, which is your cutting technique, best way you have found to paste, where do you work and how, and very important: what do you do with your scraps)

I am constantly working on new imagery so my work will remain relevant and fresh. I work on several commissions each month through my galleries as well. My source materials come from vintage magazines as well as road trips that I take to document the parts of America that are vanishing in time.

I have a large, and ever growing, collection of magazines, travel maps, and newspapers from the 1950’s through the late 1960’s which constantly inspire me through use of typography, color, image, and illustration. They are useful in creating a subtextual narrative throughout my art that speaks to the Golden age of American history through advertising and media. My work always has a main image that serves as the initial concept of the piece and then has supporting imagery collaged within the piece. Some of my favorites are LOOK Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, LIFE Magazine, Popular Mechanics and National Geographics.

The floor of my studio is always littered with scraps of collage materials. I try to keep and use everything because it is all from the past and is becoming increasingly harder to find. Every little piece gives more depth to the work so they are all important.

I have experimented with all types of adhesive and it always comes back to Golden products. They are the most consistent with their quality. I use Regular gel gloss for transfers and collaging ephemera and the UVLS Varnish satin finish to seal my pieces before they get resin coated.

Which is your latest discovery in the collage world? What advice can you give to a collage beginner?

I have always admired Vik Muniz for his incredible ability to think of art differently and always make it amazing, but his newest exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins in Chelsea is just incredible. Small scale photos turned into collages of ripped paper, postage stamps, and air mail labels. Photographed and blown up to large scale so you can see all of the detail. Very inspiring as a different way to think of collage.

My best advice for beginners is to work diligently, create as much art as possible, have a huge library of resource material and catalog it well so you know where things are when you need them. Experiment and take chances on ideas that seem to be a stretch. Lately I have been adding more collage into my work and utilizing it as a color story with the collaged materials subject matter being secondary to the color palette.

What do say to your friends/family about your collage work? And, what do you do when you are not working on art?

My friends and families already know my work. For people that I just meet who ask I say “My work is pop art relating to American cultural icons from the 1950’s and 1960’s that have remained relevant in current popular culture.”

When not creating art I tend to our property, wash my car often, and spend time with my wife and two children. Trying to relax!

Would you like to ask anything to John Baldessari? Shoot.

It would be more of a casual conversation over a few pints of beer!

Jonathan Yeo