“Mars Attacks!” Exhibit Pops Out in a Sea of Boring Laguna Beach Art

Walk past the numerous art galleries dotting Laguna Beach's stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, and you'll notice a theme. Ocean landscapes, be they composed of washes of watercolors or textured skeins of oil paint, feature in the windows of nearly every gallery. Blurry figures of surfers ride the watercolor waves, with beach umbrellas thrown into the paintings to remind you that this image is indeed depicting a beach. It's a bizarre redundancy when actually surrounded by the picturesque beauty of the ocean, complete with real dudes riding waves and real multi-colored beach umbrellas.

After you think you've seen the last artificial ocean that you can stomach, a 4 ft. panel hanging in the window of the JoAnne Artman Gallery stops you in your tracks. The shape of a perfume bottle dominates the mixed media piece, the iconic phrasing “No. 5, Chanel, Paris, Parfum” emblazoned across it. The bottle fills a black background with cut-off portions of ads peeking out. Inside the perfume bottle, circles filled with newspaper clippings and vintage paper ephemera run in a parallel pattern.


The work of New York based artist Robert Mars, “Finally First Class Chanel,” is an emblematic piece at his first solo exhibition, “Mars Attacks!” The exhibit's tongue-in-cheek name encapsulates the pop-art inspired body of work, which both critiques American mass consumerism and cult of celebrity while participating in it. If you need more proof, consider the customer that came in while I visited the exhibit. Decked out in a white polo shirt and salmon-colored khakis, he discussed buying the $12,500 “Finally First Class Chanel” because his wife had a birthday coming up and she “really liked Chanel.”

In Mars' own words: “This show will mix celebrities with the culture of consumption, represented by Chanel No. 5, Tiffany's, and riffs on Mobil oil and the mighty Pegasus.”
The body of work features large mixed media resin panels. Mars alternates layers of paint and vintage paper ephemera, sanding away at portions until he's left with distorted phrases and images. He plays with the same motifs: The Chanel brand makes its way into several works and the American Flag serves as a base design for several others.

Both Chanel and the stars and stripes feature in “The True Color,” a piece that literally lights up the room. The Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle of “Finally First Class Chanel” is now outlined by tubing that glows neon blue and pink. The neon perfume bottle blazes over a black and gray nod to the American Flag, where the stars are filled with newspaper clippings and vintage ads. Faint images and phrases emerge from the blackness as a result of Mars' layering and sanding technique. One such image, a reclining model, is bisected into pieces by the placement of the stars.

In “How to Light Fires Jackie O.,” Mars riffs on the flag again, this time actually filling the nearly 6 ft. wide panel with 50 stars and 13 stripes, only in shades of baby pink, white and blue rather than red, white, and blue. A grainy image of a beaming Jackie O. fills half the panel. The stars are again filled with advertisements and clippings, though a few stars show sections of a map of the American Midwest, with locations like Dairyland and Moose Junction sharing the same space as a giant Givenchy Paris label.

“Mars Attacks!” runs through Oct. 31 at the JoAnne Artman Gallery. Drop by soon, before another man in salmon-colored khakis carts off the work in his Mercedes.

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