Robert Mars and the Pop-Culture Quilt of America

In 2014, when Robert Mars was watching his wife stitch a quilt together, he had an epiphany. His inspiration as an artist had always been Americana from the 1950s and ’60s—patchworks of rustic wood panels, neon signs, brown paper, old newspapers and magazines. His works are sometimes collage-like, overlaying scenes and images to create one cohesive piece of art. Like folktales told in a quilt, he was using history to tell a story in one concise image.

And just like that, his ideas started threading together.

Mars’s distinct style has since evolved to incorporate that realization, with shapes and magazine prints layering into a pop-culture quilt behind a variety of American icons. Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Muhammed Ali and dozens more have been spotlighted in Mars’s art, recalling the golden age of American culture—the post-war era, the nascent TV era, the moment of countercultural birth that has since defined the country.

But Mars wasn’t alive to see any of that. Born in 1969, he has spent his career capturing nostalgia for a time that predates him.

“There is an inherent mystique of the years before I was born,” he told an interviewer in 2013. “From my perspective, America at that time conveyed a tone of hope and prosperity.”

That mid-century period also appreciated manual creation in a way that modern technology is slowly erasing. To that end, the physical creation of his artworks is often complex, starting with magazine pages layered atop wood panels and ending with multiple coats of paint until he reaches his particular goal. The results evoke a physical roughness, conveyed by using only authentic materials: original magazines, weathered posters, discolored newspapers. His art is literally composed of history.

Specifically, Mars frequently spotlights celebrities, inviting the viewer to consider the evolution of fame over the past 50 years. In a modern world jammed with social influencers, it’s hard to imagine anyone reaching the universal symbolism of Marilyn Monroe.

“Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. I think he was almost right, but technology has made that time frame much less,” Mars explains. “Today, it is more like fifteen seconds of fame.”

Beyond the celebrity image, in Mars’s works, stands a collage of printed media, reminding us of the context behind the celebrities themselves. Advertisements and headlines make up large swaths of backdrop, reminding us that iconography can never be achieved on its own—it takes a media landscape to craft a celebrity.

As Mars puts it, “The viewer may take the work at face value and just focus on the main icon, or they may choose to delve into the piece and analyze the collaged ephemera that acts a subtext to the work and further supports themes of American life, the golden age of advertising, and fashion of the time.”

It’s the details, after all, that complete a work of art—whether the medium is a magazine, a fashion model, a Robert Mars original, or a quilt.

Carly Zinderman

Carly Zinderman is a Senior Staff Writer for JustLuxe, based just outside of Los Angeles, CA. Since graduating from Occidental College with a degree in English and Comparative Literary Studies, she has written on a variety of topics for books, magazines and online publications, but loves fashion and style best. In her spare time, when she?s not writing, Carly enjoys watching old movies, reading an...(Read More)

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