Looking at Chris Mazzarella’s art, you might be puzzled. The
image might be of a cow or a barn—not uncommon subject matter for art
inspired by Vermont—but is it a painting? Is it a photograph? Where is
the field the cow was grazing on? How can that barn, which had
undoubtedly seen many Vermont winters, look so perfect?
people may not know how to appreciate Chris’s works at first sight,
which is fine with the 40-year-old Vermont artist currently residing in
the Upper Valley. Whether you are confused or
not, once you see Chris’s work, you will never be in doubt as to who
made it. No other artist in the area is offering these conventional
subjects in such unconventional ways.
Transforming the Artist
Chris adds another layer of oil to one of his new Pasture paintings.
turning photographs into his unique style is transformative, so were
the years Chris spent building his skills, talents, and interest. Chris
went to college for a couple of years, taking a few art classes, but he
was thinking beyond his studies. “My interest then,” Chris admits, “was
furniture making. My dad is a builder, so I grew up with woodworking.”
What he wished to do was design artistic, functional pieces and sell
them. What he learned was that his hopes as an artist and reality were a
bit at odds.
better means of making a living was to design kitchens, which he did
through most of his twenties. He then worked for an architect in Norwich
handling the digital aspect of the job, including computer-aided design
and managing the website. The site needed pictures. He started taking them. Suddenly, photography became a passion.
to the outdoors, Chris began photographing wildlife. He started a blog
and had more than 3,500 subscribers. “I thought this was my future,” he
says, “so I spent every weekend on the Canadian border on a kayak
photographing moose.” As much as he enjoyed this work, he soon
discovered a problem. “If you get a cover photo of a moose for a
magazine, you get like $500,” he says, but the lens used to take that
shot cost $10,000. Again, his hopes and reality clashed. He used his
talent to produce images for advertising. But he still kept snapping
Transforming the Art
To acknowledge his decade as a professional photographer, Chris put together what he called his 10th Anniversary
series. He sifted through the collection of photos he had taken between
2010 and 2020 and chose 75. He then leaned on his home, furniture, and
interior design skills amassed over the years and struck upon an idea
that would help define his vision as an artist.
Framed prints Zo and Chloe, both 30x30”, hang together. Chris offers his prints with custom-colored backgrounds to match his clients’ decor.
people redesign their homes, they hold paint swatches up to the wall.
He wondered, what if the swatch was the art? “I kind of
reverse-engineered that,” he says. “Now all I have to do is put an image
on that swatch, and that’s my style.”
specific computer programs, Chris strips out the background of his
photo. He reworks what is left by breaking down the image into different
layers of color and adjusting their opacity. Recombining them, they
become posterized. In other words, the change from light brown to dark
brown of a cow’s hair becomes more severe. As a result, the image loses
some of its depth and detail.
The process for his architectural works is a bit different. “When
you take a photo like this,” Chris says about an image of a barn, “no
matter how good your lens is, it’s going to be distorted in some way. So
I draw in lines and I flatten everything. All these windows are square
and all these lines are perfectly perpendicular and plum or level. I try
to make them look more like an architectural elevation plan where the
sides are square and you don’t see a third dimension.”
this takes patience. Chris may spend eight hours on the computer to get
the image to where he wants it. He prints the image and tinkers with it
for another week or so before he deems it ready to print on heavy
cotton paper. For the prints in his Colorblock series, he produces a
limited run of 50 per size.
Going to Pasture
Chris’s 10th Anniversary series hangs at Frog Hollow in Burlington, Vermont.
with the results of his Colorblock series, Chris turned to oil paints
to develop a second signature look, his Pasture series, which draws on
the work of postmodernist painter Hunt Slonem. Where the Colorblock
prints feel open, these paintings, with their minimalist depiction of a
single cow repeated anywhere from a few to 99 times, feel tight. The
images overlap and make focusing on one part of the painting difficult.
Will your eye catch the cow’s eye or its nose or ear? Once you’ve
focused, will you see that part of the cow, the whole cow, or all the
cows? And will you see the same thing the second time you look?
you are looking at the cows, what story will you see? Are they huddled
together wanting to be close, or are they the victims of poor farming
practice? “I love that you don’t know which emotion they are supposed to
poke,” says Chris.
Finding a Place in the Canon of Vermont Art
Chris lounges on the couch for that brief moment before his boys come home and reconstruct it into a fort.
is often perceived as a rural, traditional place, a place trapped in a
simpler time. Much of the art inspired by Vermont captures and perhaps
promulgates that narrative. Chris’s work shows you can take those
images, motifs, and values and make them something new, something
modern. He knows that not everyone may take to his art. But people from
around the country and the world who want a part of Vermont in their
home may find that more traditional art doesn’t fit their design.
“But I think you can bring a cow to California,” Chris says, “if you
stylize it correctly.”