‘DY5TOPIA’ Interview: Mike Correll on the Dark Universe of Chet Zar

Andrew Hawkins

Chet Zar is currently working on the most ambitious and exciting project of his career. DY5TOPIA is the new art installation and field guide from one of the world’s greatest living dark artists. Fans know him from his work with Tool, Guillermo del Toro and his massive impact on today’s art world. DY5TOPIA is the next phase.

We recently spoke with fellow collaborator and director of the Chet Zar documentary I Like to Paint Monsters about this new project. The original Kickstarter to produce the field guide book has been fully funded since April, and the art show scheduled for October 15 will be ending its campaign in two weeks. Here’s what Mike Correll had to say about all the work going into this event and what we can expect next month.

Fandom: If you were going to describe DY5TOPIA to somebody who hasn’t heard about it yet, how would you summarize it?

Mike Correll: Well, I’ve spent the last six months now authoring the field guide, which of course was a separate Kickstarter but ultimately is what has propelled Chet and I forward into creating this artwork and feeling out what this world is.

So, I think I have a pretty strong grasp on what it is, and I guess for the layman I would say that in many ways it’s a parallel dimension I guess would be the best way to describe it. It’s mostly unknown and incomprehensible to us.

We are evidencing this place based upon his paintings and saying, “Well OK, what’s beyond these frames? What’s here tells us more?” What we know so far is that it’s very dreamlike. It’s almost like these beings are stuck in these patterns repeating over and over and over.

The things that happen that are phantasmagorical; things manifest and disappear, things don’t operate by the same standards that we would hold to be true here in our corporeal reality. The farther we go, the more we learn. It’s horrifying, it’s amusing, it’s enticing and it’s terrifying at times.

There’s so much depth to it now spending this much time writing it, that I’m almost having a hard time doing the field guide in the sense that beyond just that kind of superficial layer which now is what we’re producing. Chet’s producing this artwork to complement ultimately for fans.

Fandom: It’s kind of become a two-part project where you have the art mixed with the field guide that you’ve been writing. Now there’s the event that’s coming up on October 15th. Talk a little bit about that and how it’s all sort of coming together.

Mike Correll: It’s an interesting process. I kind of to be honest had to twist Chet’s arm to do this Kickstarter. He was so blown away by the support that we received ultimately for the Kickstarter that ended back in April that he was just like, “I don’t know if it’s OK to ask people for money to help me do this?” The way Chet is he just wants to do it all the way, he really wants to be able to feel out his vision.

We were in this position where he was kind of reticent and I was leaning on him, and ultimately after he thought about it he decided, “Yeah, I think I just gotta do it. I want this show to be amazing.” Amidst trying to produce all this work to go into the book that he’s doing on his end and then me preparing all the writing on my end, we then birthed this new project this which is this DY5TOPIA solo show.

We wanted to transform CoproGallery on October 15, 2016 into Chet’s DY5TOPIA. It was this dream; it was this idea. He and I got together. I went out and visited him and we worked together out there. We took a road trip out here and drove all over New Mexico and really felt out what our conclusions were to finalize the text. I said, “Hey, I’ve got the time. Why don’t I just prepare the page, get it all together and I’m sure people will be supportive.”

He tested the waters and asked the fans, and they were all supportive from the beginning. We just went forward with it. Basically the idea is to take CoproGallery and have it as if when you approach it, you are approaching a street scene from Chet Zar’s DY5TOPIA. We’re including the talents of Lee Shamel in this. He’s going to do a lot of work for us. He’s already been doing this planning.

You’re going to come up and it’ll be like approaching this post-apocalyptic, derelict, phantasmagorical scene of dystopia with huge props, smoke stacks, leaking pipes and full wall facades. You’re going to go inside and all the paintings will be on the walls, but the walls are going to be transformed. It’s gonna be like you’re inside of a trashed building in DY5TOPIA.

From what I gather so far, that’s the direction they’re taking it. There’s going to be all kinds of huge props that will allow you to interface with these beings and these behaviors that they engage in. There will be placards throughout the gallery with excerpts from DY5TOPIA: Field Guide to the Dark Universe of Chet Zar, Volume 1 that’ll help you to understand these groupings of paintings and what they mean.

Then ultimately, Black Magic and Interloper in full body costume will be there walking around engaging with people. Everyone invited can come dressed as your favorite Chet Zar monster or be any monstrous being of your choice. It’s gonna be incredible and the more money we can raise, the better it’ll be because his ideas far exceed his funding at most stages in the creative process thus far. (laughs)

Fandom: It’s awesome that everything’s coming together like this, and talking about having Lee Shamel on board is great because some of his work like ‘Scepter of the Crystal Flame’ is just amazing so I can only imagine how the props are going to turn out.

Talk about where some of your process for writing comes from because when I think of DY5TOPIA, I also kind of think of something like Lovecraft’s “Arkham” and maybe even some of the Labyrinth that we see in Hellraiser. What are you drawing from for influences to sort of flesh out Chet’s world?

Mike Correll: Y’know, it’s been a really intense and strange process for me. I dabble in a lot of mediums as my body of work has shown, and I can work in a lot of different niches. Ultimately when I do what I love to do when I follow my bliss as it were, talking about the documentary, I prefer to write just from a channeling point. It’s like I’m just allowing this fictional story to trickle through all my experiences and percolate out and also unfold into something that surprises me.

This is very different than that. (laughs) We’re approaching it in a very objective way. The goal is not to try to create an exciting, wonderful, interesting and horrifying world called DY5TOPIA; rather the intent is to discover the magical and phantasmagorical world that it is. The only way you can approach that is to deal with, “What’s the work? What has he painted.”

He paints from this place of intuition so deep that he’s not thinking about what he’s doing. I’m sitting back objectively and interviewing him saying, “OK, we did this for hours and hours. What’s the deal? What’s going on outside this frame? What do that guy’s clothes look like? Is he wearing shoes? Underneath those clothes is there skin or I there anything under there? What background is that; why does it look like that?”

As I’m asking these questions, all of the sudden the tone would change and he would be like, “I just know that there’s this; and it’s like that and it’ because of this.” and that’s all he knows. It’s like a snapshot. I had to amass a significant amount of information and basically work on distilling that information down to the more salient information.

So, it very much for me is like a journalistic standpoint. It’s a very different kind of genre for me to write in and to really approach it from that way and really try to treat is like a field guide. We really are exploring this world that he has tapped into and that we both believe that a lot of people are tapped into. We have to approach it from that objective standpoint, and that’s very difficult when you’re dealing with information that is scant.

You have to try and create a base structure, a rubric by which you can understand and talk about these things that are really incomprehensible in many ways. It’s been an incredible, intense, bizarre, fun and enlightening experience into the darkness and shedding light in there and y’know hopefully bringing something out that people can benefit from.

Fandom: The last time we talked you mentioned how you had done documentaries and other films. Now that I Like to Paint Monsters is available on VOD, iTunes and streaming; how does it feel to finally have that out there and be a movie everyone can see?

Mike Correll: That’s a great question because that was a labor of love. It took almost exactly four years from us actually deciding we were going to start that Kickstarter in 2012 all the way until we actually distributed it this year in March. It was such a journey, and such a kind of covetous journey because you have to keep this stuff to yourself. It’s like an egg that you’re sitting on and it’s gestating and it’s gonna hatch eventually into this thing.

We were really invested in just trying to get it the most pure reach we could get without any hindrances to what it was that we wanted to get across to our audience. We wanted to be able to communicate a message. So, we did everything we could to get it to that stage and then it goes out in the world and at that stage I felt like I was running a marathon.

I was just like, “I’m just glad it’s out in the world. I can just chill out for a second y’know.” But of course we had already been working on DY5TOPIA at that point for six months. We’d already been embroiled in that since the screening of I Like to Paint Monsters in 2015 at the Paradise Artist’s Retreat here in New Mexico. We were already working on it consistently together.

Getting all the way to the end and getting to that point to go out into the world, I had always had this vision. I was always resolute in this vision that it was going to be well received and people would benefit from it. I just had this feeling and I was always pandering that to Chet. He was listening and y’know he is very wise and he takes his time to make his decisions.

The most gratifying thing for me was that he was so happy with how it’s been received. I made this as someone who wanted to connect with this individual and understand this individual. To do that is a very personal journey for both individuals and this friendship budded in it. At the end of it, it was just so gratifying to see him every time we’d see these reviews on iTunes.

These 5-star reviews and people pouring out their hearts saying that it emotionally touched them and that they were brought to tears multiple times; and it was also really funny, really inspiring and really informative. All of it was basically just checking off all the boxes I always hoped would hit those symbols.

I was gratified inevitably of course just because I had created this thing and it was doing what I had expected it to do. I was also just really, really gratified by the fact that Chet felt so good about this thing we had created together and with everyone in the world around him, not only people that were close colleagues, friends and fans.

We had a strong feeling we were doing right by them and the greater world; people that are not into dark art and horror and all of the things that this documentary is about. I guess it was really good for both of us to see that I had achieved that goal, and Chet was so relieved to see that it had done and is doing so well and that people were really responding to it.

We were doing it in a way that was not like we were seeking it. Daily still, we get messages from people where people are gushing. I didn’t expect that, I expected that people would be like, “Wow, cool documentary. Really interesting and think about things differently.” That was kind of the next layer.

We’re in the second quarter now after release and the first quarter was like, “OK, cool. It’s doing what I wanted it to do.”, but now it’s like, “Wow! It’s doing more than I expected it to do.” That’s the unknown, the part you’re seeking the whole time and chasing is that magic dynamic that can manifest.

Fandom: Is there anything that you’re a big fan of right now that you’d like to share with us?

Mike Correll: Man, y’know I don’t even know. I gotta say my first reaction is something that totally doesn’t fit in with what it is that the site is about, but I gotta be honest and you have to stick with your intuition. I gotta say that I’m a fan of integrity y’know. That’s what I’m a fan of. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. I could actually not over-talk this one. (laughs)

Andrew Hawkins
Andrew Hawkins is a fan contributor at Fandom. He has been on the fan media scene since 2011. Arriving at Fandom by way of CHUD, GUY.com and Trouble.City; Andrew loves Sci-Fi Horror movies and supervillains. His dislikes include weak plotlines and sky lasers.
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