Yambar knew how to create — and sell

Picking the Mahoning Valley’s best visual artist is a fool’s errand.

However, I feel safe in making one claim — no area artist was better at promoting his work than Chris Yambar.

Yambar died over the weekend at the far-too-young age of 59 after a myriad health issues that left him blind in one eye and on dialysis.

The Youngstown artist undeniably was talented. He channeled his passions for pop culture, music, horror movies and comic books into his work, but he also drew upon his faith.

There are people who collected his vibrant canvases featuring members of KISS or Alice Cooper, and there are people who bought his silkscreen prints inspired by the architecture of local churches. About the only thing those two groups have in common is that something about Yambar’s work spoke to them.

In addition to recreating iconic characters, as a comic book creator Yambar is responsible for a few memorable characters of his own. His caffeine-craving beatnik Mr. Beat was my personal favorite, and I regularly feed my own coffee addiction out of the Mr. Beat “Will Conform for Coffee” mug that Chris gave me more than 20 years ago.

His visual style was inspired by Andy Warhol, but that’s not the only thing he learned from the Pittsburgh native. Warhol was a master at self-promotion and so was Yambar. He took the lessons of Warhol and added a little P.T. Barnum to the mix.

For most artists, their craft is a solitary pursuit, and many of them are better at expressing themselves visually than verbally or in writing.

Have you ever read an artist’s statement at a gallery show? Too often I’m either rolling my eyes or thoroughly confused by the third sentence.

Many artists seem to operate with the philosophy, “If you paint it, they will come.” That philosophy is the reason the term “starving artist” exists.

Yambar wasn’t going to starve. For someone who was so prolific, Yambar spent just as much time selling his work. He didn’t have art openings, he created events that attracted attention in an effort to promote his paintings, promote his comic books and keep doing what he loved.

Yambar never passed up an opportunity to reach a new audience, to find a niche in the marketplace that he could fill.

He gave local TV stations good soundbites and print reporters good quotes. It wasn’t hard to write an entertaining story if Yambar was the subject.

To promote one of his events back in 1994, Yambar brought in Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, which publishes books affiliated with “The Simpsons.” Yambar did work for Bongo as a writer.

Morrison posted a touching tribute about Yambar on social media, and he talked about that visit and how Yambar sent a stretch limousine to pick him up at the airport and bring him to his shop in Austintown.

“Chris got in (the limo) and introduced himself, and we sat there for a while,” Morrison wrote. “I asked him what the deal was with the limo and why we weren’t getting out. He told me that when people see a stretch limousine with tinted windows pull up and park they get excited. There’s an air of mystery. They figure something cool is happening and they call their friends. Bigger crowd = a more successful signing. I knew then that Chris was a born showman and marketing genius.”

Yambar always tried to make sure something cool was happening. I’ll miss his art and his bravado.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.


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