CAFE 541: 5 Questions With … the creator of Varlio, who left Nike to bring art to life - Entertainment & Life - The Register-Guard

In this arts edition of “Five Questions With…,” CAFE 541 sits down with Jon Marr, aka Jonmar, the creator and founder of the Varlio augmented art app. Downloading Varlio allows users to interact with a current roster of nine different paintings, which come to life under the assistance of a smart device. Participants immerse in music, stories and journeys that emerge through a three-dimensional electronic image. Read on to learn how and why Jonmar’s making this futuristic leap for art in this edited version of our conversation with the artist and tech designer.

What is your background as a creative developer?

I was a lead developer and designer for Nike’s digital innovation team at its world headquarters (in Beaverton). I had that job for six years and loved every minute of it. Before that I was co-founder of an app development company that focused on creativity apps. I designed a number of apps that reached No. 1 in the world. But this kind of stuff goes all the way back to childhood for me. I used to create my own games on my old Atari 600XL personal computer. I’d make games of ninjas fighting or rooftops, or super simple flight simulators. This stuff is in my blood.

How and what sparked the idea to develop these augmented experience videos?

It happened in a continuum. While working at Nike, my wife was pregnant with our fifth child, a boy named Cade. We soon discovered he had a fatal genetic condition and that he wouldn’t be with us very long. He lived for 36 hours, and we cherished the time we had. That powerful loss changed me. I’d spent decades putting my creativity on hold to raise a family, a sacrifice I was happy to make. But when we lost Cade, the floodgates of creativity were burst within me.

I couldn’t help myself. It started with a single song. The lyrics were a conversation between Cade and myself. I was asking him to stay a little longer, and he told me to let his little ripple touch my life and touch the world. After that song I was compelled to keep making music — 33 songs in all, in an album called “33” on Spotify. These songs are stories at heart, so I created fine art that brought the music into the physical world, one piece for each song. But this still wasn’t enough, so I created music videos that brought the art to life. And that’s when it happened, a revelation of sorts. I realized that all the music, the art, the stories and videos, they could all be one experience in the magic of augmented reality. So I pursued this new vision with all my heart. And I see all of this as Cade’s ripple.

When did Varlio debut? What made you take this on as a full-time effort?

I did my first gallery one year ago, but it was still a side project. It didn’t become my full-time focus for another three or four months, when we brought an investor on board to fund the first year of development and outreach.

When this article publishes, Varlio’s exhibit at New Zone already will be down. Where can readers find Varlio’s work post-New Zone?

You can find and purchase our work at You can also get the free app, also called Varlio, on iTunes. The app allows you to experience the magic if you have one of our prints on your wall, and the art store is built right in. It’s the world’s first augmented reality art store.

What is your vision for Varlio in the coming months? Do you plan on collaborating with other artists/animators?

Our long-term hope is to create a global community of the augmented arts. The app will soon allow artists to create, share and sell their own augmented art. I can’t wait to see what other people do with it.

Bonus question: If you could experience any show/movie/fantasy world in augmented reality, what would it be?

The answer to this changes daily. But I suppose the Wizarding World (of Harry Potter) would be an obvious choice!

In “Five Questions With …,” CAFE 541 uses a set of five standard questions to elicit uncommon insights into the people driving art, culture, entertainment, music, etc. in Eugene, Springfield and the surrounding areas. Follow Matthew on Instagram @ArtFix541. Email

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