Swiff It, Bad. Whip It Good!
In 1976, Mark Mothersbaugh and his Devo bandmates slept in an Econoline van, drafting eccentric lyrics about the de-evolution of humans. Today, Mothersbaugh dines with Hollywood's elite, enjoys a successful music career -- and crafts eccentric works of art that decry the de-evolution of humans.
Some things never change for the former front man of Devo, the peculiar but cutting-edge cluster of electronically inclined musicians who commanded us to "Whip It" in 1980. In fact, even more so than music, art has remained a constant in Mothersbaugh's life.
When doctors determined he was legally blind in second grade and slapped a pair of quirky corrective glasses on his face, Mothersbaugh says a new world opened to him, and he dreamed of becoming an artist. He worked on scattered pieces during Devo's downtime, but it wasn't until recently that he's shared the breadth of his work, touring the country with his collections.
This year, Mothersbaugh brings his "Beautiful Mutants" to small, independent galleries nationwide, including Perihelion Arts on Friday, December 3. Mothersbaugh fashioned his "mutants" for six years, splicing photographs of people -- some of his family, some of strange-looking strangers -- and reuniting their symmetrical halves to form distorted images.
"It has its roots back in Devo and our interest in de-evolution and the plight of humans on the planet," says Mothersbaugh, 54, still sporting a pair of curative specs. "We were shockingly aware of the fallacy of symmetry in the human form, and that, in reality, we were all asymmetrical."
Mothersbaugh says he probably won't be at Perihelion to expand on the theory. He's a busy guy, after all. After Devo disbanded in the mid-'80s, he formed the L.A.-based company Mutato Muzika with his brother and fellow musician Bob Cosale and started working on musical scores for television and film, including Pee-wee's Playhouse, Rugrats, Happy Gilmore, and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums and the upcoming The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
When Mothersbaugh spoke with New Times, he had recently celebrated a première of The Life Aquatic with Anderson, and co-stars Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe. He pulls a postcard from his pocket -- he's had a lifelong obsession with the nostalgic bits of snail mail, which he says inspire his art and music -- and describes a self-made portrait he sketched of Anderson just the other night.
But, of course, Mothersbaugh has shared his moments in the limelight before and might never live down "Whip It" parodies. (He apologizes, by the way, for that horrible Swiffer commercial. "I didn't think it would suck that bad," he laments.)
He knows that people might show up at the gallery to see the Devo dude, but he says he doesn't mind. All he cares about is "invading people's homes" with his art.
"There are people who come out for all different reasons, and everyone is welcome," says Mothersbaugh, who still performs with his Devo bandmates. "If my artwork amuses them somehow, and they want to take it home and put it up on their wall, that's all that matters to me."
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