Little Photoshop of horrors: The devolutionary art of Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh’s “Beautiful Mutants” reception: 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, July 4, at Perihelion Arts

By Clay McNear

Mark Mothersbaugh lives a symmetrical life of wild extremes.


• He’s was born and still lives in Akron, Ohio – all-American birthplace of the rubber tire, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the soap-box derby – but made his name as frontman for the band Devo, which posited that mankind was digressing as a species.

• Mothersbaugh and Devo spooked the old folks with ditties like “Whip It” and “Mongoloid,” but Mark is nowadays best known as a soundtrack specialist for kiddy/tween fare like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Crash Bandicoot, and Herbie: Fully Loaded.

• The man who scored the flicks How to Eat Fried Worms and Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy owns an honorary doctorate from Kent State University.

• Mothersbaugh is an accomplished visual artist who’s legally blind.

See? Symmetry.

(c) 2003-2008 Mark Mothersbaugh

Every time it appears that Mothersbaugh has achieved a perfect balance, he throws himself for a loop. When he gets too far afield, he signs on for another Rugrats soundtrack.

Must be time for another Rugrats soundtrack.

The exhibit “Beautiful Mutants,” Mothersbaugh’s current project, might be subtitled “The Mengele School of Photography.” It comprises manipulated images of kooks, deviants, oddballs, yahoos, and just plain plug-uglies. You’ve seen similar tortured creatures in movies like Tod Browning’s Freaks, on fliers advertising death-metal gigs, and in contemporary sideshows like 999 Eyes.

There are Ostrich People, alien poster children, folks with too many limbs and not enough heads – oh, it’s pretty rank. Interestingly, I’m not queased out by images of real “freaks,” probably because whatever they are or aren’t, they’re human.

Whatever these things are or aren’t, they’re not freaks. Mothersbaugh’s misanthropes and unfortunates are regular ol’ potato-shaped human beings who’ve had all the humanity -- and whatever trace memories they've left behind -- leached from them via a process the artist refers to as “correcting.” Instead of seeing “monsters” as they were born, à la Tod Browning, we’re seeing monsters made. On his Web site, The Visual Art of Mark Mothersbaugh, the artist attempts to explain his “study of humans via symmetry” and the technology he uses to achieve it:

“Humans, great pretenders to bi-lateral symmetry, are in actuality closer to potatoes in their lack of precise symmetry. A closer look reveals what is truly inside the people around us. For this project, old photographs were ‘corrected’ using a combination of both antiquarian hand-crafting and modern computer technology. [They] were corrected in order to examine those who have walked the planet before us. Theoretically symmetrical in generalities, the subtle potato-like qualities of the human form allow the tenants of these bodies to hide within their asymmetric muddiness. These corrected photographic images allow the true tenant of these human faces and figures to be ‘flushed out’ and viewed without the disguise that we all so expertly hide behind.”

You say po-tay-toe, I say puh-tah-toe.

You say “correction,” I say “devolution.”

See? Symmetry.

Mark Mothersbaugh’s “Beautiful Mutants” opens with a reception from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, July 4, at Perihelion Arts, 1500 Grand Avenue. The exhibit continues through July 31 with varying viewing hours. Admission is free. See Perihelion Arts.

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