The DeVos Art Museum is currently holding an exhibit of the work of world famous musician and artist of the ’70s and ’80s pop sensation DEVO, Mark Mothersbaugh. While best known for his musical accomplishments, including his compositions for director Wes Anderson, Mothersbaugh has been drawing and painting for over 30 years.
At the very end of his second grade year, Mothersbaugh was diagnosed as legally blind. He still remembers the day he received his first pair of glasses.
“He [Mothersbaugh] says that’s what sort of inspires his obsession with imagery,” DeVos Museum curator Melissa Matuscak said.
“I’d never seen the top of a tree before,” Mothersbaugh said. “[I] just remember being totally impressed with everything.”
Inspired by his new found sight, Mothersbaugh started drawing. One day his teacher walked up to him.
“You draw trees better than me,” she said. That night, Mothersbaugh had a dream that he would be an artist. He has been drawing ever since.
Mothersbaugh helped pay for college at Kent State University by playing in bars and eventually started DEVO with other art students from Kent State. From the very beginning, Mothersbaugh was almost more interested in art than in music. The thought of designing his own album cover made him almost giddy. More than once, DEVO negotiated to take less money in exchange for the opportunity to design their own album covers and advertising.
“As long as we got control of our image, we took less money,” Mothersbaugh said.
Once DEVO went on tour in the late 1970s, there was little to no opportunity for Mothersbaugh to paint or screen print, so he started collecting postcards as a creative outlet, which he would draw or paint on. Some he sent to friends, but most he kept. All of Mothersbaugh’s art is derived from these postcards.
“I realized it was a diary and started collecting it in volumes,” Mothersbaugh said. Now, he has over 30,000 postcards saved. He’s used them for art for album covers, DEVO posters and, of course, his own art.
Matuscak has been a fan of Mothersbaugh’s work for quite some time. She even has a piece of his at her home which she bought in Chicago several years ago.
According to Matuscak, it has been a running joke at the DeVos that it would be fun to have ‘DEVO at the DeVos.’ About two years ago, a student affiliated with the museum ran into Michael Pilmer, who is a project manager for Mutato Visual, Mothersbaugh’s artistic studio. They had a good laugh about ‘DEVO at the DeVos.’ The student recommended that Pilmer contact Matuscak about doing an exhibit, which he did. Matuscak was thrilled; she’d been interested in doing an exhibit for quite some time.
“I’m so into this,” Matuscak said. “It’d been in the back of my mind since I started the job.”
Dylan Weiler, an art and design major, is also excited about Mothersbaugh’s exhibit. Weiler also works as a gallery attendant at the museum.
“I think this is one of the more interesting exhibits we’ve had,” Weiler said. “[It’s] a lot more playful than a lot of the art exhibits and I like that.”
While most exhibits are primarily interesting to art students, Weiler said that because of Mothersbaugh’s fame as a musician, the exhibit will attract the attention of students that might not normally come to the museum.
“[It’s] something the non-art students can be interested in as well,” he said.
The exhibit includes framed prints, large and small floor rugs and large, 6-by-9 oil on canvas paintings.
Mothersbaugh uses the original pieces, scans them, digitally manipulates them and then creates prints from those manipulated images. Both the framed prints and the rugs are created from this process.
“The rugs start from the inspiration of the original postcard pieces,” Matuscak said. “The rugs are sort of a fiber version of the same thing.”
According to Matuscak, Mothersbaugh often uses DEVO imagery in his art. For example, the character Jocko Homo, from the DEVO song of the same name, is depicted on one of the large paintings currently on display. The song, Jocko Homo, focuses on a satirical view of devolution.
Mothersbaugh said that he derives inspiration, not only from DEVO, but from everyday life as well. Subject matter can come from the news, something he sees on the way to work, or from his friends and family. Each new idea is then combined with one of the original postcard pieces.
Most of Mothersbaugh’s work is extremely colorful, often incorporating especially reds and yellows. Much of it is simple, depicting surreal, cartoon-style images of people, animals and even machines.
Elements of the original postcards can be seen in several of Mothersbaugh’s prints, such as mailing stamps. Mothersbaugh also often incorporates calligraphy into his work, primarily in his prints and canvases.
Despite his passion for print making, which he discovered in college, Mothersbaugh began to get bored repeating the same process. As a result, he has started his latest project, the wall-sized oil paintings which can currently be seen on display at the museum.
These canvases are somewhat less colorful than Mothersbaugh’s prints and rugs. They do, however, tend to incorporate more calligraphy, including Asian characters.
A live video chat with Mothersbaugh was held at the opening reception on Thursday, Oct. 8. Students and community members were able to ask questions and hear Mothersbaugh speak about his work and inspiration.
The exhibit will be open for viewing from Oct. 8 to Nov. 9 at the DeVos Art Museum. For more information on the art of Mark Mothersbaugh, visit www.mutatovisual.com. Information on Mothersbaugh’s music can be found at www.mutato.com.