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Meet Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the seminal art band Devo.

A conversation with composer and visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh 

A conversation with composer and visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh's Postcard Diaries
LUMP Gallery, 505 S. Blount St., Raleigh
Through Jan. 1
Info: 821-9999
Additional Mothersbaugh images: mutatovisual.com

click to enlarge Artist, musician and composer Mark Mothersbaugh in a self-altered portrait, not included in the LUMP Gallery exhibit. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MUTATO VISUAL

Meet Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the seminal art band Devo. Now a successful Hollywood composer, Mothersbaugh is noted for his ongoing collaboration with Wes Anderson—he's practically the filmmaker's sole go-to man when developing a film score.

Mothersbaugh is also an active visual artist—as is evidenced by LUMP Gallery's current exhibition of Postcard Diaries. Since the early '70s, Mothersbaugh has been continuously engaged in an illustrational personal journey that has its roots in mail-art. Recently, Mothersbaugh spoke to the Independent by telephone from his Sunset Boulevard recording studio, Mutato Muzika.

INDEPENDENT: I'm 32, and with digital technologies I've noticed an acceleration in de-evolution in my lifetime. I go to the library, a cell phone goes off, and I listen to this inane conversation.... How do these things feel to you? Do you feel an acceleration?

MOTHERSBAUGH: Well, unfortunately, yeah. My feeling about technology—it's still the same as it was when we started Devo—is that I'm pro-information, anti-stupidity and pro-positive mutation. And I think that still applies 30 years later. That's still my feeling. That's my concern with the world.

It's obvious by looking at the cards that we're seeing prototypes of ideas that were developed in Devo...

Yeah, correct. Titles, song lyrics...

Even imagery...

Imagery—yes. Costuming. Stage things. So, it's like a lot of ideas were collected on those cards.

click to enlarge "Western Fundamentalist" by Mark Mothersbaugh. Edition of 4. Framed size 13 x 8.5 in. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MUTATO VISUAL

Tell me about the cards that deal with "Eastern Fundamentalists" and "Western Fundamentalists."

Well, before 9/11 even, I had a fascination with the terrorists who were willing to become human time bombs, so I was drawing Eastern fundamentalists. I knew that Western fundamentalists were already my enemy, having lived in the land of Western fundamentalists. But it was the Eastern fundamentalists turning themselves into human time bombs that really made me realize that fundamentalism in religion is my enemy. They're the people that all think they're the only ones who have any answers and that anyone else is not worth listening to. It seems like fundamentalists from any denomination—whether it's Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Christian—they all want to see the world end. They're all waiting for Armageddon. They're all waiting for a heavenly paradise that only they will receive and the other people waiting for paradise aren't going to get it.

What do you think this says about these people?

It just says they're dangerous.

Just simply that they're dangerous?

I mean that's the first thing it says. It says they're dangerous, and in our country they're willing to destroy the economy of my child's future because they want the money now so that they can buy armaments, and so that they can make cars that are even less fuel efficient. It's like the fundamentalists in this country are probably the most dangerous ones in the world right now. You know, the Muslims sound the craziest, but I think we got 'em trumped.

I'm looking at "Shoe Bomba Dos," it's the one with the flip-flop coupled with the explosive charge.

Oh, I don't know—that was inspired by the guy from England. He put a pack of matches in his foot and everything. You know, it's astounding what people want to do to make a point. It seems like such an uneducated way to change things—if it even succeeds—because, you know, you make enemies along the way. But, you know, there are a lot of people who really love Osama bin Laden. In the Almanac it says that ever since 9/11 Osama is the most popular name in the whole world. More children are named Osama every year since 9/11. So you do get a certain amount of star quality from blowing yourself up, or talking someone else into blowing themselves up. But I feel like that's such an inefficient way to change the world. It's sad that that's what you have to do.

I like the ambiguity in your art. The viewer has to bring whatever they have when viewing it.

A lot of those panels, like the one you're talking about, are to me just an animated, kind of cartoonish version of what you're reading in the paper and watching on TV. It's a direct reaction to that.

Do you remember the one, "Weapon of No Destruction"? It's like a Rube Goldberg kind of contraption.

A weapon of no destruction...? [Chuckles.] Oh shit, I don't remember.

Well, it's a little guy with a—

That's the downside to doing two to three of these a day. You can't remember them.

OK, well, I want to try to ask you about two more. Do you remember "Clean Up at Bed 88"? This one is really compelling. I like the humor and also the macabre.

Well, you get to be my age and hospitals and doctors become more of a reality as a part of your life. And I'm getting closer to the time when they'll be a daily part of my life, hence the obsession with the medical.

click to enlarge "Held Prisoner by the Toys - of My Youth Part 2 - Polychrome" by Mark Mothersbaugh. Edition of 3. - Framed size 24 x 32 in. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MUTATO VISUAL

And another one of my favorites: "Held Prisoner by the Toys of My Youth Part 2." Looking at this and thinking about Devo iconography, I thought immediately that this fellow here was a potato—a spud. Another viewer thought it was a testicle. Can you pontificate on the relationship between the potato and the testicle?

Potato? Testicle? Well, I don't know. Potatoes and testicles—they're both kind of Devo, you know, preoccupations.

Preoccupations?

Maybe. You know, we talked about potatoes a lot.

Yeah, you're not going to define "spud" for me are you?

We developed our own jargon back in Akron in the early '70s, and that was due to the fact that we couldn't afford drugs, and none of us liked to bowl, and none of us owned a van. So we had to entertain ourselves in other fashions. So that was the three ways to entertain yourself in Akron, Ohio: you took drugs, you bowled, or you drove around in a van. We didn't have access to any of that, so we came up with our own vocabulary and "spud" was one of the words. "Spud" was kind of like "comrade"—it was interchangeable with comrade, but it could also be used pejoratively—you know, we're both comrades here, "that's a good spud," or it could be used "that stupid spud."

Yes, right. I was a Devo fan at an early age, and you actually taught me a complex way of thinking. Being very young and exposed to this strange Devo universe, I was always trying to figure out: Is a "spud" a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, we were thinking, "Who are we?" Our parents were working class—my dad was a salesman. Jerry and Bob's [Gerald and Bob Casale, other members of Devo] dad was a tool and die guy—a mechanic. So we'd look at pictures of John Kennedy's family and all these clans with dynasties, and we'd go, well, these are asparagus people and we're more potato people. The asparagus is tall and beautiful and dignified, and potatoes were kind of dirty and asymmetric. They're rough and they grew underground, but they had eyes all around so they saw everything that was going on.

Thanks for explaining things to me as a small child.

[Chuckles] Thanks for paying attention.

  • Meet Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the seminal art band Devo.

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