Devo’s lead singer brings his wild world to life at the contemporary jones center
How you know of Mark Mothersbaugh depends largely on your age. Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers were likely introduced to him as the lead singer of DEVO, the progressive art movement/band that asked us to “Whip It.” Millennials probably encountered his work during the opening credits of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats for which he composed the theme song for the television show and scored the subsequent feature films. Today’s children (and a few parents) have seen Mothersbaugh on another Nickelodeon show, Yo Gabba Gabba, where he teaches viewers how to draw.
When I first meet Mark Mothersbaugh, he’s standing between a large bird call machine and a sculpture he lovingly refers to as the “My Little Pony butts.” A prolific artist and musician, the Los Angeles-based Mothersbaugh is in town to oversee the installation of “Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia,” his new exhibition at The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center. The show, which runs through April 17, showcases a variety of work from the artist’s four-decade long career.
I try to figure out why things happen or why they are the way they are. I feel like I’m kind of a reporter.”
Instantly recognizable by his silver-framed glasses, Mothersbaugh has the infectious energy of someone who does not — or perhaps cannot — stop creating. “I have this desire to try and make sense of the things I see around in me in life that are seemingly senseless,” he says. “And I try to figure out why things happen or why they are the way they are. I feel like I’m kind of a reporter.” Standing among his works, there is a feeling that viewers are not supposed to be passive observers, but instead active participants in Mothersbaugh’s world.
It is a world shaped by myopia, or nearsightedness. Until the second grade, Mothersbaugh lived with the condition untreated, and his vision became so bad that by the time he was diagnosed, he was legally blind. Explains Mothersbaugh, “I had this teacher that hated me, I drove her crazy… She would go, ‘Mark can you add the numbers on the board?’ And I’d go, ‘What’s a board?’ cause I couldn’t see anything.” Just a few days after getting his first pair of glasses at age seven, Mothersbaugh began to draw, and never stopped.
Tens of thousands of those drawings are now on display at the Jones Center, along with colorful tapestries, Mothersbaugh -made machines, eerie Photoshop-manipulated portraits, bold sculptures and roly-poly little figurines. Says the artist, “By putting all these different materials and elements together, you go, ‘I see. He’s about ideas and observing the planet from one perspective’.”
And what a thrilling perspective it is.
Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2016