The Art of Devo-lution

Mark Mothersbaugh brings Beautiful Mutants to Sacred Rose Tattoo Gallery.

Best known as the lead singer of ’80s art-rock group Devo (think: yellow plastic suits, grandiose theories about the “devolution” of humanity, and the peppy new-wave song, “Whip It”), 58-year-old singer Mark Mothersbaugh currently divides his time between music, art, raising a family, and commandeering his company, Mutato Muzika. The bulk of his energies go to film and television music — Mothersbaugh has scored everything from Pee Wee’s Playhouse to The Royal Tenenbaums — though he also hosts an art component on the kids’ TV show Yo Gabba Gabba! Based in Los Angeles, he works in a circular building that’s set up so he can shuttle between offices, cutting cues for a film editor while he finishes a new drawing. Motherbaugh compares the architectural setup to an old-school pack of birth control bills — “where it looks like a Mayan calendar and you poke it out. It’s kind of like that.”

Mothersbaugh has always used art as a way of processing feelings and documenting things that happen to him. He began drawing in earnest shortly after getting his first pair of glasses at age seven (Mothersbaugh is legally blind), and went on to make rubber-stamp designs, screen prints, and decals. “I was so extremely nearsighted that I always drew small scale,” the artist recalled. While touring with Devo in the ’70s and ’80s, he would draw caricatures of record company moguls — mostly the ones who resembled characters out of Spinal Tap — and send them around the plane. Mothersbaugh also made postcards for people, until he realized that most of his images were, in fact, self-contained stories or diary entries. He started filing them away. Mothersbaugh’s oeuvre now includes 350 binders with about one hundred drawings each — prompting his six-year-old daughter, also a fledgling artist, to challenge him to a race.

The Postcard Diaries comprise hundreds of highly saturated, sprightly images — everything from Russian dolls to goo-goo-eyed anime faces to monochrome comic book panels, often with painterly sophistication and an implied narrative. Mothersbaugh’s other project, Beautiful Mutants, is a collection of mirrored images that he spliced together in order to create artificial symmetry. (He cites funhouse mirrors as the original inspiration.) What most fascinated him was the “dark and light side” aspect of each photograph; one mirrored image would look cute in a mutant kind of way, but the other would look demonic. “They became my little collection of flesh and blood snowflakes,” the artist said, “my menagerie of human Rorschachs. It’s not really a diary, it’s more like an experiment that never stops.”

That’s devolution, for you.

Mark Mothersbaugh will exhibit his art at Sacred Rose Tattoo (1728 University Ave., Berkeley) through July 3. The opening reception happens Saturday, May 24, 6-10 p.m.


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