By Rick Coates
While Mark Mothersbaugh might not be a household name, his work
certainly is. From his work as the lead singer of Devo (Whip It,
Through Being Cool, Jocko Homo,) to producing the jingles from
hundreds of commercials (Hawaiian Punch, Hersheys, Coca-Cola,
McDonalds, Nike, and Toyota) and several movie and TV soundtracks and
theme songs (Rugrats, PeeWees Playhouse), Mothersbaugh is near the
front of every Rolodex in Hollywood.
Devo and Mothersbaugh will not be making their way to Northern
Michigan anytime soon, but his visual art work will arrive Friday,
October 8, at the InsideOut Gallery in the Warehouse District in
downtown Traverse City. The InsideOut will offer an opening night
reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and Mothersbaugh has agreed to participate
via Skype to answer questions and comment on his work.
Mothersbaugh began his artistic adventures growing up in Akron, Ohio,
legally blind until a pair of correctional lenses gave him a new
vision of his surroundings. A strong believer that artists should not
limit themselves to one artistic medium, Mothersbaugh began pursuing
different visual arts mediums in school and carried that passion to
Kent State with him (he was at Kent State during the National Guard
shootings in 1970).
During his early touring days with Devo, Mothersbaugh created
drawings on small postcard size sheets of paper. These drawings were
visual observations of the world around them. Sometimes he would
create 30 a day. He still maintains this daily ritual and his
exhibition of work is drawn from his many sketchings.
Mothersbaugh took time out to answer 10 questions about art,
commercials and the future of Devo:
Express: With your celebrity status, why is your work in a small town
at a gallery like the InsideOut, especially when you only do about 10
exhibitions a year?
Mothersbaugh: Well, because people like (gallery owner) Mike Curths
get it. I admire what they are doing; galleries like his are what is
keeping art alive today. I like using my celebrity status to help out
these galleries and I only exhibit in places like his. It carries
weight with the media as well when a small gallery owner calls and
says, hey you might want to cover this exhibit -- it is the work of
the lead singer of Devo and I have an exclusive on it. So this
gallery that otherwise goes unnoticed because it is not hanging pretty
impressionism pieces is now getting exposure.
Express: Okay, but why do the Skype Q& A?
Mothersbaugh: Look, I live in L.A. and the conversations around here
in the circles I travel are no longer about creating -- they are all
about the deal. You are either talking about how you just got screwed
by someone over a business deal or you are talking about how big your
next deal will be. So when my schedule permits, I go to the openings
and in this case I cant, so I am going to video conference. The
reason is because I am going to have conversations with people truly
interested in art and I love that.
Express: Have you ever visited or vacationed in Northern Michigan?
After all you grew up in Ohio.
Mothersbaugh: We used to stand at the border and look eagerly at
Michigan, wondering what was way up there. Growing up in Akron we made
tires, while Detroit got all the glory. We were Detroit wannabes.
Express: Many artists prefer their work not be functional but you do
not subscribe to that thought. Your rugs that will be on display
suggest you believe in arts functionality.
Mothersbaugh: Yes, exactly; with putting my art work on rugs the idea
came to me after I had this company make me a large welcome mat with
my companys logo on it. As I kept walking over the rug and it was
getting battered, I liked the weathered look better than the original
look. I started thinking about public sculptures and how weather and
humans touching change the look of the piece over time. So I called
this rug company and asked if they could put my artwork on rugs. They
said, No problem, but we make a lot of football rugs so dont call us
during the football season.
They are based in Kentucky and I am sure they get a kick out of every
time I call. I imagine some guy Bob saying, Hey Chuck, it is that guy
from California and he want us to make some rugs with a couple of
birds shooting each other on it or that one that says Are We Not
Express: What or who inspired you to pursue art?
Mothersbaugh: Andy Warhol was big when I was in school. He was so cool
and he was into making music, producing movies and creating visual
arts. I felt if I could be like Andy Warhol I would have all these
girls want to hang out with me as well.
Express: In high school, my art teacher told me that it was too bad
that schools were starting to eliminate art as a cost-saving measure.
She felt art was so important, that it taught students how to problem
solve. Your thoughts.
Mothersbaugh: Wow, too bad she was a vocal minority back then. It is
really sad to watch what our leaders have done to this country over
the past 20 years and the mess they have made from our wars, to the
debt, to the economy. To make matters worse, they are taking away
methods such as art in schools as a tool to help future generations
deal with the problems that these leaders have created.
Express: You have carved out quite the career making music for
television, movies and what might surprise some with commercials. It
seems sort of anti-Devo for you to be so commercialized.
Mothersbaugh: Look, I came from a generation and a time when hippies
and punks thought they could change the world. But what I found out
was that really no one was listening. I started looking around at who
really had the ability to change things and I found the answer was
Madison Avenue. People in the advertising business are capable of
changing peoples thought processes.
They have been quite successful of convincing people to buy a lot of
crap that they do not need. So I moved out to California 30-plus years
ago and set up shop with an idea to use commercials to change
mindsets. I started right away using subliminal messages in my music
with my first commercial. It was for Hawaiian Punch. I mixed in the
vocals sugar is bad for you over and over in the jingle. The
producers didnt hear it so it aired as-is with that message. Next up
was Hersheys Chocolate and I decided to make the sugar is bad for you
even louder. My partner could hear it and he chuckled and we figured
it would never fly because it was so obvious. Well, I was a little
scared when we were sitting around the conference table with Hershey
executives and the producers of the commercials. Well, almost in
unison they were bobbing their heads and tapping their pencils on the
table to the beat of sugar is bad for you and they absolutely loved
Express: Thanks again, but before you run, what about the future of
Devo and how about the projects you are currently working on?
Mothersbaugh: Devo is alive and well. We just released a new album,
Something For Everybody, and we have been out touring. The need for
Devo is still out there -- it is obvious that our theory of
de-evolution is coming true. Just look around you. There is talk
that Devo will be on Celebrity Apprentice as well. For me, I have have
several commercials to create music for; four television shows to make
music for; and a couple of movie projects in the works. Plus my wife
and I have two young children who often ask why their father wears a
funny yellow suit with a flower pot on his head and goes on stage and
sings for people.
The Art of Mark Mothersbaugh will be on exhibit for the next month at
the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City. On Friday, October 8, the
gallery will host an opening reception from 6 to 8 pm with Mark
Mothersbaugh participating in an audience Q&A via Skype
videoconferencing and there is no cost to the evening. For additional
details, find InsideOut Gallery on Facebook or call the gallery at
231.929.3254. To view a sampling of Mothersbaughs artwork check out