The '80s may be over, but former DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh is still fighting the countercultural fight, creating soundtracks for idiosyncratic indie films like Thirteen, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums (as well as the occasional bread-buttering Hollywood gig like Rugrats: The Movie). He's also touring 35 of his diminutive artworks to venues across the country.
The Homefront Invasion Tour, featuring digital prints of mixed media works, will appear at the Atlanta alternative art gallery Eyedrum Nov. 1-22. A graduate of Kent State's fine art program, Mothersbaugh has been creating postcard-sized artworks -- many of which provided the template for DEVO's imagery -- since the '70s.
"I did them on postcard-size paper because I could travel and work on it every single day, and it would not be a painting that was waiting for me to come back to," says Mothersbaugh. "I did not have to have a studio somewhere to work in. I could just do it while I was sitting in the car waiting to pay a traffic ticket, or driving to CBGB from Akron, Ohio."
In typical Mothersbaugh-ian style, the artworks employ ironically appropriated retro comic book and pop culture imagery, and a mix of humor and social commentary.
"I think humor has a place in social messages," says Mothersbaugh, whose works are inspired as much by the Chester Gould "Dick Tracy" cartoons of his youth, as by the avant-garde Dada movement and the underground wit of the Church of the Subgenius, of which Mothersbaugh was an early member.
But though the delivery can be light and ironic, the message can be close to dire.
"Serious art takes a lot of different forms," says Mothersbaugh, speaking by phone from his Mutato Muzika studio in Los Angeles.
As with his DEVO days, Mothersbaugh finds ample, unpleasant fodder for his work in the skullduggery of the body politic and the disappointing sluggery of the human race. His prints run from the saucily lighthearted, as in a repeated motif of a man holding a duck's head emerging from his trousers, to disturbing: references to the Iraq War and the frequent appearance of a shrouded figure suggesting both hangman and burkha-wearing terrorist.
After Eyedrum, The Homefront Invasion Tour is slated for other lowbrow chic galleries like New York's Fuse Gallery, Objex in Miami and Seattle's Roq La Rue. It was the back page gallery ads in his friend Robert Williams' California magazine Juxtapoz that inspired the tour. The venues listed there were "all these little holes in the wall that were into art that definitely wasn't the kind that lawyers were going to buy for their portfolio and wasn't the kind of artwork that you'd see in a bank.
"These are little guys that maybe just got out of college and they're idealistic about the world," says Mothersbaugh. "And talking to them in setting up these shows, it reminded me of what it was to be in DEVO back when we were in Akron, Ohio, when we didn't have a record deal yet and we were just doing it for the love of doing it."
They're the kind of venues that give Mothersbaugh hope for the possibility of change.
"Because we've seen what adults have done with things ... and they've fucked it up pretty good. I want a better future. I don't know if the odds are in our favor or not. I see stupid people with evil intentions having more and more control and the population become less informed and less interested in the future, and more obsessed with TV and whatever is immediately in front of them, immediate gratification."
Even a confirmed High Ironist can get a little down surveying the American landscape.
"There's a lot of stuff that's hard to laugh at now. If you look at what's on TV, if you look at what they consider entertainment and what they consider politics, I mean look what's going on in my state [California]. It's crazy. We now have a governor who makes the president look like he's articulate. How could this happen?"