Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as the leader of the quirky '80s band Devo, also is the composer behind the Rugrats and a visual artist.
By MARTY CLEAR
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003
If it's okay with Barry Levinson and the Rugrats, Mark Mothersbaugh will be in Tampa this month.
Mothersbaugh, still best known as the frontman of the brazen and bizarre rock band Devo, keeps busy these days with film and television projects. He's also a visual artist, and his work is on display at the Matthews Art Gallery in Hyde Park for the next six weeks.
The show opened Friday. "I'm planning on being there the next weekend," said Mothersbaugh, 52. "The thing is, I just always have projects where people require me to pledge my allegiance to them. It's all a matter of when I can sneak out and play hooky."
At the moment, Mothersbaugh is creating music for the upcoming Rugrats movie. He also provides music for the Rugrats TV show, and he scored the first two Rugrats movies.
He offers up a little insider info: The Rugrats and the Wild Thornberrys will get together in the next movie.
At the same time, he's also composing for director Levinson's film Envy, a dark comedy that stars Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Christopher Walken.
Besides all that, Devo plays occasional concerts.
Barring a Rugrats emergency, Mothersbaugh will be at the Matthews gallery Friday and Saturday to meet fans, sign autographs and generally schmooze.
It will be the second stop on a national tour for Mothersbaugh's show, titled "Home Front Invasion."
"For 30 years I've kept a diary of visual images of things that happened, or dreams, or things that a friend or an enemy said to me during the day," he said. "Without exception, that is how the pieces in this show got started."
His diary consists of thousands of souvenir postcards. Mothersbaugh creates his images on the blank side. The artwork in the traveling show consists of manipulated versions of those cards. In most cases, Mothersbaugh added either hand-drawn or computer-drawn images over his original work.
"He's reduced them and enlarged them, collaged them and painted over them," said Dave Matthews, owner of the Matthews Arts Gallery. "The smallest are probably double-postcard size; the largest is about 4 feet by 3 feet."
Most of the images in the show are limited editions of 10 or less. Prices for the framed works start at $444.44. "I want to keep them as affordable as possible," Mothersbaugh said. "I don't care if I make money. I have a day job."
Mothersbaugh founded Devo in 1972 with keyboardist Jerry Casale, a fellow art student at Kent State University.
Devo -- the name is short for "devolution" -- was part of the New Wave movement of the late 1970s but had a robotic, synthesizer sound that set it apart from other bands of the era. It scored unlikely early hits with Jocko Homo, which included the trademark refrain "Are we not men? We are Devo," and a staccato remake of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction. A few years later, Devo scored its biggest commercial success, Whip It.
In the past couple of years, Devo has gained new popularity among the extreme-sports crowd. Skateboard maven Tony Hawk mentioned in an interview that Devo was his favorite band, bringing Devo's music to the attention of a lot of people who weren't born when Jocko Homo was a hit.
Devo's most recent concert, this year, was at a skateboard event. Devo played on a high stage with skateboarders performing below. Mothersbaugh said that his bandmates would like to play more shows. But he has turned much of his attention to soundtracks and visual art because of the limitations of a rock band.
"Every band gets pigeonholed," he said. "And once that happens, it's very hard to break out of it. Only a few bands have ever managed to reinvent themselves. David Bowie's done it, but he's almost the only one."
The reason his visual art show is called "Home Front Invasion" is that it deals with Mothersbaugh's observations on terrorism.
"Traveling with Devo in the years before 9/11 made me realize that the U.S. is out of touch with the rest of the world," he said. "While we're congratulating ourselves, people in other countries are perceiving America as arrogant and self-absorbed."
But Mothersbaugh said that patriotism underlies his work.
"I'm interested in encouraging creativity and thought," he said. "I personally think that as evil and corrupt as it sometimes is, we have one of the best systems in the world for that."
Matthews said that about half the show pieces deal overtly with terrorism. Others seem to depict Mothersbaugh's take on relationships between men and women. If the entire show deals with terrorism, it's in a metaphorical way, Matthews said.
Mothersbaugh doesn't plan to perform at the gallery, but he doesn't rule it out.
"You mean, am I going to just burst into song? Right now there are no plans," he said. "But you never know what could happen or what would happen if the spirit moves me."
PREVIEW: Mark Mothersbaugh's "Home Front Invasion" is at Matthews Art Gallery, 119 Hyde Park Ave., Tampa. (813) 259-0305. He is also part of "Digital Purr" through March 29 at the Beaker Gallery, 401 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 221-6876.