He is best known as the co-founder of the band Devo and as a composer of music for children’s TV shows, but Mark Mothersbaugh is a visual artist, too.From Friday through July 1, the 1819 Central Gallery will feature the exhibit “We Must Repeat! Prints and Rugs.” It will include rugs, prints and large-canvas representations of Mothersbaugh’s drawings, and he will speak at the opening.
Mothersbaugh recently spoke to The Star about his vast collection of artwork and how so much of it ended up on people’s floors.
Q. What can people expect to see at this exhibit?
A. They can expect to see one man’s take on life on planet Earth.
OK. But why rugs?
Rugs were sort of an accidental thing. Almost all the artwork in the show started off on small card-stock — 4-by-6 inch size. I have a kind of diary in progress of about 30,000 images, drawings and paintings I’ve been doing since the early 1970s. I used to mail them off as postcards to other artists. … Then I started keeping them because I realized they were kind of my diary.
Then they became my image bank, a place I’d look for lyrics or video ideas. When Devo kind of took a breath of air in the ’80s … I had time to start printmaking again, which is what I did before Devo became so time-consuming.
The rugs came in because I had a building on Sunset Strip in Hollywood about 14 years ago when real estate was in a crummy place and I had enough for a downpayment. I wanted to put a rug on the concrete entrance to the building so people wouldn’t slide when it got wet. I had designed a logo for my business, and I found a company that could put logos on rugs.
I’d walked across it every day for about seven years before I wondered if they could put other images on rugs, like the ones from my “diary.” I called the place and they said (changes voice), “Yyyyep. We use a computer. Send a picture, we’ll put it on.”
They can only do certain resolutions, so they had to be pretty simple graphic images, which kind of worked for me. I do line drawings and cartoony stuff. With a little back and forth, we started working with this company. It said yes, but stay away from football season: “That’s when we make football rugs for people.”
Is it a complicated process?
No. And it’s not that expensive: about as cheap as getting a photo print of the same size. So it took about a week to turn one around. I’d open the box and have a rug to put in my studio, in front of one of the recording rooms. Everyone would go, “Can we walk on this?” “Uh, yeah. It’s a rug.”
So I started doing them, and it became addictive. I have a tendency to become obsessive. If I’m working on, say, a Wes Anderson film, I’ll write the music for it and then think, “What other way can I do it?” and I’ll go back and write it totally different. And I’ll do that three or four times before I’m satisfied. Then I end up with all this extra music that gets stacked up in the studio.
I started getting two to three rugs back every week. All of a sudden I realized it was hard to get through the entrance of the building because of the stack of rugs nine feet tall. So I thought, “I gotta do something with them. I can’t just make them.” So I started putting them in shows.
What was the reaction?
There’s a car company with a gallery here in Culver City. I’ve done a couple of shows with them. They’re called Scion. … Scion did a big rug show with me. I put about 88 different rugs in the show. It looked like one of those horrible commercials that come on at midnight, like “It’s Crazy Rug Man!! Rugs, rugs, rugs!! We’re going crazy with rugs!!” It looked like that. Some people really like them as a medium for art, but you can also walk on them, play on them, cover a stain in your living room floor with them. You can clean your feet on them
Are you trying to revolutionize people’s perception of rugs?
Before I started making them, I’d wanted to buy rugs for my house, but I couldn’t find anything I liked at stores. All of a sudden I had rugs that had two magpies shooting guns at each other or a robot hiding behind a La-Z-Boy chair — stuff that I like, that I thought was much more interesting than a paisley pattern.
People think of rugs as something to deaden sound or sop up crap. It’s all those things but it can be art, something you can look down and it can be humorous instead of benign.