Beginning in the early 1970s, he has created a large body of work—paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, decorative arts, video, film, and performance—which often originates from his visual diaries of over 30,000 postcard-sized drawings. Mothersbaugh’s fascination with obscure historical material and mass-culture consumerism pervades his diverse artistic output. Also key is his severe myopia, undiagnosed in his early childhood, which he employs as a springboard for celebrating outsiders and mutations. Since 1986, he has produced scores for films, television, and video games.
DEVO’s foundational concept of de-evolution—the belief that the world is falling apart—informs the band’s irreverent, polymorphous persona, first cultivated at Kent State University in Ohio. A studio-art major, Mothersbaugh helped develop the group’s iconoclastic identity less as a band and more as performance artists. Precedents such as Dada, Surrealism, and German Expressionism also inspired DEVO’s distinctive look: its eccentric costumes, inventive characters, and unconventional stage presence. The group’s original album artwork, production of some of the first-ever music videos, and interrogation of the peculiar relationship between industry and identity all play on notions of conformity and deviance. Known for the trademark “energy dome” headwear in their 1980 hit song “Whip It,” they also donned matching workers’ coveralls, hazmat suits, and garbage bags, and always appeared on stage with the man-child character Booji Boy, Mothersbaugh’s alter ego.
Indeed, central to Mothersbaugh’s ethos is this childlike perspective, which allows him to deflate the self-seriousness of music, art, and even society itself—to offer a juvenile subversion of adult imagery. Projecting a mordant, confrontational aesthetic and a critique of consumerism linked, but not limited, to punk, Mothersbaugh has long investigated the relationship between technology and individuality in our contemporary capitalist society—often through self-critical adoptions of some of its most recognizable forms.