His latest art project (and don't forget, Devo was an art project) manipulates antique photographs. In Beautiful Mutants, on view at the North Water Street Gallery in Kent, Mothersbaugh gathers dozens of old photos and reconstructs them (with the aid of computer programs) so that the finished pieces have a symmetrical, butterfly-effect look. The new works are simultaneously creepy and compelling. "I've always been interested in symmetry -- or the lack of it -- in the human form," he says. "I always liked the Rorschach tests, where they would say, 'What does it look like?' It's a blot of ink, but your mind wants to pull a form out of it."
Mothersbaugh, who grew up in Akron, spent his pre-Devo years collecting and combining rubber stamps, ink illustrations, and screen prints into word-and-image-heavy pieces. His latest project merely extends the experiment, he says. Of course, a link to his most famous work of art follows close behind. "In Devo, we created our own vocabulary," he says. "We were just trying to figure out who we were."
The 50-year-old Mothersbaugh now lives in Los Angeles and makes his living scoring TV shows and films (his credits span the theme song for Pee-wee's Playhouse to The Royal Tenenbaums and this summer's Herbie: Fully Loaded) and occasionally hauling Devo back on the road (it plays Scene Pavilion on Thursday). His visual-arts career, he maintains, remains a hobby. "Because I don't do this to pay the rent," he says, "I decided to make the images as inviting as they can be."