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Mark Mothersbaugh is Averting Evil, OK John Robinson flicks through Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti, Mark Mothersbaugh's singularly handsome new art book

Mark Mothersbaugh is Averting Evil, OK

John Robinson flicks through Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti, Mark Mothersbaugh's singularly handsome new art book

by John Robinson,
first published: March, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

The images bear messages of and to humanity, with its limited vision and foolishness, politic imbecility, and obsession with civic duty...

Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti
Mark Mothersbaugh
(Blank Industries / Mutmuz Publishing)
Released on March 14th 2024
Available here→ 

At the age of 7 Mark Mothersbaugh was diagnosed with severe myopia and astigmatism, his legal blindness informing much of the worldview in this art collection. A surrealist short story about a peg-legged pirate with his “angry molten eyeball, swirling like an op-art cauldron” battling a female beatnik, sets the tone for the self-deprecation and delight throughout, and the political slant adopted is clear as the pirate and beatnik morph over the years into Trump and H Clinton.

Blindness and The Evil Eye as protector are symbols, used here in a spirit born of frustration with political doggerel. Equally maligned is the ludicrous mantra of New Age folk wisdom where it elides with the stentorian demands of public information: We Can Do It! A determination parodied in the faux optimism of Mark’s band Devo in Whip It! and Jocko Homo, as we stagger into an age of de-evolution. An essay in this book from writer and artist Ian Svenonius, along with a prose poem from Bob Lewis (of Devo) and “reading instructions” from V. Vale confirm this view.

Mothersbaugh was inspired by a plaster plaque of an eye to create innumerable artworks around the theme, originally produced as mail art, to be delivered across the country. This book gathers artwork based on the eye from the last several years.  The 500 plates are indexed at the back, listed by the writing imposed on each eye. The images are all of the same basic, wide open eye, painted and overlaid with decoration and text, stream-of-consciousness poetry. 188 for instance, begins “Golden Lips, obey the game rules please, real good humans, are there any? Always thinking in the most defeatist posture…”, the words in varying hand written colours and styles, a sketch of an elegant dress accompanying them. The image before it includes a smaller image of an eye pierced by a pencil, “She Can’t Be Dead” across the eyebrow, the highbrow, “Investigate before you amputate”.

The images bear messages of and to humanity, with its limited vision and foolishness, politic imbecility, and obsession with civic duty, “Observe the sweaty smell of success”. The line drawings alongside add colour, humour, are sometimes smutty in the best way and give variety to what could become repetitive, “Choose your mutations”, as 343 says.

These images are akin to visual Koan, to be stared at, repeated, the words gaining meaning through consideration, or just seen as humourous comic illustration if you prefer. The humour on offer is beatnik, hippy, a bit punk, surreal, liberal and techno cautious. Mothersbaugh is a psychic visionary here, not in any way short-sighted, as we know from all his previous musical and artistic endeavours, which include, let’s not forget, Rugrats, What We Do in The Shadows and the recently cancelled, lamented series Our Flag Means Death, as well as the lovely “Mark’s Magic Pictures” segment of Yo Gabba Gabba!

That political nuance, humanity, kindness and comic heritage are all visible here, along with an undercurrent of caution, cynicism and blackly comic observation. It’s a beautifully produced publication too, and Apotropaic, by the way, means “designed to avert evil”.

John Robinson

Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax
about John Robinson »»

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