By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Mark Mothersbaugh wants to put snakes on your wall. Now that the Devo lead singer and composer of film, television and commercial soundtracks has conquered the world of fine rugs, he’s set his designs, literally, on wallpaper. One pattern he’s calling “Black Forest” is a mutated collage of a 19th-century image of a bird. Those who recoil at the idea of reptiles splayed 24/7 across the walls of their kitchen should steer clear of “Snakes in a Tree,” a pattern of snakes, in trees. The unenlightened might find this one creepy, but Mothersbaugh’s wife, Anita, pictures it in a kids’ playroom, to enhance a safari-adventure theme. On the other hand, “Don’t Be Koi,” with its cheerful orange fish patterns, would be lovely even in Martha Stewart’s bathroom.
“I love the idea of a freaky dining room somewhere with this wallpaper and the matching plates and bowls and rug,” Mothersbaugh says.
Sitting in a conference room shaped like a slice of pie at Mutato Muzika, Mothersbaugh’s music and design studio/secret lair, I dig my fingers into tufts of rug samples, waiting for a guy to pull up images of wallpaper on a computer.
“I used to hate wallpaper,” Mothersbaugh is saying. “I was a maintenance man for an apartment building in downtown Akron, Ohio, and it was so hard to remove. The wallpaper needed to be changed every so often, and peeling it away unleashed the aromas of the decades — as well as the styles. It was like peeling layers off an onion.”
Even so, Mothersbaugh and his brothers all had wallpaper in their rooms, and they each picked their own patterns. His brother Bob chose a light chocolate-brown style with pop icons, like the Brillo soapbox. His younger brother, Jim, picked a kind of Spirograph design. Mothersbaugh picked a paisley pattern. They spent a lot of time staring at their wallpaper.
(Click to enlarge)
Palace Papers' “Deerly"
(Click to enlarge)
Mark Mothersbaugh's “Girl With Flowers"
“I mean, Jim’s room must have been horrible to look at!” Mothersbaugh says. “Not surprisingly, they both got into drugs in high school.”
“In Ohio,” says Anita, “staring at wallpaper in the dead of winter is a pastime.”
“These images come from a diary of everyday events,” Mothersbaugh says when the guy at the computer starts pulling up the wallpaper designs. “I’m doodling and drawing things all the time.”
“We both collect old photographs — stuff from India, portraits of maharajas and maharanis,” says Anita, a design connoisseur, expert shopper and woman with all-around fabulous taste. “At estate sales, we were shocked at what people would leave behind, at what they were willing to let go of. [Mark] just started doing stuff with them.”
“We have Photoshop now,” Mothersbaugh says, “but in the old days, I would use mirrors and cameras to create these pictures. I like this one, based on the Black Forest rug. It’s got this lattice pattern and feathers and claws.”
“We like things that are familiar,” Anita adds, “but when you look closer, something’s off. That’s our aesthetic.”
Now the computer guy pulls up a design called “Boudoir Beware.” A nude woman with short black hair holds a drapey, cobwebby veil. A hand pokes out of her stomach where her belly button should be.
“That you could use for a bathroom,” says Anita. “Or perhaps a lingerie store, or a hotel powder room. Or a romantic restaurant.
Another design flicks up onscreen. “Girl With Flowers” is based on a picture of a girl from Mothersbaugh’s “Beautiful Mutants” series. The girl in “Girl With Flowers” has curly brown hair, a bulbous nose, an angelic expression and dopey eyes. If you stare at her for long enough, her bouquet starts to look like a creature. Are those teeth in the flowers in the vases flanking her?
“That you could do in a little girl’s room,” Anita says. “Or a lady’s dressing room.”
“Or a woodshed,” Mothersbaugh adds.
Ignoring him, Anita says, “Some years are wallpaper years, others aren’t. We happen to be in a wallpaper year right now.
“This next one,” she continues, “when you get up close, it’s actually spindles of coral from an antique biology drawing. I see it in hallways, or you could do a sort of Versace-style dining room. It’s a little universe. This one’s all about the scale, which we can manipulate based on what the client wants.”
“Big like that could be good in a principal’s office,” says Mothersbaugh.
“What’s the component image on this one?” I ask, about a pattern called “Black Magic.”
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