But these days 52-year-old Mothersbaugh hasn't become a petty thief to make a living. He keeps busy as a prolific movie and TV show composer (Rushmore, Rugrats, Hidden Hills). All along he's been a highly productive artist too. It's an obsession that began at age seven for the extremely nearsighted boy, when he was fitted with a pair of thick-lensed glasses. Once he finally got a clear vision of everything around him, his fascination with drawing small-scale pictures only expanded.
While on tour with Devo, he kept a sort of postcard diary and would mail them to friends to keep in touch. Eventually he became attached to the works and began sending out photocopies instead, keeping the originals for himself in what now numbers more than 200 postcard albums. Making postcards is still something he does all the time. Often he'll wake up in the middle of the night to scrawl images; or while he's conducting a 100-piece orchestra on a sound stage, he might have a postcard on the music stand over the sheet music. "My fiancée, I'm driving her a little crazy with it," says Mothersbaugh on the phone from Los Angeles. "There's been years when I do one a month as opposed to days when I do 25 a day. It ebbs and flows."
His subject matter ranges from terrorists to images from movies he's working on, to goofy renderings of everyday life. He has collected the vast amount of work into his own image bank. Lately he's blown the tiny works up and created large iris prints in editions that range from two to ten, that he draws on top of. "They actually become paintings that way," he says. Paintings mean gallery shows, and the stuff has already been exhibited in alternative/lowbrow spaces in North Carolina and Hawaii. It comes to Miami this Saturday. (At press time Mothersbaugh was unsure if he would be able to attend.)
Mothersbaugh realizes his audience is limited to "college kids or kids who just got out of college or the occasional freak that somehow has made it to be 40 or 50 years old and still has a brain." And since he has a day job and isn't compelled to take a profit from his work, it was his aim to make his art affordable. "I'm not going to make money off this show and I'm not interested in that either. My goal is to infiltrate the houses of America," he says dryly. "This is something I've done since I was in second grade. I'm kind of seeing what happens if I try to spread it out on the planet."