Mark Mothersbaugh began working on his Beautiful Mutants series in the early 1990s. An outgrowth of his lifelong habit of collecting obscure historical materials, the Beautiful Mutants derive primarily from daguerreotypes and ambrotypes
and deliberately recall those techniques. As with many of the collections Mothersbaugh has amassed, the images and pocket-size historical frames come from diverse sources including archives, antique shops, and online auction sites. Although a few of the photographs are from Mothersbaugh’s family albums,
most of the subjects in the pictures are strangers to him.
Significantly, the Beautiful Mutants were the first works Mothersbaugh
created with digital techniques. He had experimented with mirroring in his early works by flipping negatives from 35-millimeter photographs and matching up the prints in the middle, but Photoshop provided a far cleaner, more precise method for producing mirrored images. Technology allowed Mothersbaugh to develop
his visual language and to replicate it on an epic scale—there are more than three hundred works in the series. Mothersbaugh has even brought the mutants into three-dimensional form with a two-sided car (Mutatum, 2012) and a large, two- rumped My Little Pony (50-Foot-Tall Scale Model of Proposed Farewell Arch to Luxembourg City, 2013).
While Mothersbaugh mentions the splotchy yet symmetrical forms of Rorschach blotter diagrams as one visual reference for the series, his interest
in human facial symmetry (or, rather, the lack thereof) is also evident in his early collage artworks. Starting in the early 1970s, Mothersbaugh used drawings and sketches from medical textbooks found at flea markets and secondhand stores as material in his collages. The works reveal a fascination with the myth of human bilateral symmetry and the reality that no one is truly symmetrical.
Finally, this series embodies Mothersbaugh’s interest in the tension between order and mutation, or uniformity and difference, which is the foundation of much of his own work and the aesthetics of DEVO. Mechanically created symmetry
is a form of perfect repetition but, in this instance, repetition creates mutants.