Kansas City's and Lincoln, Nebraska's respective hearts broke yesterday when they learned that the artist known as Mott-ly passed away. I've known Mott for more than fifteen years, and I'm stunned by the news. Anybody who knew him reserved the warmest place in their hearts for him. He ran the MoMo gallery in Kansas City's crossroads district, where he curated shows that always seemed to hit the sweet spot that included his interests in activism, assemblage, and street art.
I first met Mott in the late 80's, when he started the band Mudhead with Archer Prewitt (who went on to form the Coctails and Sea and Cake). I've seen noisy bands in my time, but Mudhead made an unholy racket... I unearthed an article that compared Mottly-s singing with Mudhead to "Elmer Fudd being raped by a werewolf on a bad acid trip". That, my friends, is a compliment. Mott-ly moved back to his hometown of Lincoln in the 90's, and ran with a pack of musicians and artists that added considerable spice to sleepy Lincoln.
I started a record store in Lincoln in 1993, and Mott-ly was my first choice to help staff the place when I was away. Visitors to Zero Street could often find Mott's cheery face and incomparable musical know-how livening up the cramped store. Through it all, Mott soldiered through a bunch of medical problems. He was a hemophiliac who had a leg amputated at a young age. Mott spent a lot of time decorating his prosthetic leg, and a favorite trick was to throw it onstage when he was excited about a band. I witnessed plenty of confused/bemused singers like David Yow from the Jesus Lizard trying to deal with this novel tribute.
He spent a lot of his childhood in bed, which he credits with nurturing his interest in art. Mott-ly was always making art--he was the best assemblage curator that I've ever met. He had an eye for reconfiguring the most mundane objects into amazing works of art. Everything he touched benefited from his attention to detail, held together by his loving patinas. Joseph Cornell was a lifelong touchstone for him, but Mott-ly's boxes were something else entirely--courageous in their source material and masterful in their transmogrification.
In 1997, I left Lincoln, and shortly thereafter, Mott-ly moved back to his beloved Kansas City, where he had attended the Kansas City Art Institute. He was one of the pioneers of the Crossroads district, and opened up the MoMo gallery, which also served as his home and studio. Mott-ly was always an activist--it was at the core of his being, and he did things like letting an anarchist collective open up a radical bookstore in part of his space. A few years ago, Mott lost his remaining leg to infection, and was confined to a wheelchair. This didn't stop his mobility, and he could be found rolling through the Crossroads district, patronizing rogue karaoke dive bars, and working at Grinder's. The last time I saw him last year, he had adopted a pesky (but lovable) street dog that was recovering from mange (something makes me think it was part wolf...) that followed him around the gallery gnawing on the tires of his wheelchair.
For those who knew him, visiting Mott always yielded surprises. He was terribly in love with life, and always had something interesting to say or show. Like his boxes, he transformed his mundane surroundings into a thing of beauty. His kindness to others always burned brightly, and he leaves a legacy through his art and gallery that won't be soon forgotten.
LINK to Pitch article about Mott-Ly's art