The mind of Wayne Coyne is a wild, perplexing, beautiful place. If you’ve experienced a Flaming Lips show, you’ve been invited to explore part of that world. Maybe you’ve helped Wayne roll over you in a human hamster ball, or watched Miley Cyrus pop out from under his robe.
But now Wayne is beckoning you to crawl deeper inside his mind, to take that one last step and enter the King’s Mouth. An interactive multi-media piece, King’s Mouth is the genre-breaking artist’s first public visual art exhibit, which premiered Saturday at Baltimore’s Visionary Art Museum.
Once inside the floor-to-ceiling structure, you and four of your friends will lie on your backs and see the King’s vision: rainbows, remote galaxies, or whatever the hell else you want to imagine. You’re now in control of the journey.
The exhibit is a mashup of an inventive arthouse and a shoddy high school construction project. Much like his never-intended-to-be-critically acclaimed film Christmas on Mars (2008), this new work isn’t for the critics — it’s for Wayne’s fans, and any other weirdos out there with passion and imagination.
I visited the exhibit after it was shipped to Baltimore from Wayne’s modest compound in his hometown of Oklahoma City. The museum floor is covered in what looks like the fluffy innards of stuffed animals, uninflated silver balloons, and old-school tape reels. Scissors, duct tape and drills are strewn about. This is an adult’s playpen.
“This is the way shit gets done, isn’t it?” Wayne says after I tell him it reminds me of the aftermath of a Flaming Lips show. “It seems like you’re just sitting in a room making a complete mess and then suddenly you clean it up and leave something.”
It’s magical, or so Wayne leads me to believe with his childlike passion. He’s done an interactive exhibit like this before at his “party gallery” in Oklahoma, but nothing for the public. “We just have these crazy parties and the one there you can go into it and it’s really fucking loud,” Wayne says through his salt and pepper beard.
This interactive exhibit is different because now all of us get to crawl inside. Even if shoddy, it’s pretty rad.
This fictional King’s head has red pillows on the floor. A spectacular LED light show guides you in creating your own movie, whether your eyes are open or closed. An original soundtrack — about a half-hour of Flaming Lips music — accompanies you through the journey. Signature Lips rhythms waft over you as deep, sometimes spooky bass bumps from three massive speakers.
For Wayne, music and the visual have never been separated. If nothing else, his exhibit portrays that duality by immersing fans in heavy doses of sound and light.
When Wayne sees lights, he says a thought pops in his mind: “What would they sound like?”
Or when he hears tones: “What would it look like?”
Wayne’s mind is poetic and dark, but also a playful fantasy.
The tale behind the exhibit is reminiscent of the fictional stories he spins on his albums. The hero in this piece is a giant, magical ruler who gets buried in snow while saving the last rainbow on Earth, or whatever planet this is. When the spring sun thaws the snow, the King’s massive body is found by his loving people and it’s preserved. Of course, these tiny subjects do what anyone would do when they find the body of their dead King: They chop his head off and throw a party.
The head of the kind and loving King is carted back home through a psychedelic parade of his passionate followers who are surrounded by colorful balloons, which should come as no surprise to Lips fans.
“For some reason you know his mouth comes open,” Wayne passionately describes. “You can see his mouth sort of coming open as they’re sealing it, and then his mouth is sort of sealed forever and then they discover little by little that, ‘Hey, it’s like, the outer space is inviting you in. You need to come in!’ And that would be like the legacy of his, the way he lived or something.”
Or something, indeed. Wayne’s welcoming you to come and create your own “something.” But he’ll help pull you along.
The exhibit also includes 11 original drawings by Wayne. Well, ‘drawings’ is a stretch. Sure, he grabbed some markers from his local Walmart to create a vivid recreation of his imaginary King (wait for it — he says the images may become a comic book one day), but he also grabbed glitter and glue and hid some NASA photos of the universe deep in the background of the pieces.
Just as this visual art exhibit is a first for a prolific artist who is now in his fifties, Coyne is also moving his music in a new direction by taking a backseat to recent (and frequent) collaborator Miley Cyrus. To Wayne, it’s all just evolution — going with the perpetual flow that is life and art.
Wayne denies he’s trying to ride Cyrus’ wave of pop stardom. He says they mutually respect each other and are on the same artistic plane. He sees his envelope-pushing career — which includes bringing a motorcycle on stage for visual and audio effects, along with do-it-yourself pyrotechnic shows before a label picked him up — as an influence on Cyrus’ own provocative parade of twerking, outlandish costumes, and phallic foam fingers.
“She’s definitely a freak in all those ways,” he says with sincerity in his voice. Now they’re freaks together.
While Wayne came to Baltimore to help set up his creation and unveil it at a private gathering, he couldn’t make the public opening night when his fans got to revel in his fantasy for the first time. But he had a pretty good excuse — he was performing on Saturday Night Live with Miley Cyrus ahead of their upcoming club tour together.