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Into The King's Mouth With Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne


Coyne with a preliminary study for King's Mouth.

Coyne with a preliminary study for King’s Mouth.

Nick Hennessy

an>Wayne Coyne isn’t just a bandleader. The Flaming Lips’ frontman has always been more of an art director than a musician, creating elaborate stage setups and costumes that are just as important to the band’s live show as the music.

Coyne’s famous for riding through the audience on a light-up unicorn robot or rolling over crowds in a giant hamster ball.

This fall, Coyne brings a 2015 installation, entitled, “King’s Mouth” to Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. It’s a 20-foot, bubbling silver head with reflective eyes and an outstretched pink rubber tongue, inviting visitors inside. 

Wayne told us that his goal while creating such an immersive experience was to create a “Grand Canyon effect.”

“These are the types of experiences I feel like all museums need,” he said.  “You can’t just see it on the internet, you can’t just hear it over some headphones, you can’t even just watch a movie of it. You have to be here.”

Once you crawl through the mouth, the cavernous interior is lined with drippy formations of dried rubber. The soft, pillow-like teeth support you, as you lay down to enjoy the show.

Luminous tendrils hang from the roof of the mouth, pulsing in time with a looping score. The sounds range from subtle pulses to thunderous crescendos. Coyne insisted we stay inside long enough to hear the finale, which includes crashing guitar sounds familiar to anyone who’s seen the big finales of The Flaming Lips’ shows. 

The view from inside the King's Mouth

The view from inside the King’s Mouth

Nick Hennessy

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We asked Coyne about the difference between creating a piece for a live show and his installation work. He pointed out a prop for a show only has to hold together for the night, whereas a piece in a gallery has to withstand the crawling of hundreds of visitors.

Coyne’s a big fan of the kind of materials that are durable and easy to get — especially when the band is on the road. One of his favorites is colored duct tape.

When we visited, Coyne and his team were installing the piece with a dazzling assortment of yellow, purple and bright orange tapes, forming a rainbow at the base of the head, as if its trippy magic was spreading and taking over the gallery space.

There’s a communal aspect to inviting people to come inside and engage, but Coyne made it clear that his focus is to create the work that he, himself wants to see. When discussing how his approach differs from that of traditional artists, he claimed, “I’m an artist in the sense that nobody has yet to stop me from doing what I just like to do. I’ve no justification, no internal thing that I’m trying to say other than, you know, I like it and I’m gonna do what I like.”

Wayne Coyne’s King’s Mouth is on display in the 511 gallery at PNCA until January 6th.

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