STUDIO VISIT / Virginia Billeaud Anderson on bmoodyart

A black person had never entered the family’s home, but such a thing was unrecognized as bigotry by people that genteel. The fact remains, in Brad Moody’s up­bringing it was unacceptable to “mix” with blacks. Bluish-black or grayish-orange flesh-toned figuration, with stylized braids or African mask features accompanied by text citing “high-yella” or “pickaninny,” serves as ironic indictment of an insane situation in which people live very near other people, yet remain separate. The scorching parody and exaggeration in “Cotton Fairy’s” Yoruba statuary-shaped head and “Creole Girl’s” African mask face constitutes forthright regard.

So abundant are black figures in his art they indicate an obsession with south Louisiana disunity, to which Brad admits. “If I had been born black instead of white,” he said, “would I have had the same opportunities? There’s a chance not, and it would have been unjust. It must change. All people, all races, all genders deserve the same chance.” Kinship such as this resonates with Tennessee Williams’ statement, “I always felt I was black.”

Just as the art penetrates well-mannered racism, it probes matriarchal power. His approach is through the mother-goddess motif which is refashioned into harpy, whore or suffering saint. Allusions broaden to infanticide and fecundity. As she has since the Neolithic, the goddess emblemizes other-worldliness. And also symbolizes all of those delicate gracious ladies who navigate with such unmitigated forcefulness you’d swear they had testicles. Brad called his maternal figures, “strong, powerful, they are comfortable.”

The maternal figure’s overwhelming presence in Brad’s art is evidence that she saturates his consciousness, and it’s in the handling of the mother that execution is the most uncurbed. Composed with spastic lines and garish colors, maternal figures have death-skull faces. When presented full-figure, they are nude, pregnant, and have a sewed up vagina (red thread), or a penis. Most wear hooker high-heels. “Po’trait of a Southern Mother” has a Medusa style snake head.

“Family 1,” a drawing from 2009, is typical in its unsparing realization of the mother goddess. She is white like a corpse, nude, has a skeletal ghoul face, a pregnant stomach and a penis. Her ill-proportioned pointy tits and distorted torso counter-balance elongated legs in heels. The open mouth is as perverse as any screaming goon devised by Francis Bacon, and well fits art historian David Sylvester’s description, “epileptic delirium.” The mother pulls toward her a barefoot nude African mask-face child, in her ceremonial.

If treatment of race and maternal power seems outrageous, the art’s romp through gender is utterly dissolute. Hermaphrodites, assorted versions of which he often saw in New Orleans, have major iconographic weight. Rather than displacing or cancelling gender, Brad believes the dual-gender figures enhance it, expand it to wholeness. Asked about the hermaphrodite, he said it approximates his belief that the things that “separate men and women are irrelevant – we’re all humans.”

The motif also alludes to homosexuality and attendant political awareness. As a gay adult living in New York he was cognizant that “queer” issues were life and death issues. “Friends were dying of AIDS all around me, and we had to wear masks to visit them. There was fear and shame, and that fuck Ronald Reagan refused to acknowledge an epidemic. Act-Up was organized by a bunch of militant gay boys to make people aware and fight HIV. That was seminal!”

Just as they slam against personal experiences of AIDS and homophobia, mixed genital figures summon childhood confusion and pain about being different. Imagine trying to synthesize identity at a young age. His older brother was a jock and so were the neighbor boys, where young Brad was studious, and prissy.  One day he wanted to bake a cake.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson – “Brad, was there pressure on you to act more masculine?”

Bradford Moody – “Oh yea, but you see it was unspoken, the word gay was never used, which was much more damaging.”

More than anything, hybrid figures denote his path differing from the one his family had in mind. Big Daddy Bill was an oil man and had certain expectations for his offspring. “Ma children don’t have no sense! Ah spent money for him to get a architecture degree at Rice University, and that boy’s designing womens’ clothes?” According to Brad, mixed gender freaks bespeak inner truth and authenticity.

Throughout the art one finds prodigious borrowing from the hallowed history of art. The artist acknowledges his debt to Egon Schiele and to early century German and Austrian Expressionists who distorted human figuration for insight and to challenge half-truths. Expressionism, often defined as representation filtered through the emotions and psyche, provides the aberrant language best suited to Brad’s existentially potent narrative concerns. “Everything is dead while it lives,” Schiele said.

I’m reminded here of Virginia Woolf’s need for a jarring style in literature. As it deflected life of the emotions, she said, art required a new language, one “more primitive, more sensual, and more obscene.” It necessitated modernist, “depths and indirections.”

“My art’s raw and naked and in your face,” Brad said, “it’s spontaneous, real, influenced by the street, the untrained, crude folk figures, signage, by bold graphics. I enjoy showing the process, messy lines, overlapping colors. I’m drawn to the simplicity and power of a line drawing, owe an enormous debt to Basquait, Schiele, Twombly.”

Although naturally inspired by modernist masters in MOMA, Picasso, Matisse, Dubuffet, as well as by primitive art, it was the East Village superstars – Basquait, Haring and Scharf – who made the greatest impact. Brad began working in fashion in New York in the 80s, when art was being liberated from elitism. It was open to “renegades and bad boys who didn’t have degrees to create, it was fresh.” Graffiti and street art were rampant, to his honor Rudy’s dismay, and fashion and music had merged with art. ‘I rode subways covered with graffiti inside and out, art appeared on t-shirts, in store fronts, people’s bodies, in the clubs. Seeing Kenny Scharf’s psychedelic installation at the Palladium was like walking into a demented mind. There were drugs, drugs, and more drugs, with the art!”

“I’m at peace with appropriating Basquiat,” he said, addressing stylistic replication. He equates Basquiat’s primitive African mask faces as shambolic assertions of human power and suffering, and was drawn to the artist’s intellectually elevated calligraphic excursions into literature and history, as well as to his collage process. “It was tremendously influential.” Brad was similarly transfixed by the humorous and political tone of Keith Haring’s schematic drawings of the radiant child and barking dog. Haring’s screwing figures radically confronted homosexual issues. “He was unstoppable in support of the AIDS cause.”

By the time his designs were on the covers of Elle and Cosmopolitan, Brad had become acquainted with many affluent people, “Bruce Weber and other hyper beautiful people,” and was exposed to their art collections. He will not forget his first encounter with a large graffiti artwork in an apartment on 57th street. It was the first of many. “Elle Macpherson had a Basquiat and a Hockney and that was my first time to see work by those artists, up close, intimately in a home. I was blown away. It pulled you in with layers of meaning.”

Sources of inspiration and art historical invocations are too numerous to entertain in a short essay. But we must not under appreciate the influence of south Louisiana where voodoo queens are real and Virgin Mothers of god are everywhere, and of New Orleans in particular, where in Brad’s decadent youth one could stroll through the crowd of god-forsaken degenerates to the corner of Bourbon and Saint Louis and see on Chris Owens the most arresting boobs that ever shook.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson
May 2012