Virginia Billeaud Anderson
A preview of the twenty-two works on canvas, wood panel and paper Bradford Moody is showing in Welcome to Cotton County at d. m. allison art through March 16 gave me an incomplete sense of narrative unity. It wasn’t until I saw the twenty-two pieces installed that I realized how thematically cohesive is this exhibition. And installation is gorgeous. The paintings’ garish oranges, greens and pinks play off each other and pulsate against Dan Allison’s freshly painted white walls that were so well lit a few people complained about “halos” in their cell phone photos.
Moody set his characters in “Cotton County,” a place he has known at various times in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. He has in the past painted straight-forward iconographic references to the county, such as the cotton field Cotton Fairy pranced through wearing lingerie and hooker heels. John Deere caps and crucifixes more vaguely approximate it. The artist described the Texas version of Cotton County, “where mama’s family comes from, in the north part of Texas. It’s a shit-hole.”
Uncle Wayne the Cracker, who has a complexion like grits and dislikes “negroes,” is from there. The old cracker appears in several paintings. So does “Pic-a-ninni,” who in her most recent incarnation has yellowish skin, stylized braids and wears a cap. Picaninni is typical of Moody’s characters in that she occasionally elicits a negative reaction. “Inappropriate” is a common response. Recently, I attended an exhibition of Moody’s art in south Louisiana, and watched a woman in her 80s question him like an old aunt determined to correct his manners, “Now Bred, isn’t ‘picaninni’ a RACIST term?” “Well yes mam, it would be impolite to call somebody that, but my narratives are parody, a fact easily recognized by collectors.” Another woman who said the art was “offensive” could not know she had been spared the god- forsaken African mask face nude hermaphrodite and ghoul-face pregnant nude with stitched up crotch. He held back!
Bradford Moody, Pic-a-ninni, 2012, Acrylic and mixed media on board, 36 x 24
In the Houston gallery I overheard a woman tell a man, “I realize it’s a great painting but I’m not sure I want to look at it.” Having written about Moody’s art in the past I could see many things remained unchanged. He continues to flavor irony with aberrance, believing gross exaggeration decries that which is stupid and unenlightened. Stylistically he incorporates the spastic lines, fragmented distortions, and crude coloring of primitive, folk and outsider art, and overlays messy calligraphic components, genuflecting to Picasso, Egon Schiele, Dubuffet, Rauschenberg, Twombly and Basquiat.
Brad Moody, 2012, How To Snap a Neck, acrylic and mixed media on board, 34"x 24"
I asked Moody if there was anything different in the new body of work. The figures have extra vitality, he said, “additional details, greater movement, exaggerated expression.” Poses of delirium defined numerous past works, especially the skull-face nude pregnant mother figures. In the new works one sees in the gestures an accelerated tone of frenzy. How to Snap a Neck encapsulates violence with lynching connotations, and the frayed figure in A Cadmium Yellow Boy in a Blue World represents tragic isolation. There is a head scarf covered Mammy figure giving lip in Won’t Wash Yo Windows. Her goon-like shrieking mouth is haunting.
Brad Moody, 2012, A Cadmium Yellow Boy in a Blue World, acrylic and mixed media on board, 48"x 28"
A few years back I asked Moody what “cotton” meant to him. “Cotton represents the deep South for me, not a good or bad thing, just the deep South in its glories and troubles, myths and realities.”
And here are a few things he said about narration. “The paintings are just a form of story telling, like reportage. Everything is pretty much what I have seen, and how I have seen it. All I do is make pictures that try to tell a story and hopefully that story will have universality.”
Moody is in the hospital, and because of his illness was unable to attend the opening of his exhibition. Heavens child, you do carry on!
Brad Moody, 2013, Self Portrait #23, Acrylic and mixed media on board, 48"x 28"