Interviews

America Runs On Graff: An Interview with Moody

by Emily Colucci on June 20, 2012

Moody "Products" at Woodward Gallery Project Space, 2011 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

Even though artists in both genres risk their freedom by putting their art up on the streets, the worlds of graffiti writing and street art are often separated and even completely antagonistic. Rarely does a graffiti writer turn into a street artist or vice versa. Enter Moody, aka Mutz.

Detail of a photo of a Moody art work from the Grumpy Guido Flickrstream

Beginning his artistic life as a graffiti writer Mutz, president of the AA crew, which includes writers like Fade and Tres, and then moving into street art and in the process changing his name, Moody became known for his cut-wood panel M’s that he would place on abandoned buildings. After the M’s, Moody started making Pop Art-inspired mock products, taking images from Dunkin’ Donuts and Absolut Vodka and changing their slogans into Moody messages, like “Grumpy Guidos: America Runs on Graff” and “Absolute Addict.” His work attracted the notice of the street art and graffiti-friendly Woodward Gallery in the Lower East Side, and the Woodwards offered Moody the opportunity to exhibit on their outdoor Project Space. His project attracted the attention of graff and street art lovers alike, though it also attracted the attention of one nefarious character who successfully stole one of the four panels right off the wall.

This Friday, Moody will be featured in a solo show at Williamsburg’s Pandemic Gallery, and we spoke to the artist about his transition from Mutz to Moody, his life as a graffiti writer and the difference between street art and graffiti.

*   *   *

Moody (photo via 12ozprophet.com)

Emily Colucci: Bringing your art from the streets and into the galleries, you changed from writing graffiti as Mutz to making street art as Moody, from cut-wooden panel M’s put in abandoned buildings to pop-art paintings featured in galleries and the Woodward Project Space. How did you make the change from graffiti to street art?

Moody:  I was always fascinated with street art since I was a kid. Even though I grew up in Brooklyn, my family comes from Mulberry Street and Spring. My family’s been there forever. There’s a lot of street art in that area, especially in the 1980s. I remember seeing Jim “The Mosaic Man” Power‘s street light poles with the tiles. I guess seeing that stuff in Little Italy and SoHo inspired me.

I was always into art. I wouldn’t say I was the best artist but I liked to draw. When I got into graffiti, I didn’t draw for years and if I did, it was all graffiti letters.

EC: When did you begin writing graffiti?

M: I was always fascinated by graffiti and there were people around me who wrote graffiti. I’d see it going to work with my dad on the highways and I was always into it. The older guys I knew all wrote graffiti. Not that they really got up. In school, I kept trying to think of a tag, and I never really had a tag but I had the nickname Mutz since I was pretty much born. My father’s friend nicknamed me that when I was a year old.

Mutz block letter piece, 1996 (via Grumpy Guido flickr)

EC: Where did the nickname Mutz come from?

M: Like mozzarella. I’m Italian so you know …

I was always trying to write graffiti in elementary school, trying to learn how to write the letters. Still didn’t really have a tag and then one day I decided I was going to write Mutz. I was about 10, 11, 12. I don’t even know. So then I started learning how to write it.

EC: How is the New York graffiti scene different now from when you first started?

M:  It’s totally different. The streets weren’t as clean as they are now. They’re cleaner now because of the buff. I have nothing left. I had stuff running for 20 years but now its all gone. People didn’t do fill-ins on the street back then like they do now. It was more about tagging from the mid to late 1980s.

One of Moody's M's on a building in Williamsburg, N7th Street and Bedford Avenue.

EC: When did you start doing the M’s.

M: I always did my M’s, [I was] drawing them starting in 1990. But I didn’t really do them on the street at first. I really came with them hard in 2000So I started coming out with the M’s on the street because it seemed easier than the Mutz block letters. I’m too much of a perfectionist. I started rocking them from 2000 to 2010 about 10 years. Whenever I had the chance, I’d rock the M’s and some fill-ins and tags, usually by myself.

I have a bunch of different M’s: the M-bolt is one of them, which I use in all of my different series from the Grumpy Guidos to the Absolute Addict

Eventually, people started asking me to do shows. I had created my first two art pieces in 1998. I didn’t really want to make the M’s my art work. That’s how I felt it was going. I can use them in my art but I didn’t want it to be about just that.

Fade and Mutz pieces

EC: Its interesting to me the change between graffiti and street art. Especially being the president of the AA crew, which has a pretty rough reputation. How is the change to street art?

I’d like to write some graffiti to be honest with you. I have too much at stake right now maybe when I’m more established would be a point when I want to come back. Right now if I get in trouble it would fuck me up even more than I am now. I would love to trust me. Especially seeing my boy Fade out there bombing, rocking the crew hard. Thank god. Fade’s up everywhere. He’s killing shit right now. People are definitely out there jealous.

I do put up stickers every day but I stay away from city property.

EC: After stopping writing graffiti, you started doing street art under the name Moody even though you did use Moody in your graffiti as well. Where did you get the name Moody?

M: My friends always used to call me Moo for short. I started messing around with Moo. I always had a title for Mutz-Master Mutz. Then I got Moody Moo and thought, “Wow that’s me.” It fit me perfect. So I started going with that. It’s a good, catchy name. People like it. You don’t have to say it too many times. Even with Mutz, it was a good and unique name.

EC: Much of your artwork are takes on products. “Grumpy Guido’s,” “Moody Cola,” “Absolute Addict,” when did you start integrating the products into your work?

M: I just had a cup of coffee or was looking at a bag and said, “Oh shit that’s a spraycan and there’s paint coming out.” So I asked my boy, who is a graphic designer about it. I was being a little lazy and they said do me a sketch. So I just grabbed a canvas and a pencil, and drew it. Laying it out was a bitch, but finally I did it and that piece came out clean.

Moody, "Grumpy Guidos" (2012), paint, spraypaint on subway map (photo by author)

EC: Did they ever figure out who took the panel from the Woodward Gallery Project Space?

M: Three days before it was supposed to be taken down, somebody went and swipped the “Absolute Addict.” We got it on surveillance. It’s reported with the stolen art registery. Someone probably has it in their living room. It never really bothered me that somebody took it. I figured it was going to happen. I put my pieces in the street for years and they got taken. For someone to go up there with a ladder and a saw and a bolt cutter to cut them down, they must really like my art. I’m going up to the second story with an extension ladder to put up the M’s and so they have to use some sort of power tool. The ones with the bolts and the expoxy those were the ones that came down quicker.

Now the Absolute Addict panel is recreated in the Ghost cafe/bar across from Woodward Gallery.

A still from the surveillance video showing an unknown man stealing a work by Moody at the Woodward Project Space.

EC: Taking art on the street whether graffiti or street and putting it in the gallery is always a big and sometimes complicated move. When did you know you wanted to do fine art?

M: I don’t think graffiti realy sells like that. Back in the early 1980s when it became mainstream, it was selling good but I don’t really see graffiti lettering pieces really selling. I tried to get into more contemporary, more pop art. I’ve always been into that even when I was a kid. I still have sketches when I was a kid of logos that I changed.

EC: What are you going to be doing for your show at the Pandemic Gallery?

M: I’m transforming the place into a Grumpy Guidos like a Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m going to have a couple of signs painted up at the front. People are going to be walking into a Grumpy Guidos. Grumpy Guidos is coffee beans and spray caps. I’m been working hard on the show and completely by myself.

EC: How would you define the difference between graffiti and street art?

M: It’s definitely different. It comes from a different place. They’re the same because they go up illegally. The graffiti that I grew up with came from the trains in New York City in the 1980s and alot of highway stuff growing up. Graffiti is mostly lettering and street art can be anything, not just spray paint. It can be wheatpaste, stickers, wood, Styrofoam, metal, glass, whatever it is. That’s pretty much the difference, but as far as applying it to the streets, it’s the same thing. You still have to look out for the cops and spend your time to install it.

Moody: America Runs on Graff will open at the Pandemic Gallery on June 23rd until July 15th.

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