In mid-June 2022, my partner, the visionary artist, performer, costume maker, painter, illustrator, sculptor, and filmmaker Brody Mace-Hopkins (1998-2022) died while on their artist residency at the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney, Scotland.
Brody was best known for their performances, sculptures, and paintings combining natural materials and elements to explore mythology, transformation, identity, community, and our relationship to the natural world. I am still grappling with words to describe how magical and extraordinary Brody was as a person and artist and I hope this account can be a brief encounter with their life and work, as well as a glimpse into the love we shared.
We had met initially through Instagram. It started with a “hello” from me in March 2022. I think we had crossed paths in the past couple of years but it’s possible we had known each other for longer. Brody was living in Glasgow and I was back in London after visiting my family in New York and New Jersey for the first time in two years. It was a challenging time for me, trying to find myself as the COVID restrictions began to lift and not knowing how to move forward with my life. We would have lively conversations over morning coffees talking about art, our work, the nature of queerness, and community. It was a respite from everything I had endured in the last few years.
We met in London, in person for the first time, in April, a few days shortly after Brody’s birthday — I found out later on that Brody was born on April 1st and, somewhat amusingly, I was born on Friday the 13th. We met outside the Parish Church of Saint Paul in London’s neighborhood of Deptford. I was nervous to call it a date but I could feel that spark and twinkle when we spoke. There was something hands-on and direct about Brody’s sense of humor and attitude toward life. It was refreshing. We visited the gallery Xxijra Hii, where we realized that we were unknowingly matching a red-and-blue digital collage by the artist Max Petts. I was so moved by Brody’s dazzling blue eyes, glittering in the light. I mentioned something about it and Brody smiled. We went to my studio afterward, and I showed Brody my work, shuffling nervously while trying my best to stay cool. I didn’t know it but I had fallen in love.
It was a magical weekend. I felt this great joy and acceptance. Brody returned to Glasgow and within a couple of days, I had booked a trip to see them at the end of the month. There was something so delicate and intimate about Brody’s drawings and watercolors, the detail is phenomenal. They revealed these extraordinary worlds of mythical hybrid creatures combining humans, animals, and natural elements while resisting society’s constructs around gender and sexuality. In a similar approach, Brody often made performances with their body, handmade costumes, and natural materials like clay, wood, and water either alone or in collaboration with friends. We went to an artist retreat in Balfron, a beautiful rural area a couple of hours away from Glasgow, and by the end of the weekend, we made our first video artwork together, “I love you” (2022), consisting of me fully naked screaming “I love you” in a field at sunset over and over again until I was out of breath. Brody documented the work and later joked that while they knew it was directed at them, it was also a love letter to the world.
A couple of weeks later, Brody was back in London and I insisted that we go to the opening weekend of Queering Nature, a group show at the Ledward Centre, an LGBTQ+ community arts space in Brighton, presenting Unearth Me and See Me Wildly Dance (2021) an artist film co-directed and produced by Brody with Raechel Teitelbaum. The film featured vibrant, soft costumes, masks, and headdresses by Brody, Raechel, Joa Blumenkrantz, and Genoa Gray, and a cast including Brody, Joa, Genoa, Nelly Henzler, Tara Jerome, Lilith Newsom, and Arthur Griffiths. A sublime musical score by Teitelbaum and Rachel Chevat underpins the film, depicting a dream sequence of a monster having a nightmare of humans and moving across the rural landscape of Scotland in a quest for belonging. Brody told me how they saw nature as a metaphor for queerness, the seemingly crooked branch in a tree or water in a river shaping its surroundings and existing on its own terms. It felt like such a bold and powerful way of understanding our individuality, beauty, and self-acceptance.
I returned to Glasgow towards the end of May. It was a beautiful long weekend together. Brody had just moved to their first studio since finishing their degree at Camberwell College of Arts in London and was preparing for their degree show in July. We did an impromptu photoshoot/performance with some of the masks Brody had made. I saw the masks and headdresses as a stand-in for Brody, as much as an avatar for anyone to inhabit. They were often made with resin, latex, wool, fabric, and natural materials, a maelstrom of campness, horror, and science fiction existing within a glamorous state of earthly decay. I see these figures as an extension of the drawings and the characters in their films, embodying these contradictions between lightness and darkness, folklore and fiction. I found parallels with William Blake, Tim Burton, and Alexander McQueen, and a key text Brody shared with me was J.R.R Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf (1964).
There is something intrinsically British about Brody’s art, a total reverence for tradition, innovation and craft, as much as Brody’s practice finds kinship with the transgressive work of international avant-garde artists such as Eva Hesse, Bas Jan Ader, and Ana Mendieta or the Surrealist polymath, Leonor Fini. Much like these exceptional individuals, Brody existed within their own singular vision and expansive worldview, working fluidly across genres and media, and exhibiting an unparalleled vulnerability, resourcefulness, and generosity to create a space for community that I find so rare among contemporary artists today.
It is difficult to say how much of the work is autobiographical. I think it inhabited a certain angst and turmoil, a kind of raw beauty and pain. It could be grotesque, disturbing, mischievous, sinister, wicked, alien. But there was also great joy, freedom, and curiosity. There was always a sense of absurdity and playfulness with everything they made. The idea as a viewer was to find a certain tenderness and care for these characters, which I felt so innately when I was with Brody and could be a stand-in for ourselves. By questioning our attitudes toward beauty and otherness, Brody reimagined the world we live in now toward a brighter and more harmonious future.
It’s been painful for me to get through each day and endure this loss. I still feel so much joy and tenderness when I think of Brody and reflect on the love we shared. My heart goes out to Brody’s friends and family, who were so kind to me. I hope to continue to celebrate and honor Brody in my life and work. I love you.