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Jay Moody – Metal Artist
on June 15, 2011
Jay Moody was given the keys to his dad’s metal shop when he was very young. Today, his keys open the enormous 12-foot tall doors to his own studio, where he creates the kind of steel sculpture that demands the attention of a public space. While this muscular artist is content to build pieces weighing hundreds of pounds, he’s just as content to build more personal items, like memorials for loved ones, or beds, or the occasional dungeon door. Jay gave me a tour of his studio, located in a still-gritty industrial section of Northwest Portland.
How about a tour of your workspace?
This is my open studio. When the sun’s out I open these big doors. Working in the fresh sunshine motivates me. It’s been a long cold winter. It gets really cold in here in the winter.
Tell me about this piece towering over my head.
Once a year, Clackamas Community College issues a call to artists and they select 20-25 artists to each build a sculpture. We get free material, which is really nice. It’s a great time for local metal artists to get together, have lunch, talk about what we’re working on. We get three days to work with the students and they get to watch us build a sculpture.
Yeah, they just let you build whatever you want. The unfinished sculpture you see here was three days work at the school.
So, from concept to what I’m seeing now—three days?
I thought about what I was going to do the night before. I cracked a bottle of wine the night before and this is what I came up with. This particular piece has a little Lee Kelly in it, who is a famous local Portland artist. I also added my look with one of my trademarks, which are these three beams like what’s here.
The other piece next to it looks familiar.
It’s titled, “Yellow Sail,” and was placed in Lake Oswego for two years. They must have liked my work because they asked if I would place another sculpture the following year. That’s how the angel wings, “Seraphim,” came to be placed in downtown Lake Oswego across from the City building. And that led to a representative from the Maryhill Museum Sculpture Garden, Lee Musgrave, happening upon it and he told me that they would like to have one of my sculptures at Maryhill. Once you get seen, instead of hunting down clients, they come to you. I’ve never had to advertise. And my customers are very loyal.
Your studio is amazingly clean.
Yes, it’s easier to be organized than cluttered. In the long run it saves time. I keep my raw material out of my workspace and that saves me space and keeps it organized. Do you want to see the material area?
I prefer working with recycled materials when I can. A lot of this steel I have salvaged from various projects and steel yards. This steel framework is a leftover from a contractor who did not use it at the St. Charles Cathedral project.
Which St. Charles Cathedral?
I’m not sure. Often I get drawings and specs without locations. This piece was drawn up as “St. Charles Cathedral.” I don’t necessarily know where it is located.
So sometimes you’re doing work and you’re so busy you don’t know where it’s going?
Exactly. Two months ago I fabricated a group of sconces that wrap around two enormous columns for the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas. Installation was fun because I could actually see my work in its final location. Oftentimes, I never get to see the install.
It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work that includes glass.
One of my first jobs was for the glass company, Savoy Studios. It was for one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in Las Vegas. I built the framework of the chandeliers that you see on his show.
That side of the business is slowing down due to the economy, so I’m reinventing myself to go back to my roots—building what I call functional art. Like made-to-order beds, tables, mantels, clocks, and other various custom pieces. The last three years I got comfortable doing contract work for new construction, but now I’m back to doing what I like, which is functional art and public commissioned art pieces.
So will every one of these beds be one-of-a-kind?
Oh yeah. Every one is handmade. A lot of my clients will come by and watch me work on their piece. I give them that option.
What’s the inspiration when you’re making a piece for a client?
It can get personal. An executive from Nike brought me a picture of a Calvin Klein ad that had a bed in it, along with his own drawings. He said, “Let’s modify it to what I want.” He came by often and watched me build his bed. So with his input, and my input, and Calvin Klein’s input, we came up with this really unique bed. I’m designing a custom rotating bed for another client right now.
Where did you get your start doing all of this?
When I was growing up, my father was a hydraulic engineer and he had a machine shop right next to the house. He would travel a lot on business trips—three or four weeks at a time. Japan, Chile, Germany—he traveled the world for work. He taught me the basics, and before he left on business he’d leave me the keys to his shop. From that point on, I basically taught myself.
And how old were you when he gave you the keys to his shop?
Ten or eleven years old. There are family stories of me having to stand on top of wooden apple boxes to run the machines.
It’s funny, this one time I wanted to surprise my dad when he was just getting into golfing. So he left on business, and when he got back I had made this golf cart for him to put his clubs in and push around the golf course. Problem was, by the time I was finished, his golf cart weighed 300 pounds! He laughed. I didn’t know what I was doing, but that golf cart was a sculpture in itself. From there, I went to my high school skill center where I focused on metal work, and I was good enough that the instructor asked if I would help teach the class.
So you were a high school student teaching the class!
Half of my high school was spent teaching the other students welding and fabrication. Three days after graduation I had a job waiting for me at Stanley Hydraulic. I worked for several years there building things like hydraulic cylinders, and I got bored with it. So I got more into metal art pieces that I would build at night. I didn’t yet have the art skills, but I had the talent. So I took some Polaroids of my work, headed to downtown Portland, and walked into a gallery and showed the owner my photos.
How did that go?
Well, it was Palace Gallery downtown in The Pearl, and the gallery owner loved the pieces. And he said, “Jay, let’s bring them in. We’re going to do First Thursday.” I didn’t know how things worked. I didn’t know the arts scene. And, I didn’t even know what First Thursday meant!
How was First Thursday?
The manager of the famous 90’s band, Pearl Jam, came down from Seattle, loved one of my pedestals, purchased it, and we shipped it out. That was followed by the gentleman from Nike who asked me to build the bed. There were some young people at the show—and they had money—and they started ordering functional art like my lamps, coffee tables, and pedestals. That got me going pretty well.
But it wasn’t yet a full-time job, was it?
At that time, I was working at the paper mill in West Linn and I wanted to leave because I wanted to focus on the art. The job at the mill was very physical and my muscles started to bulk up. So I got curious about bodybuilding and started training under pro bodybuilder, Nikki Fuller.
It sounds like a lot of strange components were coming together.
I got another break was when I was biking around downtown and stumbled upon Waterstone Gallery. I strolled in and started to admire a beautiful wall sculpture. I was obviously mesmerized by the piece and a woman approached and asked me if I liked it. I said, “Very much so,” and I told her about my work. She happened to be the wife of the artist, Devin Laurence Field, and she gave me his card. I went to one of his shows and introduced myself.
Where did that lead?
To a great friendship. Before the conversation was done he was asking if I would like to help him on some of his projects. We worked together from about 2002 to present. We put up his sculptures all over the area—Eugene, Corvallis, Bend, Springfield. He’s been getting good exposure. He was commissioned for a sculpture at the Beijing Olympics. He’s the one who really taught me the skills of fabricating steel for the arts.
Would you say that he’s one of your mentors?
Yes. And Tom Hardy was his mentor. We all need to have someone we admire and look up to. It’s been very good to work with Devin.
I’ve always been very lucky in life that I’ve found good people to work with. Nikki Fuller, who was a renowned pro bodybuilder in Portland, is another example. When I was getting into bodybuilding she took me under her wing and that led to my titles as Mr. Oregon Coast in ‘93 and ‘95 and Mr. Bend in ‘93.
Wasn’t there a gig with the Oregon Ballet too?
My daughter was training with the Oregon Ballet Theater and an instructor stopped me one day and said, “We need some Arabian guards, how about it?” I said, “I don’t do ballet.” In short, I ended up working with James Canfield for 5 or 6 years. James Canfield had quite a reputation for directing the Oregon Ballet. He’s a very nice gentleman. I was lucky to witness his talent firsthand, when I performed as the Arabian Guard in the Nutcracker. I was not a dancer—I carried the princess with another Arabian Guard onto and off the stage. I had a great time doing it.
What do people come away with when they see your work?
I like my pieces to fit in without jumping out at you. It’s a fine line to create a piece that is noticed and is impressive and still fits in with its environment. I have a good reputation for this.
It sounds like you’re not having a problem running out of inspiration. I’m never running out of my own ideas, and my customers aren’t either. I had a woman who wanted me to build a dungeon door for her office.
As in the Medieval sense?
Complete with Germanic script welded into it. She didn’t want any of her roommates going into her office when she wasn’t around. A dungeon door is hard for me to imagine when I think about one of my favorite sculptures that is currently on display—the “Seraphim” wings on A Street in Lake Oswego.
I’m not surprised that it’s one of your favorites because it was a big hit with many. I started it at one of the three-day instructional builds at Clackamas Community College. That was a good project for the students to watch me build because it was so large. I had “Seraphim” welded, shaped, and standing up in 3 days. That was 3 days of a lot of welding and grinding. “Seraphim” was also on the beach at Cannon Beach for a memorial for a good friend of mine’s wife, who passed away from breast cancer.
Where do you want to be ten years from now, Jay?
How about five years from now?
I want to participate more in public art projects. I’d like to be part of the public artwork that makes our city beautiful and unique. I want to make things that haven’t been made yet… build custom art for clients who want signature pieces—artwork that tells their story. I can create almost anything to convey someone’s sentiment. I want people to come to me with their ideas, and I will help them bring it to life. I am especially interested in working with builders and architects, in creating custom pieces that can be integrated into new construction.
From what I’ve seen, Jay, you already are bringing ideas to life.
See more of Jay’s work online at: www. jaggededgepdx.com