Nearly 25 years ago, Issac ‘Ike’ Moody robbed the Owensboro Days Inn — a memory vividly etched in his mind. Now, he spends most days at his home in Louisville in his backyard garden, cherishing time with family and friends and crafting uniquely exquisite portraits that he sells all over the world.
Moody’s present works range from lyrical geniuses such as John Prine and Bob Dylan to casual street performers that he encounters. His most recent pieces feature Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the latter of which was commissioned as a gift for a federal judge at an upcoming ceremony.
“Since spending 10-plus years incarcerated, I went on to have the opportunity to — for all intents and purposes — spend 10 years wandering the streets of various cities, surviving through grace, charity, and art sales,” he said. “I love to meet and draw street people, performers and wanderers. Everyone has a story to tell. Mine is chronicled in my art.”
The son of a Southern Baptist minister, Moody moved to Owensboro from Pittsburgh in 1991 and enrolled at Owensboro Senior High School. Facing suspension, his tenure as a Red Devil ended one English credit shy of graduating. He has since obtained his GED and cherishes the memories formed at OHS.
“The move to Owensboro was quite a culture shock — my dad being a preacher was much more of a big deal down there,” he said. “I almost graduated from Owensboro. I was a proud student and played soccer there.”
He turned himself in following the Days Inn debacle and faced a judge for the first time. In the following months, his dad Dwight Moody took a ministry position at Georgetown College. He followed his father there only to have his misfortunes tag along, too.
“The judge basically told me I could go to school, work, church and wherever my dad would take me,’ he said. “I went to Georgetown for one year where, ironically, I failed the same art course twice.”
In the ensuing months, Moody faced conviction for bank robberies in Lexington and northern Kentucky that equated to 11 years of incarceration. In between sentences, and at the age of 23, he had an epiphany.
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” he said. “I drew a couple of goofy pictures of my friend Mary. I walked all the way across Lexington to deliver them and told her I was going to be an artist.”
Her reply was simple: “Great, now all you have to do is do it.”
“She looked past the drawings and watered that belief with her words of encouragement,” he said. “She could have said anything, but that nourishment was impeccable.”
Incarceration incited an imagination within Moody that allowed whatever drawing utensils he could find that day to race across a plethora of surfaces.
“I woke up every day in search of something to draw on, something to draw with, and someone to draw,” he said. “I would go out in the yard and ask people to sit for sketches. Three sketches a day was a good day.”
With a dwindling commissary fund, Moody’s dad along with Owensboro residents John and Patricia Williams organized an art show to sell his work. A portion of the funds raised was also used to create an academic fund for Moody’s son.
“I have to give credit to my dad for so much; he was and remains steadfast in his contributions to promoting my artwork. I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” he said. “I generally sent 30-40 drawings home each month in make-shift boxes, and they always made it there. I’m a big fan of the postal service.”
The elder Moody resides on the coast in Georgia, where he continues his works in ministry — just one phone call and an 11-hour drive away from his son’s side.
“Through all the drama and the trauma, Ike has inspired me with his resolve to live and flourish as a person and as an artist,” Dwight Moody said. “He also gave us two wonderful grandchildren, Clara Mae and Sam, both of whom are flourishing.”
John Williams is good friends with Dwight and boasts a sizeable collection of Ike’s works at his home on the west side of Owensboro. Recently, Williams commissioned Moody to craft a portrait of the late John Prine for his wife. Moody promised it would be the only one of its type.
“Ike once sent me a drawing that he had created on the cardboard of a toilet paper package, he used tootsie roll wrappers to craft the border — that’s how creative he was,” Williams said. “What I like about his art is how genuine it is. He has the confidence to sketch all over a surface. It’s like you can see inside of his heart.”
Several of Moody’s pieces feature his good friend and fellow inmate Louis Francis Saffell, more commonly referred to as Woodstock by close friends. Saffell played a pivotal role in keeping Moody’s spirits high while incarcerated. Saffell died in 2016.
“He was the best friend I’ve ever had,” Moody said. “Being friends with him permitted me to be myself. I credit him for his amazing spirit.”
For decades, Moody’s most notable accolade while living in Owensboro was being crowned champion of the “Tough Man Competition” in a smoke-filled Sportscenter. Fast forward 25 years, and his art can be found scattered across town, gracing the walls of homes and businesses alike.
His recent efforts in life are rooted in a 21-syllable word crafted by Saffell that highlights many of his drawings, ‘atomicatalysticatastrophenomenea.’ Interpretation, of course, is left to the viewer.
“We have in every moment, an opportunity to endow seemingly meaningless and negative things with meaning through our actions, and that’s what I aspire to… the phenomena of catalyzing through a catastrophe. It’s especially fitting today,” he said. “Challenges tackled with optimism yield the greatest returns.”