About Michael Meads and Bent, Not Broken
Michael Wayne Meads was born in 1966 in Anniston, Alabama, on the southernmost slope of the
Blue Ridge Mountains. He earned a BFA from Auburn University in 1987, and a MFA from State
University of New York at Albany in 1990. In the early 1990's Meads returned to his native
Alabama, maintaining a studio near the rural community of Eastaboga.
Meads has developed a style as a painter, draftsman and photographer that expresses a deeply
personal narrative filtered through the lens of classical themes and a deep sense of place. From
his rural studio, Meads crafted an intimate visual narrative of Alabama. The surviving Alabama
work offers a glimpse into a South hidden to outsiders – one where tenderness and vulnerability
are revealed in the midst of poverty and violence.
Like many young men born in the Bible Belt, New Orleans held a deep allure to Meads from an
early age. “When I was a boy I remember my father listening to the radio broadcasts of a ‘hellfire
and brimstone’ Baptist minister preaching from Bourbon Street. Even at that young age I knew
there was something about New Orleans that was enticingly forbidden as my father would warn
me repeatedly to never go to that wicked city,” he recalls. He moved with his partner to the
Crescent City in 1998, fulfilling a dream and deepening a relationship with a place that has served
as setting, character and muse for most of his work since. Meads further developed his art
through both subject and medium in New Orleans. He drew from the culture and individuals
around him – from the bars of the French Quarter to the ritual and history of carnival. He became
a New Orleanian. He also became a master draughtsman.
His first job in New Orleans was as a concierge at the Saint Charles Inn. It was here that he daily
executed pen-and-ink drawings from behind the front desk, documenting the complicated and
often bizarre environment of his adopted city. He later served as chair of the art department at
Holy Cross School, an institution steeped in history and tradition, and a place that had a lasting
effect on his life and work.
In August 2005, the floodwaters from the breach of the Federal Levee System in New Orleans
following Hurricane Katrina filled Mead’s home and studio. Most of his life’s work – including the
hand-made works as well as the photographs – were destroyed. Returning to the city in 2007,
Meads quickly realized that there was still much healing to be done before he could live in his
adopted home again. Choosing the arid, isolated environment of the high desert as the place to
heal, in 2009 Meads moved to northern New Mexico, where he continues to work today.
- Bradley Sumrall, Curator of Collections, Ogden Museum of Southern Art