Artist Huey Lightbody is Something New in Petersburg, VA


During our recent visit to the Petersburg Area Art League, we had the pleasure of meeting Huey Gastón Lightbody, an artist based in Petersburg. Lightbody aptly labels his works as Brutalism, evident at first glance with their untamed brushstrokes and contorted, anime-inspired illustrations gracing the canvases. Contrary to expectations, his art is not a mere reflection of himself; instead, it passionately expresses his defiance against the dark forces consuming his thoughts, serving as a plea stemming from his self-imposed seclusion in Petersburg. Although the town is not devoid of art, it stands at the precipice of a nascent phase, brimming with potential for an enchanting renaissance. Huey, meanwhile, finds himself at the heart of something cool, right in downtown.

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Courtesy of Huey Lightbody

Who are you? And what do you do?

I’m a visual artist and a DJ. I also dance a little bit, you know, I like to keep movement a part of my practice. I’ve studied yoga and things like that. So I understand the healing aspects of movement. I like to incorporate movement into my work and definitely struggle with ADHD and needing stimulus. Keeping myself stimulated in healthy ways is something I like to incorporate into my practice as well. 

I like to put myself into anything where I feel like I’m expressing or communicating non-verbally. Throughout my journey, I’ve needed to do that in order to cope essentially. 

Has that been going on for a while?

Yeah, man, ever since I was a kid.

Were you a problem child? Was your mom like, “Why is he always moving around?”

A little bit. I was a little off the walls. But, when I was a kid, I felt like I was a sponge to certain things my family was moving through. I absorbed a lot, but then I didn’t really know how to communicate what I felt, or I didn’t feel like it was my place to communicate those things. I had to find other outlets. So I started with writing, I used to write stories. I used to be really into poetry. 

In elementary school, I would sit with my English teachers and write poetry. They would pull me to the side to talk to me about what I was writing– I guess they thought it was really good. But as time went on, I became really inspired by drawing and illustration. I started to incorporate the two. And it kind of led me into making my own little form of language. I took the way I wrote in school in the English language and tried to make my own language out of it. And I think that was really me just trying to communicate non-verbally.

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Self Study 2022

And that happens now in your painting– you call it brutalism. It does seem very, almost primitive, with touches of anime and hip-hop. Your symbology repeats in several pieces. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

I feel like I really noticed it when I started getting into middle school and high school. I would fill pages up with these symbols. Eventually, I was in this thing called AVID, which was a college prep class. And I would go up on the board, and I’d write these things, and my teachers and my college mentors would be like, “Why do you write like this? Do you draw?”

That helped me segue way back into drawing because I realized where it came from. The way I started to construct drawings or symbols was me communicating nonverbally the emotions I was feeling, you know, the emotions through attachment, addictive tendencies, and seeking stimulus. And it felt so raw and jagged, these were emotions I felt like I just couldn’t shake, they felt so real. I needed a way to communicate without it getting painful to talk about. I needed to create a sense of certainty where people could look at something and understand exactly what it is.

So the work for you is almost therapy. 


Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Photo by @astragale__

Are those feelings that you’re talking about, isolation and addiction, something that you’re observing in other people? Or is that something that you’re dealing with? 

I think it’s one and the same. We’re all so reflective, and we deal with it on different levels. I shouldn’t even say deal with it– we grow through it all on different levels. I want people to know they’re not alone, because I want to know that I’m not alone in that journey. I’ve moved through my own moments in that, I’ve gone to adult/child meetings and Addiction Anonymous meetings. Even though my experience may not have been as severe as someone else’s, I feel like it was still necessary for my own healing.

People in these groups come from all walks of life, and maybe this person doesn’t have it as bad, but they still understand, and they’re still here with you. It was beautiful to feel that. So I want to be that person as I communicate my journey, not only for the people around me but for myself. To talk about it in vulnerable spaces is healing for everyone involved. 

That seems like something that your generation wants to do– sharing experiences for the purpose of healing. So, you’re making this art and you dance and you’re DJ’ing, is it all working? How do you feel?

I feel so good, I feel thankful for it all. The beauty in it is, even though I’m communicating this large portion of my life that has been painful, it has also been beautiful. It’s helping me to break these conditionings that I’ve gone through from the people who cultivated me, my family, and my parents, not that they ever did anything necessarily wrong. It’s opening the door for this new kind of uncomfortableness. I’m so thankful to be able to grow through what caused these tendencies for attachment and addiction. I feel like I’m healing through the source of it all, you know?

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Courtesy of Huey Lightbody

Yeah, I mean, looking at your work, it starts a conversation. You recently had an art show in Petersburg, what was the response to your work like? 

It was beautiful. I had some of my peers come through and I was presenting some new work. So, it was a first for a lot of people. I feel like my work has changed a little bit as I refine my understanding of the things I’ve been through and what the world has been through. I saw tears man, and that was a blessing for me.

One of the reasons I wanted to place myself in Petersburg, aside from the studio space and the treasures that are there, was because I see it as a place where people do shelter themselves, they don’t talk about things that are happening widely. There are some deep energies there, but I see it as energy to be transmuted, energy to be pushed in a more positive direction. I feel like what I communicated in that area really changed their perspective on vulnerability, communication, art, and culture. And it’s hard sometimes, but there is a culture there that is ready to be tapped into. I wanted to shine a light on that.

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Photo by @foreva.suave

I think up until recently when you would think about Petersburg art, you would think about non-conflict or surface-level kind of work, which is fine, but that really doesn’t touch on what’s happening in the city of Petersburg. As an artist, do you see more people coming in? Do you see the conversation changing?

I do. I think it’s a large opportunity for artists to cultivate their inner culture, to cultivate an understanding of who they are as an artist. A lot of my time spent there has been challenging. I started a gallery and I ran it for two years and it didn’t work out, because the culture there isn’t ready– though I can’t blame it solely on that. I definitely went through my own inner things that contributed to that as well. 

But it would have been easier if the culture was there. It would have been easier with the necessary environment. The art scene there, if you want to call it that, is still growing. It’s still budding, it’s still in its early stages. And with me being there, like I said, I found my challenges within that. I’m actually thankful for it, it’s made me kind of a hermit at times, which can be unhealthy, but it allowed me to cultivate new things within myself as an artist. The time spent alone enabled me to find deeper things that my audience hasn’t seen outwardly, or wasn’t communicated vulnerably before. So I give thanks to the atmosphere for all that it is. 

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Photo by @astragale__

Does it feel like you’re at the beginning of something?

Yeah, right at the precipice of something. I came there right after the pandemic, right as things started to wean off. I got there on February 5 of 2021.

Why did you initially decide to go there?

I had lived in Richmond for about three years. I moved from Virginia Beach because I was going to VCU, but I ended up dropping out. So I went back home to Virginia Beach and after a while, I was like, “I need a studio space. I need to find something.” My room was cluttered with my paintings. I started looking and I found that space in Petersburg almost immediately, and I saw that the price wasn’t too expensive for an open warehouse, so I decided to just pack it up and take it over there. 

Do you think your peers in the art community had anything to say about that? Like wondering why you would go from Virginia Beach, which has a scene, to Petersburg?

They might have been worried– it sounds so crazy. But for me, personally, I felt like the direction I was going with painting didn’t align in Virginia Beach. I had an art representative there, he was a beautiful guy, and he would try to take me around to different galleries, but when it comes to painting there, you see a lot of turtle paintings or beach stuff. You know, that’s the stuff that was sold there. 

There are a lot of wealthy people there who are collectors and I’ve met some really great people in Virginia Beach, but there was also a lot of distraction. The scene out there is very music-oriented, and lots of party culture, you know what I mean? To be wrapped up in those things, that’s not where I wanted to identify my upcoming in art with. I love Virginia Beach, it’s where I grew up and it’s a beautiful place. There’s so much culture and love there, but I needed to cultivate something internally. I needed to cultivate the individual that I was. 

I felt like I could get washed out there. I could get distracted, I could fall into the hype of certain things and I don’t want to build off of the hype or the scene, I need to build within myself. 

So you needed to have some isolation. 


I can see how, if you have temptations for addiction, being in Virginia Beach, and being around your friends can slow you down– not that you have any ill will towards them. 

I thought it was a beautiful opportunity. When it comes to painting, there is this act of just sitting with the self. That may be involved in all acts of creation, but I guess I’m speaking of my experience with it. So that can be really painful at times. There are times I break down while painting. I’m moving my brush or the graphite, putting that movement into my work, and it’s all body– I’m sweating while painting. That’s why I dance, and I have music playing, you know, all of these mediums are coming together. Everything’s coming out blood, sweat, and tears. Literally, there’s blood inside some of my paintings, full disclosure.

When I had the gallery in Petersburg, I did a six-month residency with a good friend of mine, Jay Young. He was even like, “Yo, I love this place. I’m loving the way I’ve cultivated my work and moved through it. I see why you’re here.” He almost moved here, though there were certain things that kept them from it, but he was ready. He was like, “I want to be in the studio right next to you.”

Seeing some of the artists there, and the amount of energy that they hold– sometimes I feel like they’re not even aware of the amount of energy or the emotions they exude. Man, I feel like that place is this funny vortex with so much energy to be transmuted and utilized, and it draws certain people there for that reason. I do see a lot more artists flocking to that area, I do see people noticing the studio spaces that are there and the culture that they could build. It’s one thing for me to run to a place that has the culture ready, not to say I don’t want to do that ever because I definitely see myself moving and touching base with other cultures and other cities in the future, but here, I feel like I can really push something. I can push the culture and help people to be inspired by it, and I’ve already seen that happening. I really believe that people can go there and build something new. 

Yeah, I think you’re having a new conversation with Petersburg. From the outside looking in. I think that generally, people see Petersburg as still segregated in a lot of ways. There are not a lot of opportunities for young Black artists, specifically. Though now that the Art League is putting up a show with you and have some other stuff lined up, things may be evening out. No one should be excluded, but Black voices definitely need to be incorporated in a city that’s majority Black.

Exactly. And some people don’t even realize that.

They’re all surprised like, “There are Black artists here?” It’s like, “No, they’ve been here and there just haven’t been outlets for them.”

That’s something that I noticed when I moved there and started walking around.

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Photo by @foreva.suave

Yeah, as soon as I met you, I was like, “You’re the only Black artist I know there.” So if I noticed that off the jump, I know It must have been pretty profound when you got there. 

And then knowing the history there too because you have Pocahontas Island, which is one of the oldest Black settlements on the east coast at least, maybe in all of America. Just knowing that and knowing how many Black people are there, how many people of color are there with Native Heritage is like, “Wow.” And it’s all untapped, it’s not talked about and it is wildly segregated. 

Like where I am in Old Towne, all those businesses are predominantly run by white people, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t work there anymore. I’ve had my bad experiences with a lot of the businesses, and I’ve gotten to a point where it’s not doable. I’ve had my run-ins with certain people in political power, who hindered me from growing. I see the ways that I need to spread myself out a little bit, and not let this community be the only thing that I’m relying upon for growth.

While I give love back to the city, it doesn’t have to be to these particular individuals, but to the light of that place, because there is light and so much love there. It is tough being one of the few Black artists there, but there are other artists that have moved in. I don’t know if you know Nastassja Swift, she does these felt masks and felt sculptures, and they’re so beautiful. She recently moved out there and got a studio with her partner for some of the same reasons I have. And then you got The Haus on Market that popped up out there and they’re doing wonderful. So I see it slowly. Some people like myself, are attracted to the type of adversity that it is and growing through it, and making something beautiful out of it.

Old Towne is so cool. And then the downtown area is gigantic empty buildings. I like to tell people, because a lot of my family came from real estate, that there are beautiful things to cultivate here. It’s like a canvas to me, and being there feels so open, and sometimes I’m walking and I visualize what could be and it’s inspiring for me when I come back to my work.

It’s only 30 minutes from downtown Richmond too. Like, people freak out, acting like you’ve gone so far. 

Yeah, it’s like going to Norfolk, know what I mean?

Huey Lightbody, Petersburg artist 2023
Courtesy of Huey Lightbody

Yeah, it’s one neighborhood to another. So talking about your work, what do you have coming up? What are you excited about?

I used to do my own exhibits. For a long while, I wasn’t really happy with gallery representation in certain spaces, so I avoided it. I would put together a lot of my solo exhibitions myself, and I’m really looking forward to doing that again. I’ve found I can’t necessarily sit back and wait around. I don’t have any set showings, but I am putting together a new body of work for myself to exhibit, and I do plan to take it elsewhere. I’ve done a lot of my shows in Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Petersburg, and I kind of want to take it a little north.

Then also getting back into helping artists in the ways that I was trying to before. I was working a little bit with NFTs and digital assets where the certificate of authenticity was that token and when that’s collected, the physical piece will be inherited by the collector. So, I want to get back into that and re-navigate it in a different way. 

And hopefully, I’ll segue myself back into working as a gallery owner. I want to be able to help artists have what I haven’t had, and I do eventually want to end up placing some foundation back up north, but not necessarily leaving Petersburg. I want to build something there that can be used by other artists as a space for journey, and a space to learn about themselves. When I leave my studio, I want to cultivate it in a way so I can rent it out to the next artist, I want them to be able to experience what I got to experience.

Most artists don’t get to experience a studio space like that, a studio space where you can lay your head, that’s a live/workspace. That’s my goal, to place things in a position where I’m helping other artists build in the place that I was able to build and continue to grow through myself and focus back on my work.

I feel like I’ve been giving so much energy to these other things and I want to get back to that point where I’m putting that love back into myself and investing in myself and my showings and yeah, just giving back the love in the best ways that I can.

Give Huey Lightbody a follow

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

more in art

Timmy Danger and Punks for Presents Wrestle for Charity

I found Timmy Danger lounging casually beside a fire pit, drinking a dark beer. It was a Friday afternoon in the dying days of summer, and the man whose last name is "Danger" was looking decidedly docile. He greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake wearing...

Your Artistic Passport To the 2023 First Fridays Fall Kickoff

Richmond, that vibrant crucible of culture and creativity, unfolds yet again in its monthly tradition: First Fridays. This season—ah, the dawn of Fall—the experience metamorphoses into an affair of citywide celebration nestled in the artsy nucleus of Broad Street and...

In the Heat of the Night Vol. 10: Sizzlin’ Summer BBQ

In the River City, when the summer sun dips below the horizon, the nightlife ignites, pulsing with a rhythm all its own, a rocking vibe that captures the city’s true spirit. Our on-the-ground lensman, Jody Adams, has been out there, guitar pick in one hand, camera in...

Pin It on Pinterest