Observer: Isaac Fortoul | Artist
Isaac Fortoul by Matthew Shrier

Observer: Isaac Fortoul | Artist

Isaac Fortoul by Matthew Shrier

Photography by Matthew Shrier
Interview by Jey Van-Sharp

In our constant quest for a deeper understanding of self, we are regularly drawn to the few who create. These few have been our passive teachers, unaware of their magical effect on our respective souls. These few have brought light to the several seemingly undeserving subject matters; granting perspective, context, and clarity through their visual portrayals. These creative, yet gravitas, few have the uncanny ability to bring gravity to the human story through their nostalgic re-appropriating of ancient myths and their personally selfish, yet universal, abstractions of pain and joy; triggering our souls to orbit and contemplate a deeper meaning. Through their shared story, we have become inspired. Joseph Campbell once stated,

“The function of the artist is the mythologization of the culture and the world.” – Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”

I was recently led to the work of the artist, Isaac Fortoul. I spoke with Mr. Isaac Fortoul, brother of gallery owner Gabriel Fortoul, about his story. I was taken on a journey.

Mr. Isaac Fortoul, son of well-traveled Colombian parents, was born in 1979 in Union City, New Jersey. Union City had a profound impact on the psychology of young Isaac. Union City, to this day, is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States and is predominantly a Spanish speaking community made up of an array of Latin American immigrants. The city’s uniqueness is a community made up of linguistically Spanish speaking people with little cultural similarity outside the Spanish language. This fact, unbeknownst to the general American populace, Union City places Spanish speaking cultures together that would otherwise be geographically thousands of miles away from each other if those respective cultures were residing in their native regions outside of Union City. In addition, Union City being 10 minutes from New York City adds another layer of influence, creating a hyper-Latin American environment. All these elements with the combination of having progressive parents, who allowed young Isaac to be free to explore all creative pursuits, had an influence on his artistic perspective.

Isaac Fortoul by Matthew Shrier


“I’m a proud Latino because of the culturally rich environment I was raised in, and I have the New Yorker mentality which is to hustle, explore opportunity and entrepreneurship.”

Mr. Fortoul took this mentality with him as he left for Art School in Philadelphia, where he was surrounded by other creative people from other parts of the world; pushing his artistic vision and skill even further. The nurturing environment was another pivotal time for Mr. Fortoul, he was about to step into his confidence. “When I was younger I didn’t picture myself showing my art work. When I was in Art School a professor had me reconsider. He told me, I too could show my work in museums and galleries,” says Isaac. With this new set of realities and the dynamism of his brother Gabriel, the two set out West in 2002, settling in Phoenix, Arizona. There the two brothers began taking their talents to another level by embracing the “Do-It-Yourself” philosophy.

“The Internet was exploding […] It gave people the DIY tools. 10 years ago things would be less possible. Art is more democratic”

The brothers, with their perseverance and armed with these new tools, began to achieve local [Phoenix] notoriety.

We use to, on the last Friday of every month, move [our] furniture into one room, using our house as an Art Gallery. This is where we started doing our first shows.”

The benefits of notoriety opened doors to have their shows move into bigger galleries. By 2007, the brothers’ felt they had outgrew the ‘pond,’ and decided to return to the stage of NYC. Upon returning, the brothers where now starting from zero doing art shows. In 2010, New York began to unfold some magic. At the time, there was buzz about town about a new Art Gallery, DD172, owned by Dame Dash, which presented itself as an opportunity.

“My Brother one day went over to check out the gallery, when he saw a car pull up. [Rapper] Jim Jones walked out and into Dash’s [DD172] Gallery, Gabriel walked in and asked to meet Dame. Dame wasn’t there, but Gabriel was told to come by the next day. The next day, Gabriel met Dame, and Dame asked if Gabriel and I could do a mural. Gabriel said yes, and the next day we were painting a mural in the gallery.”

Isaac Fortoul by Matthew Shrier

This magical-event catapulted the Fortoul brothers into being the featured artist of the first show of DD172 gallery. Isaac and his brother now operate the 40owls Gallery in Chelsea, NYC, where the duo help take the visitors on a quest and spiritual awakening. I sat down with Isaac to gather some further perspective:

What is your take on Art and Commerce?
As an artist what is important is to paint all the time. The only way to do so is to have income.

How do you get inspired to begin your artwork?
I get absorbed through symbolism. I get inspired by simple encounters, simple thoughts, walking down the street. Simple moments have a big impression on me. I’m inspired when people stand up [for themselves],

What do these moments of inspiration feel like?
It comes to me in flashes. Flashes of images.. As I paint I may have one idea, and then that idea may change. Some of my paintings are layers of 20 paintings. Mostly in the transient state between sleep and wake. Images come out of my subconscious in a surreal way.

How do you define your relationship with society and your specific work within the arts?
Society? I’m not political because I am a regular a person. I relate to other people through humanly relatable themes like struggle, pain and happiness.

Isaac Fortoul by Matthew Shrier
Is there any Artist that you are inspired by?
Alberto Giacometti, his figurative and gestural art speaks to me.. It depicts human sentiment

There is a lot of buzz about social media, has it had an impact on your life, work, or art? And if so how?
We embrace the cutting edge. It does have an impact, it informs us on what people are talking about, also helps us reach a wider audience. We want as much people to enjoy the work as possible. We are not afraid of the marketing aspects of art.

What are some of your pet peeves about the art world?
I feel art should have a message, as an artist it’s our duty to say something. I want people to feel different, ‘good or bad’ after they see my work. I want them to leave changed!

If you had the power, and maybe you do, what would be your ideal version of society?
How can one speak of ideals? You have to handle yourself; become righteous in yourself. How could one solve the issue of world peace and one can’t go with fighting with a girlfriend

Is the future bright?
I’m excited! More than I have ever been. Yes! Yes! The future is bright!

View Isaac’s work at

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