He’s being pursued. He grasps a branch, leaves fluttering in the breeze as he runs, leaping above the rooftops... escape... transcendence... ascending... into a pale sky.
On 4th & Brunswick, there is the newest mural in our fair city.
Isaac Fortoul is the artist. Website: fortoulpresents.com and 40owls.com.
He tells me grew up in the city, the man depicted is escaping from the city. He’s holding onto something that is important, trying to save it. The artist is a gentle, soft spoken cat and he seems uncomfortable trying to verbalize what the painting means. Plus it’s cold. The chore of muralizing is more difficult in winter.
People work hard in the city, especially these days where wages are stagnant and often precarious and the one dependable constant is the rising cost of every damn thing. You have to work all the time it seems and someone always want a piece of you –seems that way some days, many days. This painting criticizes the survival of the fittest mentality pervading urban landscapes; it suggests the promise of escape, by showing both the attempt and the anxiety of making that attempt. Maybe the attempt is sufficient enough because in that anxiety Issac includes a tangible feeling of hope.
The illustration reminds me of the work of Don Martin, the Mad Magazine cartoonist. The runner, wearing muted orange jeans, blue jacket and oversized, orange striped sneakers has long, gawky legs. It is not the stride of an athlete, yet he perseveres, bounding over the rooftops, a congested field of hurdles. The running would be easier if he let go of the branches – he might even get away – but if he lets go, why run at all? The suggestion of movement in this mural is uncanny. It feels active, more like an animation clip than a picture on brick exterior. A pretty difficult effect to pull off on a canvas so massive as the side of a building.
The city skyline is drab, dehumanizing, gray and black, the odd geometry of rectangles and partial cylinders is repeated throughout. There’s no deviation from conformity in this Babylon. Claustrophobic and stifling, if the runner’s ascension fails and this nightmarish Gotham swallows him and the precious branch back up, the fate is nothing less than death. One detail I find particularly endearing, at the lower right hand portion of the work, the gray and black buildings spill out of the picture’s frame onto the actual red brick of the back of what is a liquor store, a subliminal reinforcement the relevance of the theme of this mural, a commentary on the urban life in which the physical painting is actually situated.
The branch symbolizes humanity, or perhaps truth. It is grace, the better part of his nature or is he like Prometheus and stolen fire from the gods, or does he carry the branch from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and he’s just another Eden refugee on the run?
While it is not always so apparent, survival is always a moment by moment condition. What strikes me most about this mural of escape, is not in the feeling of being pursued, but the feeling that the man and the precious branch is getting away. He’s going to make it the viewer concludes, at least I do. There’s optimism to the honesty in this witty illustration.
After a few freakily unseasonable warm Saturdays, today winter returned and feels like January. There’s a gelid tinge to the breeze, the sky is overcast. Snowflakes of an anemic flurry appear. The mural, which doesn’t yet have a name, is nearly complete. Isaac is adding only a few small slashes around edges of the building, suggesting welding marks, which echo the stiches around the sneakers and seams of the clothes worn by the figure. The black marks create an almost subconscious symmetry, enhancing the overall balance of the composition, especially the gray and black city which fills half the picture and the upper orange and blue torso against an ultra-beige sky. Although the colors used are muted tones, the sense of movement makes the work seem to shimmer.
Weather permitting, tomorrow Isaac will put a sealant over the exterior to prevent degrading. He’s been out here a few weeks, mainly on Saturday it seems. I happen to pass by this particular corner and it’s been fun watching this mural – and its blend of starkness and transcendence, anxiety and hope, grays and blacks, orange and blues and an ultra-beige – evolve these past few weeks. Isaac Fortoul has made a compelling and original contribution to Jersey City’s growing collection of outdoor murals.