When the 40 Owls Gallery opens next spring in lower Manhattan with its debut exhibit, “Distinct Ethnic Magical Tales,” the event will be the culmination of months of artistic teasers posted to the galley’s website. Since November, four-minute webisodes have been posted to www.40Owls.com featuring the three artists whose work will be featured in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition: Jersey City resident Isaac Fortoul, Jersey City native and resident Nyugen Smith, and Hector Ruiz.
Curated by Fortoul’s brother and business partner Gabriel Fortoul, also a Jersey City resident, “Distinct Ethnic Magical Tales,” will be, he said, “three solo exhibitions. Yet the theme is something that ties the three artists together. They’ll each have their own unique installations and artwork. But there is a common uniting thread, which is that theme. The concept of the videos was, we wanted to give people a taste of what each artist is like, what their art is about. Each week we build on the prior episodes. We’re giving you a teaser on the artists and the exhibition.”
‘They are using their cultures and their art to [comment on] daily issues that they’re seeing.’ – Gabriel Fortoul
Drawing from the past
Based on the six webisodes that have been posted to the gallery’s web site thus far, Fortoul, Smith, and Ruiz each have their own distinct aesthetic. Yet, their styles seem as if they grew from the same artistic seed.
Isaac Fotoul is a painter and illustrator who does some installations – some of which he can be seen creating on the streets of Hudson County when the weather is nice. Ruiz also has a background as a painter, but is currently working as a sculptor. Smith paints as well, but said he is now creating art pieces using found objects.
“Currently [in my work] I’m dealing with how colonialism has affected Africans and the West Indies – psychologically, culturally, architecturally,” said Smith, who holds a degree in fine art from Seton Hall University and who teaches art at St. Peters Prep.
Smith said he met the Fortouls several years ago when he managed the now-closed Lex Leonard Gallery in Jersey City.
“With this exhibit, ‘Distinct Ethnic Magical Tales,’ you’re getting three different stories,” said curator Gabriel Fortoul. “Each artist is heavily influenced by their background, their culture. Through their work each artist is bringing to life their inspiration from their cultures and their youths and how they grew up. They are using their cultures and their art to [comment on] daily issues that they’re seeing, whether they be social issues, or political issues, or what have you.”
Neither Fortoul nor Smith stated it explicitly, but the exhibit seems likely to explore issues around the relationship between Western and non-Western cultures.
Isaac Fortoul is a Union City, New Jersey, native but is of Colombian descent. Ruiz was born in Texas to Mexican-American parents. Ruiz, who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, also has some American Indian heritage as well. Smith, who is of Haitian and Trinidadian decent, was born in Jersey City, but spent the first several years of his life living in Trinidad.
“What you’re getting is the story of us, of each of us as artists and how our backgrounds influence and inform the artistic choices that we make in terms of the colors that we use, the subject matter that we choose to focus on, and what objects we use in our work,” said Smith, who noted that the legacy of African oral history and storytelling are particularly evident in his work.
The ‘magic’ in the message
None of this is to say that they exhibit will be full of weighty social issues, according for Fortoul. At least some of the work featured in the exhibit, he said, will also draw from the magic the artists see in everyday life.
“When you’re a child, everything is magical because you haven’t been influenced yet by the media and the culture,” he said. “So, if you grew up in a city, you sometimes see a flower growing between a crack in the pavement, and to a child, that can be magical.”
To learn more about Fortoul, Smith, and Ruiz, and their upcoming exhibition, visit www40Owls.com.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.