Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Art is the Center of the Real World

Isaiah Zagar


I need help writing this entry. I really do.

I had an idea of what I wanted to say when I sat down at my computer today , but I found it was too difficult to narrow the scope of complexities that comprise Isaiah and Julia Zagar. Each thought I had about the subject would spin off into an entirely new direction worthy of pages and pages of writing. They are so interesting and have done so much. It would be impossible to write about it all here. You might want to start to get a better sense of who this entry is about by first listening to this NPR radio spot about their stint in the Peace Corp. : CLICK HERE.

To merely say that Isaiah is an internationally-recognized artist who has had his work commissioned for public spaces and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in sculpture doesn't even scratch the surface in formulating an overall picture of this man. He is so much more than that. And to say that Julia is just Isaiah's wife, is doing a disservice to them both. They are the dynamic duo.

Julia travels the world, collecting items for her Eyes Gallery in Philadelphia...that is, when she isn't lecturing about Frida Kahlo or assisting Isaiah with his mural making or helping raise funds for Philadelphia's Magic Gardens or engaging in some other interesting endeavor. She has just returned from a trip to Peru.
Julia Zagar (L) with Peruvian woman



Recently, a documentary feature film about Isaiah and Julia was released by their son, Jeramiah. It was produced by Herzliya Films in association with Red Light Films. Titled, “In A Dream”, the film, which is already getting rave reviews, was awarded the Emerging Visions Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival and is scheduled to screen this weekend at the Philadelphia and Full Frame Film Festivals. The official trailer, stills and other information about the film can be found at the Herzliya Films Web Site. If you are in the Philadelphia area, you don't want to miss it!

I am far from the first person to say that Isaiah had a profound impact on her life and I doubt I’ll be the last. He lit a spark under me. He has lit sparks under a lot of people. It seems that every time I turn around, someone else is talking about him.

Isaiah was my first mosaic teacher. The experience, for me, was an emotional catharsis. I worked with Isaiah and a group of other students who built a large mosaic mural in five days. Afterward, I wept for about three. It was truly a liberating and empowering experience. Even now, two years later, I can’t fully describe what it was like.

Stacy Alexander and Isaiah Zagar (He's the one with the beard...)

I made a little QuickTime video of the class that you can watch below or by clicking HERE.



Over the last forty years, Isaiah has covered more than 50,000 square feet of Philadelphia with stunning mosaic murals.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens are an ongoing project started in 1994 by Isaiah, who's life's mission has been to gentrify, beautify, and re-dream the city. His distinctive art is present throughout the city, with a main focus that weaves in and around the South Street corridor. There are currently over 100 murals on public city walls, and new murals popping up consistently. The glass and pottery creations reflect the neighborhood, the true spirit of Philadelphia and the history of a local art revolution.

Read all about how this mosaic wonderland came about HERE

A little more than a year ago, Isaiah and Julia, spent five days with us here in the Bay Area. We had the honor of showing them around the San Francisco and were thoroughly entertained by Isaiah’s stories and his vast knowledge of the arts. He struck us as being every bit as complex as the multitudes of fascinating mosaic murals he makes in or around Philadelphia's South Street. Equally as fascinating, Julia adds the spice to the mix. They seem to balance one another perfectly.
Julia and Isaiah Zagar Photograph by Stacy Alexander

Isaiah writes:
“In 1959 when I was 19 years old I was introduced to the folk art environment of Clarence Schmidt, My Mirrored Hope, Woodstock, NY USA. Soon after in 1960 there was a groundbreaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, NY USA. Because that exhibition included assemblages of artists like Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Curt Schwitters, Antonio Gaudi along side of untrained brickaleurs Clarence Schmit, Simon Rodia and Joseph Ferdinand Cheval that gave me as a trained artist the rationale to include their concepts as manifestations of fine art. At a crucial time in my life it allowed me to begin what could be called a life's work making the city of Philadelphia PA USA into a labyrinthine mosaic museum that incorporates all my varied knowledge and skills.”







In RawVision, Len Davidson says:

Zagar knows energy. This entryway wall, a huge expenditure for most, is but another pebble in the sand for him. Today he chips away at a hallway on South Street; next week he will attack the stairwell; next month the exterior; until finally this tireless mason/artist has covered one more three-story brick building/canvas – inside and out – transforming it into an extraordinary ceramic and glass environment.


Here are some additional photos of Isaiah and his work:









To read more about Isaiah and his art or to make a donation to Philadelphia's Magic Garden, please CLICK HERE.

I met Isaiah at Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland.




"Art is the Center of the Real World"

Isaiah Zagar


1 comment:

Bethel of Bethania said...

What a fabulously colourful life ... true art ... OOroo ... Bethel

Stacy Alexander