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Two Brothers Transform Phoenix with a Nomadic Art Space

Beckett Mufson

Beckett Mufson

The Fortoul Brothers have made it their mission to make the capital of Arizona into a capital of the art world.

This article originally appeared on Creators.

Origin stories don't get much more American than that of the Fortoul Brothers, whose nomadic art gallery is the spice of Phoenix's art scene.

Isaac and Gabriel Fortoul grew up in Union City, New Jersey, nurturing dreams of becoming artists. After Isaac graduated from art school and Gabriel cut his teeth in the financial industry on Wall Street, the two went into business together. The two started painting together three years ago developing a new style and classification as The Fortoul Brothers. Their traveling pop-up space is called 40Owls, a gag on the phonetics of their shared last name.

The Fortoul Brothers' paintings, murals, sculptures, and installations are indebted to cubism, with their bold lines, blocks of color, and flattened perspectives. They also read like vibrant, wordless comics about relationships, emotions, spirituality, and culture. "We create a multidimensional range of expression, emphasizing spontaneity and the exercise of freedom of technique and execution," the brothers tell Creators. "We have abandoned conventional structure and prefer to bring forward the monumentality and power of life."

They hop between gallery shows, walls, and parties in New York, LA, Colombia, and Phoenix, but have been focusing on building community in the latter, which they think of as "the Wild West" for art. Aside from throwing parties and establishing a clothing line in the city, the Fortouls have become a regular presence at central Arizona's yearly music and art festival, FORM Arcosanti. "Phoenix artists have been taken for granted," Isaac once told a reporter for 944 Magazine . "We want to show that the Valley has something to offer."

We spoke to the Fortoul Brothers to see how they're using their experience in New York and LA to make Phoenix's art scene, already known for their First Friday gallery walks, a force to be reckoned with.

Creators: What is the mission of 40Owls?

Fortoul Brothers: 40Owls is a venue, a window created to physically and virtually display our art in various forms. This window is open to other artists to promote their artistic work, be it performance, film, sculpture, painting, etc. We like to call it a nomadic gallery, as we bring art across fictional or political borders that tend to separate rather than unite people.

What are your goals for the time you spend in Phoenix?

We have been creating a large percentage of our work in Phoenix, a land that bears fruit to the most adaptable and the most resourceful. The desert is full of life and has the potential to be a paradise, depending upon the human impact of those who inhabit it. Many visionaries have elected this area to settle after recognizing an occult dimension within the everyday world of appearances so present on this beautiful landscape.

Native Americans have long appreciated the dramatic displays of nature which has molded their sensitivity and promotes their connection to the sacred. They have been allowed to witness the power of the unseen forces that help shape events in the world.

While working here, we have come to understand the artistic process as the re-discovery of the spiritual or mystical dimension of imagery.

Walk me through an average 40Owls day in Phoenix. Who do you deal with and what are you trying to accomplish?

Presently we are totally dedicated to creating art in its different forms. Our style has matured to the point where we can transfer pure emotion onto the canvas. Our work has developed to a point where the message is clear, direct and universal, addressing all ethnic, philosophical and cultural groups with no distinction. The images represent physical and ideological realms of human experience. These images are ideas or iconic symbols having their origin in inner experiences of intuition, feeling and contemplation.

Where does 40Owls fit in the Phoenix art ecosystem?

Phoenix is a young blossoming city in the process of establishing its powerful roots. The opportunity remains for the cultural community to steer it in a positive direction and thus inspire other major movements. It remains the wild west and thus allows for independence as well as unique artistic spaces.

As a natural evolution of our work, today we are very interested in making our art available to a greater number of people. This year we will elaborate a few large murals in Phoenix and Colombia. We are also working on a number of paintings that will be exhibited in Europe, Los Angeles and Arizona.

The murals in Phoenix will serve as a backdrop for a couple of community gardens being created to involve people in a young movement to grow organic food, acclimate tropical fruit trees to this area and to reforest the desert in order to bring it back to the fertile land that it once was. We not only identify with this movement, but try to contribute hands on for a more sustainable world.

What's next for 40Owls?

Art is a very powerful tool to convey a feeling of balance and harmony to the world. Such should be its purpose. We find a great deal of joy for the opportunity to create art in its three major dimensions; aesthetics, significance and purpose.

Screenshot via @FortoulBrothers

Follow the Fortoul Brothers on their website and Instagram.