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Jay Isaac

Mural Study for the Future Site of an Artist Union (2020)

Third floor, adjacent to meeting room, The Barakett Room.

Mural Study

Jay Isaac

Acrylic on canvas
49 ½" x 140 ¼"

Mural Studies
Paul Petro Contemporary Art
(15 January -13 February 2021)

Exhibition Information

Isaac’s interest in the mural format began in 2001, when he created a large wall painting at the former MOCA Toronto location in North York for the exhibition Synthetic Psychosis. Recently, in his exhibition Midnight Repairs at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in 2019, he exhibited two large horizontal works that formally and conceptually referenced the mural. One of these large-scale acrylic on canvas paintings was simply titled ‘Mural’ and examined how communication and consumption intersect.

In January of 2020, Isaac was the recipient of a Chalmers Fellowship through the Ontario Arts Council. The fellowship was solely for the purpose of research and involved examining the two most prolific periods in modern history of public art production: Soviet era countries between 1960 and 1990 and the United States during the New Deal era (1933-1943). Isaac proposed a correlation between these separate periods and regions with opposing social and political agendas. Even though their political concerns were greatly different, the murals produced by artists from both regions had connections in content and motivation. Both were state-sponsored and enacted on a large scale, communicating social and governmental priorities of the time. What remains are works of art that speak to the failure of ideals, but also to the success and endurance of images regardless of political intention.

The works presented in Mural Studies were created from this research and present possibilities of how the mural can operate under current circumstances. The large-scale paintings act as propositions for something other than a gallery painting and communicate their potential as images made for a particular place. It is this characteristic to exist as multiple things simultaneously that allows these works to convey diverse functionality. They are murals, paintings, political cartoons, and public art proposals at the same time. Pipes within a building release an abstracted liquid, traffic lights hover above broken earth, houses fit into a composition made for the side of an apartment building, workers engage in some indiscernible work. The imagery mirrors the intention of the paintings by depicting infrastructure of a city and society as both functional and dysfunctional.

Unlike a painting in a gallery, the public mural can address the follies and hypocrisies of art within a capitalist system. Murals are intended to be easily accessible, exist in public space, are historically political and social-minded in content and cannot be sold more than once. Unlike the art market, there is no mural market. It is this non-reliance on a biased system of commerce that allows for the format of the mural to become a relevant proposition.

Because these paintings are not painted directly on walls in public space, a tension and contradiction emerge within the exhibition. This however is necessary to emphasize an essential premise of the works: that any gesture or thing existing within the framework of commercial art production will always have contradictory aspects to its socio-political thesis. Like the idealism of Soviet and New Deal era mural production, Isaac’s new paintings point to the impossibility and absurdity of ideals but also to the possible success of painting to function as a proposal for nuanced communication.

Exhibition information courtesy of Paul Petro Contemporary Art.


Jay Isaac (b. 1975, New Brunswick, Canada) studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver, BC (1993-1997) and at the Cardiff Institute of Art and Design, Cardiff, Wales (1996). His work has been widely exhibited, with notable exhibitions at Galleria d’art moderna di Bologna, Bologna; MOCA Toronto; Mercer Union, Toronto; Galerie Kunstbuero, Vienna; The Power Plant, Toronto; White Columns, New York; Cue Art Foundation, New York; Agnes Etherington Art Center, Kingston, ON; Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC; The AGO, Toronto; CAG, Vancouver; Night Gallery, LA; Monte Clark Gallery, Toronto/Vancouver; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, NB;, Montreal; Galleri Benoni, Copenhagen; McIntosh Gallery, London, ON; Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Toronto.

Isaac was co-founder and publisher of Hunter and Cook Magazine (2009-2011) and founded and ran the @nationalgalleryofcanada Instagram account (2015-2016). He has been the recipient of numerous awards including, most recently, Canada Council project grants (2017, 2018, 2021) an Ontario Arts Council grant (2018), the Chalmers Art Fellowship funded by the Ontario Arts Council (2019), an Ontario Arts Council Exhibition Assistance Grant (2020). Isaac's work can be found in numerous public and corporate collections in Canada. Isaac lives and works in Toronto, Canada.

Biography courtesy of Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

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