Here's the Story Behind the Fortoul Brothers' New Mural

New Fortoul Brothers mural while it was a work in progress.
New Fortoul Brothers mural while it was a work in progress. Heard Museum
Artists Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul, who call themselves the Fortoul Brothers, are creating a new mural in downtown Phoenix. It’s going up on a building that houses three radio stations, located at 840 North Central Avenue. The project is being spearheaded by the Heard Museum.

The duo started painting a north-facing wall on Sunday, April 8. When finished, the mural will wrap around to a west-facing wall as well. They expect it will take about 10 days to paint the entire mural.

The mural is 30 feet high, and the main wall runs about 80 feet across. It's titled Freedom is Back. At first, they planned to use the design from a painting ArtLink featured in its Art Detour 30 exhibition at Bentley Projects. But the T-shape design didn’t suit the long wall, so they created something else.

The mural depicts Isaac’s 12-year-old daughter riding a horse that faces east. “There’s a feeling of freedom and enjoying everything that the earth has provided for us,” Isaac says of the design. “She’s looking up, because it’s about honor and pride in yourself, this place, and the city.”

Human figures and elements of nature, such as water and the sun, are prominent in the Fortoul Brothers’ body of work. “What’s important here is the interaction between humans and animals and Mother Nature,” Isaac says.

The artists feel a special connection to the space, because it’s located near a gallery they used to operate on Central Avenue. “We’ve been looking at this wall and wanting to paint it for 15 years,” he says.

They got the opportunity because Isaac reached out to the Heard Museum several months ago, after hearing the museum wanted to create partnerships with local artists. Heard staffers were already in talks with the building’s owners, so they worked with the Fortoul Brothers to make the mural project happen.

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The Fortoul Brothers with the design for their Roosevelt Row mural.
Heard Museum
But Gabriel and Isaac haven’t been painting alone.

They’ve had help from several American Indian youths, and other community members. “Their eyes are so wide open with innocence, and they have a burst of energy and light,” Gabriel says of the young people he’s been guiding along as they paint parts of the piece. “We want them to realize that they can pursue a career in the arts. When I was young, no one ever told me that.”

It’s not their first project involving youth.

In January, they started work on a 200-foot mural at Garfield Elementary School. That mural also wraps around two walls, and borders a new school garden. The mural was commissioned by the Mollen Foundation, which promotes healthy lifestyles in children.

Both murals are part of the Fortoul Brothers’ growing body of art in public spaces.

Back in 2016, they painted a small-scale mural called Peace & Light at Windsor.

They’ve also painted two large sneaker sculptures for a Phoenix Suns project called The Sole of PHX. One of those sneakers sits on the platform for Valley Metro Light Rail’s Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street station, just across the street from the building for their latest mural.

The Fortoul Brothers also designed a public art installation for Valley Metro, which will be part of the new south Phoenix light rail line scheduled to open in 2023.

It’s been a whirlwind year for the artists.

Their designs were featured on three main stages for the inaugural Lost Lake Festival held at Steele Indian School Park in October 2017. They created casual fashions and accessories sold at Phoenix General, did live drawing at Phoenix Art Museum, and showed work in Randy Slack’s “Chaos Theory” exhibition at Legend City Studios.

Now, the Fortoul Brothers are looking ahead to working with the Heard Museum in other ways.

They’ve created a limited-edition print of their design for the Roosevelt Row mural, which will be for sale at the museum during First Friday on May 4. On Saturday, June 9, they’ll participate in a lecture at the museum titled “America: Alternative Practice in Public Art.”

The dedication for their new mural happens at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 27. It’s free and open to the public.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble