Isaac Caruso's Mural and Exhibition "Skid Roo" at monOrchid Gallery in Downtown Phoenix

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When Isaac Caruso moved back to his hometown after getting an arts degree in Flagstaff, he says he had one goal: he wanted to show at monOrchid in downtown Phoenix.

"Growing up, and coming to First Fridays when I was younger, it was my favorite gallery," says Caruso. "It's always been a dream of mine to show here."

He wasted no time chasing it down. He introduced himself to monOrchid owner, Wayne Rainey, who was looking for an artist to paint over the "M" on the west-facing wall (which was painted years ago by Joe Pagac for a photo shoot for the local band "The Maine").

Caruso and Wainey talked ideas and came up with an orchid Caruso says was inspired by the ghost orchid from Spike Jonze's Adaptation, based on Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief.

Caruso started the mural during Art Detour. He painted a huge wasp and a gramophone with butterflies that cover the east-facing wall and intersect with the building's iconic black birds, painted by Brian Boner.

Weeks later, he and Rainey regrouped. Rainey wanted another mural on the north-facing wall. Together, they visualized large-scale sunflowers to honor the Valley of the Sunflowers project by Roosevelt Row.

Caruso got sketching. He says most of his drawings are done on Adobe software Illustrator, but that the transfer is done by hand without a projector or a grid. The entire project has taken him almost three month's worth of weekends and sporadic nighttime hours.

The monOrchid walls are 20 feet high and about 125 feet long; Caruso says that the project's definitely been his most challenging, but also his most rewarding -- after all, it landed him an exhibition inside the gallery this month.

"Skid Roo" opened on the First Friday of May. Caruso spoke with and took portraits of a few of his favorite artists, gallery owners, designers, and business owners on Roosevelt Row. From the photographs, he created abstract portraits in illustrator, which he printed on large, heavy paper and installed casually on the gallery walls.

The portraits (including painters Thomas Marcus, Frank Ybarra, Lalo Cota, and Lee Hazel, designer Daniel Davis, Roosevelt Row's Cindy Dach, and the owners of Songbird Coffee and Tea House, which is coming soon to the monOrchid building) are people Caruso says contribute to the culture of Roosevelt Street -- a place he's been hanging out around since he was 17.

Check out Caruso's exhibition tonight during Third Friday at 7 p.m. and through June. The mural, he says, will be up for much longer.

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