By Fay Schneider
*All photos obtained from 40Owls
One particularly beautiful night a couple weeks ago, I found myself walking home, down Central Avenue, from dinner at Desoto Central Market. Pops of color strained through the dark glass windows of a brick building and, as I felt compelled to enter, I realized I had stumbled across the gem of an art gallery I heard raved about around campus. I was promptly greeted by Bison, a sweet little puppy whose happy smile seemed to be the perfect entrance to the emotion of the Fortoul Brothers’ 40Owls Gallery.
The brothers, Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul, are American-born Colombian artists, raised in what Gabriel Fortoul described as a creative home in New Jersey. “My father can pretty much build anything,” he said. “My mother is also a very creative person.”
“Growing up in a Latino community in northern New Jersey—just outside of Manhattan—there was a lot of music, colors, food, smells—just the way of life was definitely inspiring,” Fortoul recalled. While his brother Isaac was in school, he spent a few years on Wall Street, working as a stock broker. After his brother’s graduation, he left the bustle of economic business and the two decided to start a “cultural house.”
When I asked him why they chose Phoenix to start their creative endeavors, he explained that it was mostly by chance. “I had never been here before,” Gabriel Fortoul said. “I had a one-way ticket.”
Before becoming active in the downtown Phoenix art community, the Fortoul Brothers got their start designing t-shirts, turning their 5th Street house into a gallery for the public on First Fridays. The two then opened a boutique, multitasking in fashion and art, all while keeping a steady flow of collaboration between artists both here and in New York. “Each show we did was a progression of the one we did before,” Gabriel Fortoul recounted. He and his brother began working more closely with artists in New York and had their first east coast show in a denim boutique in Soho. The environment was exhilarating for the brothers who began to grasp their full potential within New York’s art world. However, the desire to obtain a name of their own and a greater amount of power over their direction led to “the concept of ’40Owls.’”
“We began going as ‘The Fortoul Brothers,’” Gabriel Fortoul said of their transition between New York and Phoenix. “Our style has changed a lot in the past 12 years,” he admitted. Most of their change rose from the pressure of their artistic peers. “Competition is healthy,” he said. “I want to go to other exhibitions that blow me away.”
Although Gabriel Fortoul takes care of the business behind 40Owls, he was heavily involved with the creation of the large and vibrant pieces hanging in their downtown Phoenix gallery. He also spoke highly of his partner and brother Isaac Fortoul, who trained in the arts. “We’re tuned into the same wave length. The overall theme for us is to present positive imagery to the public. We try to show the beauty in the world. There’s a lot of negative that happens, but if we can show the beauty, that overcomes all, it’s our contribution to the universe,” he explained. “If you break everything down, it’s all about balance and energy, and if you get that right, you can manifest anything. It’s here—all the secrets are here—we just have to open our eyes and see all the magic we’ve been gifted.”
This theme of positivity and balance is ever present within the unique style the brothers have developed, as well as in their subject matter which relates heavily to family and the balance of mankind and nature.
Where can we expect to see the Fortoul Brothers in the future? Gabriel Fortoul said they wish “to present our art to different communities around the world, different cultures and see what they have to say about it,” as well as create “more public art.” For now, the brothers reside in Phoenix, prepping for their next show and the creation of a mural in Los Angeles in the upcoming weeks, which will truly make them a bicoastal leading element in the proper and creative representations of culture.
Taking a stroll through downtown Phoenix is an experience parallel to the “glass half full or empty” metaphor. It’s easy to see all that is sad about this city: the seemingly ever increasing homeless population, the empty dust lots littered and left behind. To many people, downtown Phoenix is a bleak place. However, with a closer glance, one can spot enough beauty to manifest the bleak into a cultural and artistic hotspot, booming with new ideas and self-expression. So the next time you’re walking along Central Avenue, clutching your pepper spray or looking over your shoulder, remember to take a minute to look around. If you’re around during the Third Friday Art Walk next month, stop in to see the Fortoul Brothers at their 40Owls Gallery for their upcoming show.
815 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004