Image courtesy of Ben Rupp
Levent Isik’s artwork is a carnival of clowns, devils and mermaids — nomadic like the artist himself. Born in Istanbul and raised in Montreal, Isik’s father had eventually moved the family to Akron. After high school, Isik then moved to Toronto for roughly six months and then moved back to Akron. It was in the senior’s smoking lounge where he met Tom Madigan, with whom he became best friends. Tom and his wife, Verney are avid collectors of Levent’s work.
According to Verney Madigan, Isik was constantly creating pen and ink drawings, but would throw them out because he didn’t want anyone to see his artwork. Interesting for someone who would eventually have his artwork exhibited in such prestigious institutions such as the Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in New York City as well as a good half dozen textbooks on the subject of Folk Art.
“Levent had given Tom and I a painting that he had created in 1985 called 'Bison Kill' for our wedding,” states Madigan. The painting will be included in the one night only Legacy of Levent Isik exhibition at the CAN Journal offices within the W78th Street Studios complex. The Madigans also possess several skull drawings by Isik, which he was doing before diving head on into the Folk Art genre.
Puffy, bright and seemingly wet due to his adroit use of materials, Isik’s work transcended the gap between Art Brut, also known as Outsider Art, and Folk Art. Both include primarily artists who are autodidact, or self-taught, but that’s where we feel the line is drawn in regard to this artist.
A fixture in the punk rock scene, he was in the bands Gumby’s Revenge, Peace Frog and, notably, acid 4 breakfast (a4b). He also had a fondness for The Jesus Lizard, which connected him with another artist friend. “He turned me on to Outsider artists like Howard Finster,” reveals Jim Lanza of Foundry Woodprints. “He was a great guy; one of the funniest roommates I had, for sure, and I really enjoyed his art. He created a booklet with Vince Rancid titled “Alphabet Omegabet”. It was all political and environmental stuff.” The booklet is being revived and reprinted for the exhibition headed by Gina Ramirez and Coleen Mahoney and we’re looking forward to laying eyes on it.
In 1989, Levent met Rick Borque, who would eventually push, and fund, as we understand, to create artwork full time. He was incredibly prolific during this time. He had rented a warehouse in Germantown and was very active in the gallery scene, hanging out in the Short North region, which has a high concentration of fantastic artists to this day. Inspired by luminaries such as the Reverend Howard Finster and Mr. Imagination, Isik honed his artwork.
An unfortunate series of events in Levent’s family caused him to move back to Akron. First his brother Billy had passed away and shortly after, his father succumbed to lung cancer. He moved in with his mother so that there would be a male figure in the house with her. He had made a studio in the house, but his mom would protest the smell. “She would say, ‘Do you need to do that I smell that’,” recalls Verney Madigan, citing that Levent’s mother had trouble breathing and didn’t like the smell of paint in the house. Not too much later, Mrs. Isik had passed away leaving the house to be dealt with by Levent and his surviving brother, Denny and so Levent moved back to Akron, but he really wasn’t painting anymore due to the stress and the broken heart grief hurls upon a person after such a domino effect of family trauma. It was then that Isik confided in his friends that he hadn’t been feeling well for over a month, saying he couldn’t knock the cold he had. As is the tragedy among many of our most talented individuals, Isik had no health insurance and would eventually succumb to the illness and passed away.
In an interview with collector and Roy G Biv Gallery owner, Ben Rupp, regarding his love of Levent Isik’s work and why he became a collector, we leave you with the following…
“I’ll start by saying our friendship trumped any reason why I collected his works. I’m not sure what it means, but I’ve been recalling how Levent understood social clues or cultural signs at large, questioning not why they exist but how these influenced our personal subconscious and the power of the cultural collective consciousness. He made fun of these, but also respected their meaning; both positive and negative. I was lucky to see him working and chose pieces to buy that I related to mostly from getting his path toward them. He was so curious and had a wealth of knowledge of what connects us through music, film (he was a big film enthusiast), advertising, etc. He used all his insight to bring joy and laughs with the work. Since starting the gallery I see very few people who dedicate themselves solely to making visual art. Levent was dedicated and unwavering. He lived and breathed not only his creations but understanding the connections and misconnections of life.”
Legacy of Levent Isik is on view tonight only at the CAN Journal offices. 1300 W78th Street, 2nd Floor, Cleveland, Ohio. Another one night exhibition on May 5, 2019 will be held at the Roy G Biv Gallery, Franklinton Playhouse, 566 W Rich St., Columbus, Ohio 43215. www.canjournal.org www.roygbivgallery.com