Murals Painted Over As One Fortoul Brother Faces Sexual Misconduct Allegations

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Monday, June 8, 2020 - 12:55pm
Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2020 - 7:33am

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Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Gabriel Fortoul (left) and Isaac Fortoul in KJZZ's studios in March 2018.

MARK BRODIE: The Fortoul Brothers are among the more prominent artists in the Valley, especially known for their murals on Roosevelt Row. They've also partnered with the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum on different projects on occasion. Now, one of the brothers, Isaac Fortoul, is being accused by multiple women of various acts of sexual misconduct. Arts journalist Lynn Trimble has written about those accusations in Phoenix New Times and spoke with our co-host, Steve Goldstein. They began by talking about the specific accusations against Isaac Fortoul and how many women have made them.

LYNN TRIMBLE: There are several women who have come forward who have talked to Phoenix New Times that I've interviewed. There are women who have gone on social media and talked about their experiences. And we know of one accuser who has filed a police report; we are working to obtain that police report now. What we have now is women who have shared their experiences online. And they've also started a petition asking that the Fortoul Brothers' art comes down. And that also gives some additional background about what they've experienced and what they're hoping to accomplish by coming forward.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Has this opened the floodgates that there are other concerns about Isaac Fortoul in the past?

TRIMBLE: We have been told by multiple people in the arts community and beyond that this has been happening under the radar for many years. I don't have any way of, you know, I have not documented that. I cannot say that that's the case. People have told us that it's been kind of like, you know, the best known secret. But I was not aware as a reporter of accusations until an artist alerted me several days ago, which is when we immediately started reporting.

GOLDSTEIN: The brothers issued a statement. I know you had access to that, and it's in your piece as well. What do they say? What's the response?

TRIMBLE: The brothers released a written statement. It is available on their Instagram account. And this statement briefly addresses accusations specifically by saying that they have not engaged in these behaviors. But it spends a lot of time talking, sort of on a philosophical level, about things like positivity. Their sort of way of — what they consider their way of being in the world. It talks about the fact that they've done a lot of art around town, so dedication to their craft is one of the things they talk about. And then they try to set the fact that Isaac has been accused of sexual misconduct in the context of, I think, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests that have been happening, seeming to imply that because the world is in such a state of chaos now, that these women must be experiencing some kind of trauma relative to that. ... Isaac, in his statement, writes that one of the accusers, Merryn Alaka, must be just dealing with her own healing. They try to set it in a context that the accusers have not made that connection at all.

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GOLDSTEIN: Even the, the accusation, I guess it was Merryn Alaka that was saying that Isaac Fortoul had sort of put down the fact that the art that she focuses on, which happens [to be] related to African Americans and hair. And then in the statement, he seems to say, "Well, I would never say that because we've seen how difficult the world is for a person of color. We would never do that."

TRIMBLE: Yes, absolutely. The statement — he directly states that because he is a Latino male, that he would not disparage someone based on them being a person of color. You've raised an important point here, which is that Merryn and others have spoken about not only Isaac's sexual misconduct — alleged sexual misconduct — but also his alleged racism in the form of making disparaging comments to black artists, including Merryn Alaka, who recounts his talking about her artwork. Her artwork often involves cultural issues and hair. And she recounts a conversation in which he talks about her artwork being worthless and no one taking her seriously [as] an artist because it's just about black women and hair. To paraphrase.

GOLDSTEIN: The Fortoul Brothers' art is, is well-known. They've worked with a number of groups. What has the response been, at least to this point? Have you heard from,have you talked to any of the groups that have featured the Fortoul Brothers' art, who are partnered with them, as far as what next steps might be for them based on these accusations?

TRIMBLE: We have talked to quite a few organizations and there is, by the way, a list of more than 36 businesses and cultural groups that they've partnered with. It was put together by some of the accusers. And we have talked to some of those people already. Some are still making decisions. The city of Phoenix has not come out with a statement, and they've got two upcoming significant projects with the brothers that, you know, they have not made a statement about whether this will impact those. Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum have both indicated they worked with them in the past. They don't have any upcoming projects. But we have started to see some small businesses say, "We're no longer going to carry the Fortoul Brothers' work because of the allegations against Isaac Fortoul," such as Practical Art, which is a shop in Phoenix well-known for carrying work by more than 100 artists. They've already removed their work. So we are starting to see galleries and other places to take that position. The accusers are hoping that all of their art comes down. And in fact, one interesting development in the past couple days is that the two murals in Roosevelt Row have been partially painted over, and half of each mural, basically, is gone. We have not been formally notified by one of the building owners about what will happen in the future, but the one that's at Roosevelt and Central, we have heard from the radio station that has that building that they will be completely covering that as a result of the allegations.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Lynn Trimble, freelance arts writer here in the Valley. We've been talking about her New Times piece about accusations against Isaac Fortoul of the Fortoul Brothers. Lynn, thanks as always and stay well. We appreciate it.

TRIMBLE: Thanks, you as well.

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