Local artist’s work gains traction through determination


Photos courtesy of Yihyun Jeong

The marble dances wildly within an aluminum cylinder. Cacophony is followed by a clear and constant hiss. This is Isaac Caruso’s brush stroke on canvas — a brush of spray paint on a canvas of brick and mortar.

Caruso’s acrylic and spray paint street art is found covering walls in downtown Phoenix, decorating abandoned pools and adorning apartment stairways. The 24-year-old approaches his art career with a surprising amount of professionalism and drive.

In high school, a 17-year-old Caruso painted what he called his first real art piece. “Etherial ADD” landed in the Smithsonian Institution and traveled to multiple galleries for two years. The 2-by-3 spray paint on wood piece featured an old man’s face surrounded by smoke-like abstract shapes and undefined designs rising up, representing thoughts.

“It’s that whole thing: thinking about thinking,” Caruso said. “Getting lost in thought.”

Caruso said the Smithsonian exhibit represented a turning point in his life — he could actually make money with art.

He studied visual communication and went to ASU design school before graduating from NAU with a bachelor’s degree of fine arts.

After going through three schools and having trouble being accepted into NAU, Caruso said, “I’m a little bit more driven. … It made me more hungry.”

Graphic design, Caruso said, is his more practical method of making money while doing something he loves. He is currently redesigning the KBAQ classical radio station’s logo for the David and Sam public relations firm.

“It’s a lot more methodical, that’s for sure,” he said.

Each design starts with a brainstorming phase that consists of 50-100 sketches. Caruso then selects his top 10 and digitally constructs them using Adobe Illustrator. He then makes four compositions all before sending them to the client for feedback.

Caruso also applies his professional skills as a graphic design artist to promote his personal art work.

“Isaac got a show here because he was very persistent,” said Wayne Rainey, owner of the MonOrchid Gallery where one of Caruso’s largest mural covers the building’s west wall.

Rainey said artists approach him everyday to show their work at the gallery. Caruso stood out.

Caruso brought his portfolio and detailed sketches of what his work would look like within the large gallery space when he wanted his work shown at the gallery, Rainey said.

“I think he was tenacious about it,” he said.

It is crucial for an artist to make their case well, be personal and work with business skill to survive in the industry, Rainey said.

Caruso embodies all of these traits.

Caruso’s work remains on the MonOrchid building, his art has shown inside the gallery space and he designed the Songbird logo that trademarks the gallery’s coffee and tea shop in an adjacent space.

His self-described style combines “tasteful amounts of both” realism and graffiti, he said.

The young artist said he draws inspiration from Los Angeles-based David Show and the French painter Edouard Manet.

“They are both really good at hitting the key point where the form is spot on,” Caruso said. “It hits you in the brain and emotionally.”

Today, Caruso said his work has evolved to a more concept-driven style with “big emphasis on the community and muraling.”

He uses mostly acrylic and spray paint because they are quick and easy to work with.

Wall murals come from his love of large works.

“I like seeing things big and on walls,” Caruso said. “That’s just my taste.”

Caruso said one of his life goals is to complete a mural in every continent. So far he has work in North America and Europe.

“Two down; five to go,” he said. “I don’t know how Antarctica is going to work but I’ll figure it out.”

Caruso also gives back to the local artist community though TallCat, which co-founder Blake Brinker described as an “online community that serves as a home for all the worlds community and talent.”

Brinker calls Caruso as a “brand ambassador” and a “Key [CREATIV]” a term the company coined synonymous with an inspiring figure in the arts community.

Brinker said Caruso’s work is retro, funky and groundbreaking.

“He’s not afraid to take risks and that’s one of the reasons why I gravitated toward him,” Brinker said. Caruso is “out there every day and pursuing the art of expression.”

Caruso said he plans to leave for Los Angeles early next year and it’s the natural next step in his art career.

“I know that city eats people alive, typically,” Caruso said. But, he said, “it’s what is next.”

Contact the reporter at domenico.nicosia@asu.edu