Levent Isik (1961-2019): “Warmly Humanistic Vision”

Mixed media painting by Levent Isik

Ohio based outsider artist Levent Isik died February 28, 2019 at the age of 57.  To honor his passing and celebrate the artist’s work, friends Gina Ramirez, Coleen Mohney, and Liz Maugans have worked with collectors to gather an exhibit of the late artist’s work in Studio 215 at 78th Street Studios for one night only, during the Third Friday celebrations April 19.

Ramirez says of the late artist that “his genius and generosity went hand in hand; but one seemed unaware of the other.”

All the work in the show is on loan from friends and collectors. Ramirez says the show will include paintings, drawings, and the three dimensional, folk art pieces for which he is best known. She adds, “I also have quite a few “beauty boxes” for the show. These are 3D women complete with sashes in decorated boxes. … Levent often personalized these for women he knew, or used iconic imagery – wonder women, emergency nurses etc.”

Born in Istanbul according to his own biography (which is the only post) on his Blog, Isik was raised in Montreal and lived in Akron and Cleveland before moving to Columbus in the late 1980s. According to his brother Deniz, He had returned to Akron a few years ago to take care of his mom. Levent is survived by his brother Deniz, his niece Taylor, his nephew Aydin, his beloved cat Vinnie, and friends. Ramirez says Vinnie is in the care of a friend.

“He lived off of his art and painted paintings his whole life,” his brother said by e-mail.

In addition to painting, Isik was involved in the punk music scene, playing guitar in the Akron bands Gumby’s Revenge and A4B.

Isik took up painting in Columbus, having moved there—leaving behind a job and friends–after a breakup in the late ‘80s. His biography says he took up painting “out of sheer boredom.” His first work was the figure of a jester, which he frequently showed (though never offered it for sale) in exhibits of otherwise new work. He painted on scraps of plywood, or wood from old barns, or discarded cabinets.  He never considered selling his work until a Greenpeace canvasser who was also a folk art collector came to his door one day. When he saw the work on Isik’s walls, he offered to buy a painting. The collector showed the work to several folk art dealers, and the market for Isik’s work was born.

His paintings are of animals and people, often illustrative of scenes and situations. They are brightly colored, filled with patterns, and glazed with polyurethane for a high gloss. The surfaces are built up to a near sculptural quality.  They’ve been exhibited at the Riffe Center in Columbus (Outside in Ohio, a century of unexpected genius, 2012), Ohio State University, the Renwick Gallery in New York City, the Museum of American Folk Art in NYC and the Delaware Museum of Art, as well as part of Outsider art collector Thomas Wagner’s “Insider, Outsider: Art!” exhibit at the Mansfield Art Center.

In this interview before his last Columbus exhibition, courtesy of collector Thomas Wagner, Isik describes his own work as “eye candy for the masses.”

As Leslie Constable wrote for the Columbus Dispatch, “His visual lexicon adds up to a playful, warmly humanistic vision filled with homey wisdom and more than a dash of bawdy humor.”

Some of his work is for sale at  Roots Up Gallery (Savannah, GA). A significant number of his paintings can be seen on his Facebook page.

Ramirez says the show will include a reprint of Isik’s ‘zine, Alphabet Omegabet (a collaboration with Akron artist Vince Rancid), which will be offered for sale at $5, as well as 12×18 poster prints of his illustration Under Liberty’s Dress (an image taken from the zine), for $10.  Alphabet Omegabet focuses on environmental and social issues through imagery with brief text.  They plan to donate any profit  to a cat rescue organization.


Works of Levent Isik

5-9 pm Friday, April 19

78th Street Studios Suite 215

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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