the artist

Isaiah Zagar

Isaiah Zagar

Philadelphia, PA

Isaiah Zagar

Written at the time artist Isaiah Zagar was 84 years old…

I clearly remember when I was 19, I first saw Clarence Schmidt’s rambling sculpture environment on a beautiful and breezy June day.  I thought to myself, What is this?  I had no categories, no frame of reference for it.  I didn’t know that I was looking at art.  That was the year 1959.  A lot has changed in the art world, and a lot has changed in the real world. In 1968, I moved to South Street in Philadelphia and it is where I remained.  I declared:  Art is the Center of the Real World. Philadelphia is the Center of the Art World. 

We now have a category for Clarence:  vernacular artist. When I saw Clarence in 1970, he said, “I hear you are copying me in Philadelphia.”  It is true to a certain extent; I have been copying Clarence my whole career, trying to make a total encyclopedic vision that has no parameters and no end.  My work is marked by events. It is a mirror of my mind that is building and falling apart, having a logic but close to chaos. It refuses to stay still for the camera. It gives one a sense of heaven and hell simultaneously. 

My whole life as an artist is a journal; the way I’m feeling every day, the way I’m thinking, the things I’m thinking about. They all enter into my work life, into my drawing life, so it’s constantly changing. The immediacy of what you’re seeing and feeling is your trip, your journey, your journal. You will see what you want to see.

Isaiah Zagar is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found on more than 200 public walls throughout the city of Philadelphia and around the world. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, Zagar received his B.F.A. in Painting & Graphics at the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City. When he was 19 years old, Zagar discovered the art environment of Clarence Schmidt in Woodstock, New York. This shaped his ideas of what art could be and started a lifelong interest in art environments and their creators.

Isaiah Zagar’s artwork is heavily influenced by his travels and the personal connections he has made with international folk and visionary artists. Isaiah and his wife Julia completed three years of Peace Corps service in Peru in the mid-1960s, working with folk artists in the Puno region near Lake Titicaca. Soon after, they settled in Philadelphia and began their life’s work of creating public art and fostering creativity in all its varied forms.

In addition to his three-year Peace Corps service in Peru, Isaiah has completed artist residencies in Tianjin, China, and Rajasthan, India. He also participated in a residency at the Kohler Co. Pottery Foundry in Wisconsin.

Isaiah Zagar’s work is included in the permanent collections of numerous art institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and has been featured in solo exhibitions throughout the Philadelphia area. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Fast Facts

Name: Isaiah Zagar


Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA

Pratt Institute, Fine Arts Degree

Favorite materials or media:
Mixed-Media Mosaic

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