About the Print
Isaiah Zagar created this self-portrait in 1986. As with his mosaics, he decorated this energetic print with vibrant colors and lively patterns. Turquoise and green horizontal stripes, layered with red flowers and leaves, create a playful background. Bold, red lines follow the contours of his bright yellow hair, eyes, nose, mouth, and beard. Look closely to find people, leaves, branches, flowers, hands , and even a coffee cup embedded within the picture. Zagar also included stamp-like texts, such as “Art is the center of the real world” and “Philadelphia is the center of the art world,” convictions that he has stated in his work for decades. These colors, patterns, images, and ideas become a part of Zagar’s face, hinting about the artist’s thoughts on identity and how he sees himself.
“Philadelphia is the center of the art world.
Art is the center of the real world.”
– ISAIAH ZAGAR
Born Philadelphia, 1939
Photograph by Emily Smith
About the Artist
Isaiah Zagar is best known for his colorful, public mosaics on buildings in Philadelphia and around the world. The mosaics are made with pieces of mirror, tile, glass, and a variety of other materials. A native Philadelphian of Jewish ancestry, he studied painting and graphics at Pratt Institute in New York City. As a young man, he spent three years as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Peru, where he worked with and was inspired by folk artists. His largest artwork is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a massive, mosaic-decorated art environment outdoors at 1020 South Street that covers half a city block.
Suggested Topics for Art Projects, Group Discussion, and Independent Writing
Create a Personal Stamp
In his self-portrait, Isaiah Zagar included oval, circular, and rectangular images that look like the stamps in an international traveler's passport, perhaps as a reference to his worldly travels. Create a design for your personal decal, logo, or stamp. What text or symbol will represent you best? As an extension, create a print from your drawing.
Create a Self Portrait
Use symbols and text as well as photographs and pictures from magazines to tell your story. Incorporate a variety of shapes, colors, and textures. Execute your self-portrait in a realistic fashion using standard proportions or more abstractly as Zagar did in his portrait.
Zagar has created murals all over Philadelphia. Write a persuasive letter advocating that a new mural be commissioned in your neighborhood. Cite important features about your neighborhood that should be publicly celebrated.
In Your Opinion
Think about Zagar's quote about his art. In your opinion, does Isaiah reflect the spirit of his words? How? If not, why not?
Develop a Plan
Working with fellow students, make a plan to select a site at your school where more student artwork could be exhibited. Ask for input from the faculty, staff, and parents. Strategize how to go about planning such an undertaking and how to evaluate its feasibility.