BELFAST—There’s a lot going on underneath the surface of Belfast artist Isaac Wright. He is both edgy and shy, and not used to talking about himself. As we sit together in the corner of Traci’s Diner in Belfast after a lunch rush, he chews on a rubber band the way most people chew gum.
He is one of very few outsider artists living in the Midcoast, although he wouldn’t even think to call himself one. Outside art was a term coined in the 1970s to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Growing up in Maine in the foster system, Wright gravitated to vivid, surreal styles of street art, flash art, psychedelic folk art and tattoo art. Wright pops the rubber band out of his mouth to talk about the murals he was commissioned to paint, which cover every inch of wall space.
“The balloons painted on the wall were there forever and I just sort of brain-bubbled the rest of it,” he said. One wall depicts a bucolic, small, rolling hills Maine township, but with Wright’s own zany spin. There are floating ketchup and mustard bottles, flying coffees and a Dali-esque melting overeasy egg atop a hot air balloon.
Given the gritty, fringe style of Wright’s darker artwork (some of which is explicit), this mural is surprisingly whimsical, the sort of place where H.R. Pufnstuf would feel right at home.
“Well, I was going with the fact that this is a family place,” he said. “They weren’t going to have a lot of tolerance for me doing a bunch of darker stuff in here. No skulls!”
He also designed the cover of the menu for Traci’s Diner in a large scale stencil format, which is another art form he specializes in.
It’s not always all skulls and dark drawings—there’s a very sweet side to Wright. In the “About” section on his website, he could have uploaded any photo of himself, but instead, he’s got an image of him hugging his mother, who happens to be an artist herself. He posts one of her own psychedelic drawings from 1978 on his website.
“It’s supposed to be a mushroom trip and she wasn’t even on mushrooms when she did it,” he said, proud of her.
“She likes my work now, but there was a period of time where I couldn’t show her anything,” he said, laughing. “Or it would offend her.”
Wright admits that although his work has matured over the years, he hasn’t quite found a solid career path with it yet. “In Maine, it’s really difficult,” he said. He used to be a tattoo artist, but that didn’t pan out.
“It’s hard to find someone I can work with. It’s a budding ego thing,” he said. “I’m a little frustrated. I’m still trying to build what I do and want to see more come out of it.”
For while he broke out of the small town and lived in Austin, Texas. However, he found himself getting out of control down there and felt Maine’s slower pace kept him out of trouble, so he moved back.
“Besides all of that, in the cities, they already have an established subculture of skateboard artists and a variety of tattoo artists,” he said. “Maine doesn’t have a lot of that. There’s a small pool of genuine artists who do that kind of street art and I want to feed that pool in Maine.”
Though he could go anywhere, he feels an attachment to the town of Belfast, where he’s lived for the last seven years. “I could go to Portland, but it’s expensive to live there and I have a big dog who is a pretty important part of my life,” he said. “Belfast is a great town for a dog. The city, not so much.”
Occasionally he does civic work for the town, such as a poster or a spray paint mural. He likes to give back to the place that sustains him.
While he creates art for its own sake, he also does commission work on signs and banners. In 2004, Black Bear Microbrew in Orono hired him to design their beer labels. Additionally, Mainely Brews in Waterville also had him do their graphics. Then from 2008 to 2013 Flash Tattoo magazine regularly had a page or two in the flash art pages featuring his work.
“I have a hard time doing one style all of the time,” he said. “I like to mix it up.”
To see more of his unique style visit: dramica.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org